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Sydney Conservatorium

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Why was the ANU Art and Music Library closed?

ANU School of Art & Design during hail remediation work – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024

The Australian National University (ANU) has made the decision to close its Art and Music Library (A&M Library) for at least Semester 1 of this year, and move its services from the School of Art and Design building to the Chifley Library – the ANU’s largest library, dedicated to arts, social sciences, and business, roughly equivalent to the Fisher Library for the University of Sydney. The University has said no staff positions will be cut with these changes. 

In an incredibly brief (and now edited) 28 November notice on its website, the University stated that the closure from 8 December 2023 was due to “hail remediation work on the building” after large storms in Canberra in January of 2020. In the final On Campus staff newsletter for 2023, sent 19 December, Chief Operating Officer, Chris Price, detailed how the closure is for the safety of students and staff, as “there will be a range of hazards in the building”. 

The A&M Library was previously open from 8:30-19:00 Monday-Thursday, and 8:30-17:00 Friday, and held the collections of sheet music, CDs and DVDs, exhibition catalogues, and image databases for the university. There were no group study spaces nor DVD players, which students would need to travel to Chifley to access. 

With the relocation to the Chifley Library – 500 metres from School of Art and Design (SoAD) and the School of Music (SoM) and its Llewellyn Hall – a portion of the Art and Music catalogue will be available 24/7, mainly the “reference collections, 2-hour, 2-day and 7-day collections, and high-use materials” according to a 13 December notice. The rest of the catalogue – those deemed 'lesser-used' – is being moved 13 kilometres southeast to the new ANU Print Repository in Symonston. Items at the Repository must then be requested online and will either be scanned within 24-hours or be brought to one of the libraries at the University within 48-hours.

After repairs, the space will be used instead, as per an email sent to students by University Librarian, Roxanne Missingham, on 29 November 2023, as a “creative study space” – essentially an open study hub. Recently though, the University seems to have shifted its tone on what was a seemingly-permanent closure, saying in a 12 February notice that the Library will still remain closed for Semester 1, but this period will now see “the co-design of ideas and options for future services and spaces”. 

Student response

Many students and staff have expressed significant concerns over these changes, in particular Sian Hardy, a fifth-year Bachelor of Visual Arts student, and employee of the ANU Library. Hardy has been leading the campaign to save the Library, and upon hearing the news, immediately wrote an Open Letter calling for reconsideration of the changes – which now has over 1,000 signatures from students, staff, alumni, professors emeriti, and former heads of SoAD and SoM.

Despite the announcement coming after the end of the semester – with Woroni reporting that “some students have interpreted [this] as the University’s ‘attempt to be cryptic’ and ‘avoid criticism’” – staff and students were quick to show their displeasure at the SoAD annual Graduation Exhibition, Grad Show. Held from 2-10 December, the opening night saw posters put up on the School building, reading "save our art & music library" handwritten around a drawn love heart — these posters remain on the building. Attendees also wore smaller sticker versions of the poster, in a very public display of protest at the University’s biggest gallery event for the year. 

Protest of students and staff against the Art & Music Library closure at the 2023 Grad Show – photo: provided

When asked to the necessity of the closures, a University Spokesperson commented:

This work is essential, safety is our highest priority and there will be a range of hazards in the building while the repair work is underway. We had initially hoped the contractors would be able to avoid closure of the building, but their assessment is that the building must fully close to all staff and students for their safety. 

Following the Open Letter, the ANU Students’ Association (ANUSA) organised a ‘borrow-out’ on 7 December 2023 – the last open day of the Library – where students and staff manually borrowed around 3,000 items from the Library in protest of the claimed low-usage of items used to justify its closure. These items were then stored in the ANUSA Office, but have now all been returned via the Chifley Library. This is due to space limitations of the office, and students now accruing significant library fines (meaning they cannot borrow more items) due to the ANU Library’s limited 4-week loan-period. 

