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ALA recap: BPIG

This has been an interesting ALA conference. As co-chair of the ALCTS PARS Book and Paper Interest Group, I want to share with you one part our program.

Our agenda included a discussion on the recent UT announcement regarding the Center for the Cultural Record. [Update 01/20/2010: With the recent implementation of its new website, the UT School of Information has posted a revised announcement “Curriculum Revision and the CAS.”] We wanted to focus on the core principles or subjects we felt were absolutely necessary in training library conservators. This was to be a continuation of a conversation held before the Preservation Administrators Interest Group that morning. Just before we started a surprise guest came in…Andrew Dillon, Dean of the University of Texas iSchool. The following is a summary of what he told us:

UT iSchool was left with a financial hole that had to be addressed in part due to the ending of the NEH grant which supported the Center [the NEH representative in the audience clarified for Dillon that they didn’t end the funding per se, they told UT they would not continue funding the program as currently conceived]. In addition there is a mandate from the provost to reduce costs by an additional 5% by mid February on top of cuts made last year. The decision to restructure preservation administration and conservation studies will not alleviate the budget pressures on the iSchool. Dillon feels they need to get to the point where they do not rely on external funding to support the Center.

UT envisions a school that integrates both the preservation administration and the conservation studies classes into the regular iSchool curriculum. Advanced certificates can still be obtained, but students will have to put their own curriculum together instead of following a standard progression of classes proscribed by the iSchool.

Dillon said that there will still be a Center for the Cultural Record [Update 01/20/2010: With the recent implementation of its new website, the UT iSchool removed information for or any trace of the Kilgarlin Center], but that they were in conversation with the current donors [that would be William and Margaret Kilgarlin] concerning the gift that named the center. Additional info: the interim director of the Center has been “assigned” to another institution in order to explore a promising career opportunity.

Discussion ensued. We welcomed hearing directly from Dean Dillon and hope that he continues including us in the conversations as we move forward. If you attended BPIG please share your thoughts and opinions with us here on PCAN. We will put all comments under the Pres/Cons Training category so you can find them easily.

20 Responses

  1. I gave Dean Dillon a few words of wisdom from my perspective after the meeting and will share them here as a comment to my post. As always, opinions expressed on PCAN are my own and do not reflect my employer’s.

    First, we as a profession and as alumni are frustrated with the way this announcement was handled. I believe that UT needs to be transparent in this regard and told Dillon that. News of the decision has only gotten out because of the extensive alumni network, not because information has been forthcoming by UT iSchool. The only word we have gotten from UT is in defense of the decision, and frankly the information they are allowing to become public is very one sided. Perhaps it has to be, but there is much more to this story that most people have heard.

    I am amazed that some sort of communication to the larger alumni community wasn’t made prior to the “public” announcement (isn’t that what our alumni email list is for?). The announcement was so deeply buried on the iSchool site that you needed someone to send you a link to know it existed. In fact, if you go to the Center’s web site you would not know that the program is in turmoil. This is outrageous…until they put this announcement on the front page of the Center’s web site they are misleading potential students. And “misleading” is a mild word for it. [Interestingly none of the Center’s websites seem to be working now…but then their website is acting funny so it may just be a bug.]

    Second, I explained to Dillon that we are facing a dual crises in the field. The field is aging, those that began the theory and practice of library conservation are starting to retire after a long career. There has also been a number of voluntary retirements and buyouts due to the economy, and we aren’t out of those woods yet. Already there is a small number of professionals with the years of service and experience that can step into those jobs (if they are re-opened at all). Now, with no conservators being trained at UT we face another gap, that at the entry level. If those of us now in our mid-careers are promoted into the top jobs, who will have the experience to step into our positions ready to hit the ground running? This potentially puts our collections at risk. And let’s face it, the young professionals will also be at risk since there will be a higher potential for early burnout due to the stress of being in a job that they may not be ready to take on.

    I also said to Dillon that the school now faces a real risk in a drop in placement rates for their graduates. Those students who do decide to kluge together some sort of “conservation” or “preservation” study will come out of UT far less qualified than if they followed a progressive program of study. Placement rates are important to any academic program, it is one marker of success that the larger university follows. Until now, when a UT grad applied for an open position I would automatically take that resume seriously as I knew they have a good baseline from which they are starting. From where I sit, that will no longer be the case once this last Kilgarlin class finishes this summer.

