On 23 February 2023, the University of California, Berkeley announced in a campus-wide email its intention to close its George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library, long housed in the Anthropology and Art Practice Building on campus.
Although a small departmental library was already present in the early years of Berkeley’s Anthropology Department and Museum (both founded in 1901), it was only in 1956 that the Anthropology Library was established as an official branch of the Berkeley system, after vigorous efforts by Berkeley archaeologist John Howland Rowe (1918–2004). It has since acquired significant collections of some 80,000 volumes in the department’s four subfields (sociocultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology), as well in related fields such as folklore, medical anthropology, and ethnic studies.
In 1997, the Anthropology Library was officially renamed to honor cultural anthropologist George McClelland Foster (1913–2006), professor at Berkeley from 1953 to 1979 and expert in Mexican peasant societies, who also helped found the joint Berkeley-UCSF program in medical anthropology in 1975, as well as the anthropological linguist Mary (Mickie) LeCron Foster (1914–2001), who specialized in the anthropology of peace and the origins of language. It currently remains one of only a handful of dedicated anthropology libraries in the United States (leaving aside anthropological collections in the libraries of natural history and art museums), including the Tozzer Library at Harvard University, the Penn Museum Library at the University of Pennsylvania, the John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology at the Smithsonian, and the Anthropology Library at SUNY Buffalo.
Under the university’s current plans, which cite an estimated $400,000 in annual savings, the library’s dedicated space would be closed and its volumes would be merged with the collections of the Main (Gardner) Stacks Library, with many volumes held in storage off-site. The university’s announcement drew immediate criticism from both students and faculty in the Department of Anthropology, as well as the wider public, including public figures such as Ralph Nader and former Governor of California Jerry Brown. Several have noted that this closure is the culmination of longstanding resource and budgetary reductions to the library; indeed, opening hours were only maintained after two previous student sit-in protests in 2009 and in 2012. The Anthropology Department’s website hosts both testimonials and an open letter related to the closure, and students have been engaged in a continuous occupation of the library since April 21 in protest, prompting coverage in national news outlets such as the New York Times.