These borrowed items will all now be kept at the Chifley Library, an amazing success for students given they would have otherwise been put to the offsite Repository with only a few hundred available to browse and borrow. To continue the protest this semester, Hardy says, they will continuously renew A&M Library items to “keep demonstrating that [students] value the collection and that it isn't ‘low-use’”. This continued circulation will also make it in the “Library's interest to reinstate the Art and Music Library and staff” to be able to process the necessary amount of work.

The principal concern over the closure was from the University’s claim that only 'low-use' items would be moved to the Repository, a statistic gathered from borrowing rates (e.g. only items that are checked-out). Hardy explained that this is a critical misunderstanding of the way fine arts students use the Library, writing in the Open Letter that for the “rare books and monographs that are … impractical to take home” students often view these in the Library. She adds to the importance of the Library for postgraduate students, as “much of the A&M collection is also utilised for research purposes within the library space itself, meaning that borrowing statistics do not accurately reflect rates of usage”.

Whilst it may work for other disciplines, digitisation and online searches don’t work as well for the fine arts. Hardy’s reasoning for this is that many of the sources used aren’t texts or journals, but instead sheet music, books of artworks, and photographs, which students can find “often simply by browsing the shelves and finding titles that may not have come up through an online catalogue search”. These unique features of the Library, alongside its self-contained status, is critical for “students to develop critical, research-driven studio practices, shaping their future artistic careers and contributions to our community”.

Even though the A&M Library lacked group study spaces — something the University says is a reason for the development into a “creative study space”, and due to previous mergers of the two distinct Art Library and Music Library — Hardy told Conversations of the strong community at the Library, with student artworks and publications throughout the space, and each student having their ‘own’ desk they would regularly use. 

Entrance to the ANU School of Art & Design building – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024

The impacts go beyond just the ANU, with many community groups and school ensembles relying on the Arts and Music Library – the only library dedicated to music in Canberra – to access their scores for rehearsals and concerts. Looking at signatories to the Open Letter, amongst previous heads of SoAD and SoM, there are members of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, a significant number of alumni, parents of music students, students at other universities around the country, and many other community members. 

In the initial email sent to students by Missingham, an emphasis was placed on the full breadth of consultation and communication with staff and students, with “extensive analysis and thought”, “listening to student feedback”, and “input from the Schools”. This email also emphasised heavily that “no [Library] staff will be made redundant”, and that students will have further opportunities to provide feedback and will be invited “to participate in co-designing the area to deliver a range of services and space uses that facilitate group and individual work”.

Hardy’s Open Letter contests this extensive analysis, it’s second paragraph reading:

This decision came with one week's notice, and there was no prior consultation with the SOAD and SOM community. Staff at the A&M Library were also not given the opportunity to participate in this decision, instead being informed a day prior that the decision was final and they would be relocated elsewhere in the University.

Meeting with students

After this significant community pushback, Missingham agreed to a meeting with an ANUSA Representative for the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) alongside other undergraduate and higher-degree research students from SoAD. The minutes of this meeting, obtained by Conversations, show a very different story to her email from the start, with Missingham opening the meeting with a reminder that she only asked for “student feedback rather than student consultation”. She also mentioned her respect for student protest, citing her participation in the 1974 ANUSA occupation of the Chancellery, and her role as the Association’s Returning Officer. 

Repeatedly, Missingham brought up flooding in the SoAD Building in 2015 and the necessity to protect the collection as a primary reason for the permanent transfer of items to Chifley and the Repository – students found this to be a moot point, as the flooding was contained to the darkrooms. Somewhat ironically, the Chifley Library had disastrous floods in 2018 that destroyed around 10% of the entire University collection, which then led to similarly “nuanced processes” to move part of its collection to the Repository. Even in November 2022, Woroni published a video showcasing tarps covering certain shelves under leaking roofs. 

Students raised again the issues around the reputational impact the closure of the Library will have, both amongst current and prospective students, particularly amongst postgraduate students in a Higher Degree by Research (HDR). Many students, both prospective and current, are already reconsidering studying fine arts at the ANU, with many concerned the closure of the Library – the heart of SoAD and SoM – will “indicate the closing of the Schools of Art and Music [themselves]”. The University has a focus to enrol more HDR students, but this closure will make it materially impossible for them to research as they need immediate access to their resources. 