    I think that preservation administration education can very likely happen within the proposed integrated structure. It is equally likely that training conservators will not happen at UT under this new scheme and will have to take place somewhere else. The requirements are too specialized and too complex to leave it up to chance which is basically what they are proposing. It is time that we as a professional body, as alumni, and as employers of conservators start talking as a group to determine where to go from here. UT is dead, long live UT.

  2. I think your observations about the way this was handled are important and should be taken seriously. You’re absolutely right.

    However, I find your doom and gloom assessment of these changes totally baseless. You’re presupposing that changes only implemented days ago will necessarily lead to an inferior education only because you imagine it to be so. You have the same instructors teaching in newer labs, but somehow a less rigid degree path than your own is akin to a kluge with “no conservators being trained at UT”. You lament the “crisis” of dwindling numbers of experts and express great concern for the future of your field, while at the same time preemptively impugning the reputations of future students who will complete a course of study about which you cannot possibly know the outcome.

    I think it’s important that you care about your field and the students who are entering it, but this whole sky is falling conspiracy theory thing is really getting old and is making you alums come off as officious and supercilious. If your position is that your work is too specialized and too complex to leave to the vagaries and inadequacies of an information school, then maybe you should denounce your ALA affiliations and take up residence in a chemistry department.

    Fuck the Dean and put your hurt feelings aside and start carrying the field you care about so much. Don’t leave those course plans to chance, don’t plan for and then wait on the demise of your field, and start imagining a new cadre of graduates who hasten your early retirements because they have skills that are years ahead of where you were when you graduated. I’m really irritated by what you said about future graduates of your program. Those are your people and you all need to come down off your high horse.

    There is much more to this story, hopefully you’ll be able to write it.

  3. Fair enough Matt, but let’s keep this civil. It is true that this announcement is very new and it remains to be seen what happens at Texas. I will wait and see what happens and judge the applicants on their merits. But without a core curriculum that addresses both the theory and practice of book and paper conservation I find it hard to understand how people will be prepared for the work. I say this with more than a decade of experience in the field and a good understanding of what skills you need to be effective in your job. If you interpret that as “officious and supercilious” or as having a “sky is falling conspiracy theory” so be it.

    For the record I am a staunch supporter of a library school education for conservators with all of its “inadequacies” and “vagaries”, anyone who knows me knows that. As a student I advocated for a more flexible curriculum and think it would be great to have more options to explore your interests. However, I can’t get away from the notion that there are requirements that must be met including library science, chemistry, materials science, book history, bench skills and the like if you want to be a book and paper conservator in a library or achives. The dean indicated that these would no longer be required, but rather elective and that does greatly concern me. No school is perfect, and you learn a lot more in an internship or on the job than in a classroom, but you do need some basic skills before you get your first job.

    I am not planning for the demise of the profession, I am in fact doing the exact opposite. Nor am I intimidated by the young professionals who, as you put it “have skills that are years ahead of where [I was] when [I] was graduated.” I would expect, and demand, nothing less than the evolution and betterment of the field as it matures. I for one will not be hastened out of the profession because their skills are presumably “years ahead” of mine (let’s leave that debate for another time). In fact I will be the one hiring them and giving them opportunities to grow in the profession.

    I think you are dead right when you say we should be carrying the field and that’s the very conversation I’m trying to start here. Where do we go from this point forward? I actually do have thoughts on that, and will be posting those along with other people’s in the days to come. I’d like to hear some concrete thoughts about that from you Matt, how would you put a conservation program together if you had the chance?

  4. Thanks Beth & Holly for the updates on the activities/discussion at ALA.

    While there are many important issues in this conversation about UT, one thing I’m curious about is if there is any explanation on the part of the NEH what it was about the current conception of the program they didn’t like? Whether or not the program needed to change is unknown to me, but when distant funders suddenly declare “change, or we cut funding” I’m curious what the funder’s agenda is. It is perfectly within the right of the NEH to fund whatever project it chooses, but these funders (especially federally financed ones) need to be entirely transparent as to their motives and agenda when they tell an organization, change or we cut your funds.

    Any insights?

    (Oh, and I think the idea of a conservator in training designing their own academic program pedagogically goofy!)

  5. My (imperfect) understanding about NEH is that there are certain things they will pay for as a start-up cost, but will not continue to support as a program becomes more established. I heard that readers of the last cycle of NEH were complete puzzled as to why the grant was continuing to support faculty positions (they were surprised that the university was not supporting them), especially considering that other conservation programs were applying for such things as grants for their students so that they could focus on their education.

