Eleven years ago, Michael De Marsche replaced David Turner as director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. De Marsche's mission was to transform the place from a sleepy, clubby little nothing burger of a museum to a world-class (or at least state-class) facility.
One of his first and most controversial acts was to lay off the FAC's long-tenured archivist and librarian, Rod Dew, and effectively close the library.
In a 2005 interview with the Gazette's Mark Arnest, DeMarsche defended his decision, saying, "People have me taking the Southwestern collection and burning it in the parking lot. They have me moving the library to Santa Fe, [but] the library will be the center of the new education building. It will be at the center of our future in education."
De Marsche departed in 2007, and with him went the notion that the FAC should have an education building, much less one with a library at its center. The original library — a cozy, musty space adjacent to the Theatre Lounge — has long since been repurposed, while its 15,000-volume collection has been boxed up and stored.
So it was welcome news when Colorado College and the Fine Arts Center announced that most of the library's collection would move to CC's library, to be cataloged, shelved and made available to the public.
The FAC will retain material "important to the history of the Fine Arts Center," said curator Blake Milteer. Such material might include one-of-a-kind exhibition catalogs, archives and records.
The library isn't going far — just a few blocks north on Cascade Avenue. But its departure aptly illustrates the ongoing dilemmas of museums, libraries and every institution that stores and cares for the tangible past.
It'll cost Colorado College about $30,000 in "labor and materials" to integrate the books into its collections. That's two bucks a book, four bucks less than Poor Richard's charged me the other day for a lightly used hardback copy of Timeline, Michael Crichton's 1999 thriller.
"That's a fraction of what we'd pay to buy this many books," says Steve Lawson, CC's art liaison librarian, "and that doesn't take into account how many extremely rare and valuable titles are in this collection."
The collection's core consists of 6,000 books donated to the FAC by its co-founder and principal funder, Alice Bemis Taylor.
"There are not only rare museum catalogs and irreplaceable books on Southwest art," says FAC trustee and CC professor Jean Gumpper, who spearheaded the transfer, "but even one of the rare volumes of the study of Egyptian antiquities published under Napoleon."
There's also a copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic photography book, The Decisive Moment.
"We didn't have it, and even damaged copies were too expensive to buy," says Lawson. "But the FAC had a copy, and we have ... added it to the Tutt Collection and put it on hold for the professor who inquired about it."
An as-new first edition of The Decisive Moment is $5,625 on Alibris, while one described as "fair" is $650.
Libraries and history museums have long been eager to acquire books and papers of notable citizens, reasoning that if the material were scattered and dispersed it would be lost forever. Colorado College acquired local historian Marshall Sprague's archives in the early 1990s (Sprague died in 1994), while the Pikes Peak Library District and the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum preserve the archives of the city's founders.
But will future historians and researchers want to pore over "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore," or will they look it up online? Most libraries long ago discarded bound volumes of 19th- and 20th-century daily newspapers that cluttered storage spaces. Can books be far behind?
Let's hope not. CC's first edition of The Decisive Moment shows Cartier-Bresson's photographs in the format that he chose, not as dancing electrons on a liquid crystal screen. Books exist as things apart from the information they contain — consider Colorado College's first edition of John Keats' Endymion, willed by a longtime supporter in 1942. The first lines:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever; / Its loveliness increases /
It will never / Pass into nothingness ...
— Gift of the estate of Alice Bemis Taylor.