Missingham was at pains to distinguish the temporary closure of the Library space (for refurbishment), and the permanent relocation of the Library collection, causing her at times making seemingly hypocritical statements. The temporary closure was due to “direction from [University] facilities and services”, whilst later implying that the collection’s relocation after renovations are completed was a decision she made. It was budgetary constraints, brought upon by higher-ups in University management that forced the University Librarian to make these cuts, despite the relocation and renovations surely coming at a significant cost to the University. This was paired with the statement that whilst no staff positions will be cut, there “may be changes to the number of positions available”. 

She mentioned that “there is no point to have consultation after the decision has already been made”, despite her insistence that she hopes students will “get involved in redesigning the space next year”. This also goes against claims in the newsletters that this decision was made in consultation with students. When asked if the decision to close was final, Missinghamh repeatedly avoided directly answering, saying that it was “time to do something different” to consider the needs of those who use the Library – something which the students pointed out would be difficult considering the lack of consultation prior to the decision. 

Other issues raised include the unique status the Art and Music Library has for disabled students. It is one of the few holistically low-sensory spaces on campus due to its smaller size and cohort usage, and has nearby librarians, easy physical accessibility, and low-down shelves. Missingham’s response to this was that students with sensory issues can use the specific low-sensory booths at Chifley — barely a suitable replacement because of the lack of holistic disability accessibility. To her credit, Missingham did acknowledge that sensory needs are not well-met nor well advertised by the ANU, but failed to provide any substantive solutions apart from the Chifley spaces. 

Exterior of the Library, surrounded by scaffolding and warning signs – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024

The specific isolated collection for fine arts is also unique as it doesn’t have as significant borrowing rates as other libraries, with the students explaining to Missingham that these ‘high-use’ versus ‘low-use’ statistics are due to the unique value the Library’s collection has and aren’t a reflection of how the Library is used. Being able to physically discover books and scores through browsing collections is valuable to creative knowledge and artistic practice, particularly through viewing scores and books within the library space, because “large monographs are difficult to take home”, and because digital browsing is simply not possible with image-based works. The specific isolated collection also helps with demonstrating the cultural significance of the fine arts as a separate and unique field of practical study, rather than as a general research area within the arts. 

Shifts in tone

Since that meeting between the University Librarian and student representatives, there has been a shift in tone from the University about the future of the A&M Library. This shift means the University and Library Management have both now started to listen to the serious number — over 1,000 — of students and staff who are concerned over these changes, and have called for reconsideration. 

The 19 December On Campus newsletter stated:

No decisions have yet been made about the future of the A&M Library space when the hail remediation work is completed in mid-2024, and we will commit to meaningful consultation with staff and students through semester one on ideas and options, which will include retaining the space as the A&M Library.

This shift in tone has seemingly resulted in a lack of enthusiasm from the University about moving the Art and Music Library collection. On 1 April, I went to the ANU and confirmed what students at SoAD had told me about the lack of action from the University, taking photos of the books and other items still around the Library space, alongside scaffolding and signs about the closure due to hail remediation covering the building. There is seemingly no effort to even tuck away chairs or clean up magazines and leaflets, giving the impression that the Library was closed only yesterday and not three months ago. 

Interior of the Art & Music Library, with books and chairs still in place – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024

For the University to claim the necessity of protecting the contents of the Library as a reason to move the vast majority of the collection to the new Repository, but to then start the “essential” work that will create a “range of hazards” is a demonstration of poor planning and governance by the ANU Library. It also only strengthens the calls to keep the Library in its space, as it wouldn’t be necessary to move the entire collection back from the Repository, instead only needing to move the items loaned in the borrow-out and returned to the Chifley Library. 