    One thing that appears to have been lost with this new vision of the Kilgarlin curriculum is the additional admissions requirements that were in place. So a student who decides to build their own specialization may be less acquainted with the professional field, which is even more problematic when the onus of building one’s own specialization is on the student.

  6. 1. Define the scope of our work and our cognate disciplines more clearly so we can develop a solid core curriculum in “big tent” conservation and preservation: We must more carefully delineate among the concepts of conservation, preservation/preservation administration, archives, special librarianship, etc. A book and paper conservator is a kind of conservator, a preservation administrator is not a “conservator light, and archivists and others interested in special collections or other areas need instruction in preservation and conservation. Old fractious divisions must die.

    2. Beyond “big tent” core concepts, decide and define on specializations. What PCS and later Kilgarlin did well with book and paper conservators, as you rightly affirm, was to craft admission requirements, curriculum, and post graduate guidelines that were judged exceptional by the outside community. What we have not done well is expanding on the success of this niche into other areas while claiming that we’re preserving the cultural record. Obviously book and paper, but I think audio, photographic, film, and digital conservation studies are a must.

    3. Hang a big welcome sign on our big tent!: HRC, CAH, LBJ, UT Libraries, Blanton, Presidential Libraries…the list goes on and on. If I’m the Dean and I’m not meeting monthly with the heads of these organizations then I don’t deserve my suit, my cute accent or the $235K I pull down each year.

    4. If money is tight and faculty cannot be hired, I’d bring in a rotating cadre of experts for teaching stints from all over the world (maybe start with those people most horrified at the current state of our program). I’d work out deals with the UT conference center and other in-house connections to help defray the costs of bringing people in. I’d pull strings and I’d adapt and overcome to dream of novel ways to still be great even though we can’t afford to hire faculty. Then I’d brag to my provost about how I did it and tell him about the Atlantic Monthly piece coming out next month about this crazy Dean’s idea to keep his school evolving despite having dwindling money. (I got carried away there)

    5. I’d start a peer reviewed online journal to publish research and other topics from our big tent and specializations therein. I’d publicize the hell out of it.

    6. I’d start a publicity machine and set a goal of getting some promotional or research piece out to the media, collecting institutions, and/or general public each month. I’d encourage my students to maintain blogs, I’d hire a professional photographer to take great photos of our labs and work, and I’d develop media kits.

    7. I’d invite the public once a month for preservation and conservation events where we’d assess damaged materials of all media, digitize things, and perform other services that we are capable of. I’d make sure a media person was there to cover it.

    Okay those are 7 ideas off the top of my head. I realize the devil is in the details in many of them, but honestly our work is such an easy sell and it KILLS me how bad administrators can be at promoting this field and our work.

  7. Matt, I think you and I have a lot more in common than your realize. These are great ideas, thank you for putting them down in digital ink. This is the kind of conversation I was hoping to have at BPIG before it went off the rails.

  8. Beth and Holly,

    Thanks so much for providing the ALA BPIG meeting summary, and this discussion forum.

    Beth, I too am concerned with how the curriculum changes have been described (or, rather, “defended”). As many are aware, previous to the current curriculum changes, the conservation program at UT had been scaled back by one full semester over the past decade, for various reasons (which I gather included cost cutting and perhaps a desire for more flexibility to allow students more opportunity to gain work experience). Prior to the current changes, many felt that the conservation program was as bare bones as it could possibly be.

    Curious about how the curriculum has actually changed, I reviewed the current UT offerings for a “certification of advanced study” in conservation (or preservation)
    and compared it to the conservation program requirements from 1998 (when I graduated from the program).

    I thought others might be interested in the major differences I noted:

    — The current “certificate of specialization” requires 12 credits in addition to the 40 required for the MSIS. In 1998, the conservator program required “66 hours of course work, plus an 18 hour two semester, internship, over three years” of study (inclusive of the MLIS).
    — In 1998, conservator students were required to take six treatment laboratory classes. The current specialization offerings include two treatment laboratory classes that students might opt to take.
    — Two intensive “chemistry for conservators” classes were required of conservator students graduating in 1998. The current offerings make no mention of chemistry.
    — As Sonja notes, prerequisites are also lost in the new paradigm. In 1998, one had to be accepted into the conservation program separately from the GSLIS, showing evidence of serious interest, hand skills, and having fulfilled the general and organic chemistry prerequisites.