The simultaneous work of transferring the separate collection of the old Repository (in Hume) to the new Repository (in Symonston) seems to be stuck in constant delays, according to a release by the ANU. In the original 15 November 2023 version of the release, the completion date was set for February 2024, but now reads for expected completion 5 months later in July 2024. This is a likely reason why the Art & Music Library collection has remained in place whilst construction has started, as the University does not have the staff capacity whilst moving over 45 kilometres of shelved items at the Repository. 

ANU’s continuous devaluing of the fine arts

This closure is only part of a long history of the ANU devaluing the fine arts — ever since the Canberra Institute of the Arts was merged into CASS in 1992. Consistent claims of financial deficit have been the rationale for significant course cuts, staff redundancies, limiting access to art workshops, and a merger of administration teams between both schools. This also isn’t the first time the Library has been impacted, with the original SoM Library collection and study space being amalgamated into SoAD in 2011. 

Our previous iteration, Conversation, reported in 2012 of the significant changes to SoM coming in 2013 – including the removal of harmony lectures and one-on-one instrumental lessons, and a reduction of staff from 24 to 13 – in order to make the School of a generalist music curriculum. This was done, expectedly, as:

Changing the Bachelor of Music degree will enable $1.3 million of the university’s yearly deficit to be wiped out (it now stands at $2.7 million).

This was also faced with significant community pushback, with over 700 submissions against the decision being made to then-Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young, and a live-streamed 24-hour ‘Protest Jam’ organised by the students. 

To claim a financial deficit is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the arts – to invest in them creates a cultural benefit, rather than a financial return. The 19 December On Campus newsletter reflects this, stating:

It is important to note that the University’s financial plan requires that ANU spends its money very prudently and in line with our strategy, so we must always be mindful of our resources when we make decisions.

With the 2012 changes to music at the university, the Canberra City News reported how the “comparison is insulting” when the ANU could happily pay its (globally 6th-ranked) School of Philosophy’s budget as it was “only $2.6 million”, but couldn’t justify the School of Music’s $2.9 million budget, expecting private tuition and ensemble rehearsals to come for less. 

ANU School of Music building and Llewellyn Hall, covered in scaffolding – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024

When asked about the University’s decision for the Library and its continued lack of support for the fine arts, ANUSA Education Officer Luke Harrison told Conversations:

What distinguishes art, design, and music students from other students who need a lot of equipment and materials (like science students) is their utility to industry. The increased corporatisation of universities across the country has led universities to restructure and reprioritise based on industry needs and where the money is.
This is why we’ve seen the ANU vie for AUKUS scholarships, and why the ANU has scholarships and internships for STEM students with weapons manufacturers like Thales and Northrop Grumman. Art, design, and music has less utility to industry and with federal funding to higher education dropping drastically since the Dawkins Reforms in the late 80s, the university prioritises what makes them more money.

This is a common opinion held by an increasing number of Australian universities, not just within the fine arts, but to the broader purpose of Universities in providing research and tertiary education. University strategies are focused on global rankings, a metric primarily focused on research output, something which doesn’t reflect the standards of education at the University, particularly the standards and reputations of fine art schools. Funding focused on research ignores the many established artists produced out of fine art schools, and the very practical-skills-focused curricula from which they were taught. 

Universities also adorn their new generalist degrees with ‘transferable skills’, particularly in arts and other non-STEM degrees – seen throughout USyd in Online Learning Environment classes (OLEs) and useless interdisciplinary units. Fine arts don’t function well in generalist degrees, as the purpose of our education is to train and refine our practical skills in a specific craft, training to varying levels of all areas of their artform (e.g. composition, performance). A music student who has already spent a decade learning their instrument and passing a rigorous audition wouldn’t have the same benefit from a generalist introduction to music notation class as a business student who has a side-hobby in music. 

These fine art degrees are already inherently culturally- rather than financially-beneficial, but to add generalist research requirements waters down their impact even further.   

Harrison then elaborated on the changes and impacts over the past decade at SoAD:

We’ve seen [SoAD] and the [SoM] (and the College of Arts and Social Sciences more broadly) face the most, and the most intense cuts to courses, majors, and degrees in the whole of ANU. A decade ago there were over 120 different and unique courses in SoAD, now there are just 36. When COVID hit in 2020, it was the staff at SoAD that were some of the worst affected (over 400 were sacked in 2020 due to COVID).

The Sydney Conservatorium Library

Locally, the Sydney Conservatorium Library is one of the largest specialist music libraries in the country, containing over 158,000 items, including performance and study scores, 40,000 recordings, and over 10,000 books, with access to computers, printers, and DVD and tape players. It provides all the sheet music for the Conservatorium ensembles, servicing around 2,000 students and staff, both those enrolled at the University of Sydney and the Conservatorium High School. The Con Library is open 6 days a week, 9:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, and 10:00-14:00 Saturday, also open to the general public, and can provide items to students at other universities. 

Previously, the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) also had its own dedicated library at its former Rozelle campus, before it was moved to part of the Old Teacher’s College (OTC) in 2020. A University Library tour video shows its extensive research collection, computer lab, and student gallery, all things lacking in the OTC. Alongside the significant cuts to courses and staff with the move, the SCA Library contents were either shifted to the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library or the Fisher Library Stack; in saying this, the Schaeffer Library is one of the best fine art reference libraries in the country, and many SCA students have appreciated their new proximity to it. 

The Con Library hasn’t been immune to the University imposing new centralise policies without understanding the specific needs of the students that use it, such as a 2017 incident I first heard about in my first-year (in 2020). Dr Alan Maddox, former Conservatorium Head of Musicology further elaborated on this incident:

In 2017 a substantial cull of the Conservatorium Library’s holdings of hard copy books and CDs was instituted in line with a central university library policy to prioritise electronic holdings (ebooks and streaming). As there was no prior consultation with SCM staff, students or specialist librarians, it resulted in the loss of some important materials like CDs of recent Australian compositions which had liner notes that were not available online.

These types of central-University policies particularly impacted Con students during the Covid-19 Pandemic lockdowns, even though we were lucky to return to in-person learning much earlier. Despite the Conservatorium building being open to students, its Library was closed, and students would have to travel on public transport to the Fisher Library to pick up books and scores — even though these books were contained in the Con Library, and Library staff were inside to process orders. I have also personally been impacted from policies like this, either being forced to travel to Fisher to find items — or discovering books were missing entirely — when they could previously have been found at the Con. 

Sydney Conservatorium Library busts of women composers – photo: Vanessa Low, 23 June 2023

In researching for this article, the Conservatorium Students’ Association ran a poll on 17 January 2024 on its Instagram story, asking students about their usage of the Conservatorium Library. Around 95 students participated — about 5% of the Conservatorium community (including tertiary and high school students and staff) — with their views strongly contradicting the claims made by the ANU Library..

When asked about their weekly usage of the Library, only 17% said they never go, with more than 33% stating they go more than 3 days a week. When asked about their monthly usage of main campus libraries in Camperdown/Darlington (such as the Fisher or Law Libraries), 61% said they never go, and only 23% said they go 1-3 times a month. 

When these students go to the Con Library, 21% said they exclusively use it to study, whilst 34% said they find the most value in its collection, and the remaining 45% saying they use the Library for both. Continuing on that trend, 20% said they tend to borrow books and scores from their unplanned in-person browsing, 45% find them in online searches, and 34% use a mixture of both. 

With over half of students finding value in the Library for both its physical collection they can explore to find new pieces and for its study spaces, the Con Library is an important space and resource for all who study and practise their musical craft. These results are not of the ANU student population at SoAD and SoM, so are not reflective of their specific situation with the A&M Library; but they do show that the music students at USyd value their own specific library at their campus and wouldn’t appreciate its removal. 

The future of the Library

For at least Semester 1, the Art and Music Library will remain closed as it is necessary to repair the structural issues caused by hail, and it will be unsafe for students to use the space. Given the contents of the Library are still there, surrounded by scaffolding and under threat by renovations, one must question the amount of thought the ANU Library management is putting into the entire situation. 

After the repairs, we don’t know; the Library could either reopen as before, or plough ahead with the highly unpopular idea to turn it into a generic study space that students could find anywhere. The Art and Music Library is a unique space, both to ANU and to Canberra more generally, and for it close permanently will lump the fine arts with all other liberal arts, and give just another reason not to study at ANU for the fine arts. Given the importance of our fine art schools as hubs of culture in Australian cities, the continued degradation of the School of Art and Design and the School of Music can only result in more cultural flight in what is already a very sterile city. 

For the ANU to concede that “retaining the space as the A&M Library” is a possibility is a massive win for the students in SoAD and SoM. But this does not mean that the pressure cannot be lifted by student groups, as the University has historically shown that it does not care much for fine arts students when their bottom line is at stake. The ANU has emphasised the necessity of prudent spending, and the fine arts does not fit within that model, and thus continued pressure must be put on the University to ensure it realises the necessity of the Library to the fine arts students. 

Dr Maddox summed up well the feelings of the communities at these school with the constant attacks and changes we face from the largest institutions that manage us:

Users of smaller specialist libraries like the Conservatorium Library can sometimes feel remote from the University-level decisions that can have a big effect on our access to resources. 

All major fine arts schools in Australia, and around the world, have their own dedicated libraries for their craft. If the university can keep the unique law and science libraries, then it can surely keep its fine arts library. Instead, if the ANU permanently closes their Art and Music Library truly it would be the capitulating demonstration of their lack of care for the fine arts and their unique needs, clearly preferencing degrees that create financial return over cultural benefit. 

This lack of care for the fine arts has been happening since the 1990s amalgamation of the Canberra Institute of the Arts, and because of it, the cultural landscape of Canberra has and will continue to suffer. 

Save our Art & Music Library – photo: Alexander Poirier, 1 April 2024



Australian National University Spokesperson. Request for comment, email, 24 January 2024. 

Harrison, Luke (Education Officer at ANU Students’ Association). Request for comment, email, 23 January 2024. 

Maddox, Alan (former Head of Musicology at Sydney Conservatorium of Music). Request for comment, 12 March 2024. 

Rooke, Katherine (Librarian at Sydney Conservatorium Library). Request for information, email, 4 March 2024.


Sian Hardy (student at ANU School of Art and Design). Phone call with the author, 23 January 2024.


Hardy, Sian. ”Don't close the library!”, Open letter from Art and Music community, Open Letter. (accessed 18 January 2024)

Meeting minutes

Minutes of meeting between Australian National University students and University Librarian Roxanne Missingham, 8 December 2024. Provided, 4 February 2024. 


Missingham, Roxanne (University Librarian at Australian National University). “Art & Music Library - Temporary Closure & Relocation”, email, 29 November 2023.

Australian National University. “Last On Campus for 2023”, On Campus, email, 19 December 2023. 


Bushnell, Ian. "ANU to close Art and Music Library, proposes job cuts in fundraising overhaul." The Riotact (Canberra), December 5, 2023.

Bushnell, Ian. "Students and alumni rail against ANU decision to close Art and Music Library." The Riotact (Canberra), December 6, 2023.

Fetherston, Charlotte. "ANU." Conversation (Sydney Conservatorium of Music), May 18, 2012.

Fetherston, Charlotte. "ANU Continued." Conversation (Sydney Conservatorium of Music), June 4, 2012.

GKB. "ANU plans to merge libraries... takes away from students." The Riotact (Canberra), April 5, 2011.

Lansdown, Sarah. "ANU students protest plans to turn Art and Music Library into study space." The Canberra Times, December 4, 2023.

Musa, Helen. "Opinion: ANU holds fast on ‘arrogant’ changes." City News (Canberra), June 18, 2012.

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Sydney Conservatorium Students’ Association (ABN 25 241 868 518). Usage rates of Sydney Conservatorium Library. Story Poll: Instagram (@usyd.csa), 17 January 2024.


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