    I did not analyze the changes to the preservation track, but those seem a less worrisome, at lease on the surface. I wonder exactly what sort of conservation professionals this new specialization aims to graduate, if at all? If the new offerings are are rather aimed at graduating preservation librarians, and/or perhaps librarians/information professionals with some awareness of preservation and/or conservation, then why not state that specifically?

    In this regard I noticed with some concern that the iSchool continues to tout itself as the “nation’s #1 program in archives and preservation,” which “offer(s) students the chance to learn both the basics and advanced skills in…paper and book conservation…” .

    I agree that the future of conservation training is the more interesting and pressing question, but thought a closer look at UT’s current conservation offerings in conjunction with a look back might be helpful to the discussion of where to go from here.

    I look forward to hearing more …


  9. As a recent Kilgarlin alumnus I am very happy to see this discussion being held and all these good points being raised.

    I can testify to the fact that the conservator training program had been downsized quite a bit from its inception, both in time limit and courses. I believe I received excellent training from the conservators on staff that adequately prepared me for a career in library and archives conservation, but some aspects could have been improved upon. Fortunately the gaps in the program could be filled by extensive pre-program experience, and volunteer and internship opportunities within local libraries and archives on UT’s campus. In fact, many institutions on campus depend on these relationships with conservator students. They provide valuable experiences for students while simultaneously receiving care for their collections.

    How will students supplement this type of education? Will they have to carry out additional apprenticeships or internships in order to gain the proper level of education as conservators? Will institutions have to take on more of this responsibility, accepting recent graduates from this new program understanding that they will have to complete these students’ training? Will these internships need to be longer? Or does a new book and paper conservation training program need to be created at another institution to fill this gap? I’m eager to see responses to these questions and learn what others in the field see as the future of book and paper conservator education.

  10. On a completely different tack, I wonder how Dean Dillon is dealing with the donor relations nightmare that he’s caused with Judge and Margaret Kilgarlin. Maybe donor relations are handled differently at large state institutions than they are at small museums, but giving a $1 million gift to name a center that then gets shut down five years later is a pretty big slap in the face.

    It’s also my understanding that the interim director hasn’t been “assigned to” but rather gleefully scooped up and prized by another conservation education institution while the Texas program is in flux. I can’t understand why Dean Dillon doesn’t see the value of her work, since she single-handedly ran the center, cultivated donor relations, won grant after grant after grant and taught classes EVERY YEAR. But I don’t understand most of what his position is in this case, so I won’t beat my head against that wall.

    Dillon said that there will still be a Center for the Cultural Record [Update 01/20/2010: With the recent implementation of its new website, the UT iSchool removed information for or any trace of the Kilgarlin Center], but that they were in conversation with the current donors [that would be William and Margaret Kilgarlin] concerning the gift that named the center. Additional info: the interim director of the Center has been “assigned” to another institution in order to explore a promising career opportunity.

  11. @Anna, the interim director is Caroline Fricke, she is the one “assigned” to another institution. The last director, Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa, who ran the program for the past few years, is the one who got scooped up by another conservation program. In essence, there are two non-tenured faculty remaining to teach book and paper conservation.

    I think the issue of having no tenured faculty in an academic program is a real one and was mentioned a lot during ALA discussions. I know Ellen is working on her PhD and will be finished soon (yeah for her!). However, until now the Masters has been the terminal degree in preservation (and conservation) and until that changes we will face this problem no matter where a program may land. Unless, that is, tenure as we know it goes away, which is actually being discussed in academic circles now.

  12. Thank you Beth and Holly for a great forum for this discussion. I think a lot of valid comments have come out of this so far. One thing I would like others input on is the lack of acknowledgment or discussion on the AIC blog regarding the UT program. I know we have always been the poor stepchild of AIC, but I would have thought that there would have been some comment. Of course, I may have missed it too…

  13. Hi All- Eliza Gilligan (class of 2000) currently at UVA Library –

    a couple of quick points…

    * I think Sonja made a very good point about NEH funding, they have been carrying a significant portion of the program for many years, if UT doesn’t start to assume the responsibility for its faculty then it is reasonable for the NEH to question the university’s long term commitment to the program
    * self directed electives at the graduate level do seem rather odd for conservation, if you don’t have the knowledge already, how can you craft a curriculum for yourself?
    * likewise if the book and paper conservation professors are not funded for full time teaching, how can they afford to stay at UT and will the students be able to count on having the faculty they need for the self-directed portion of their program
    * my experience with budget drills would also indicate that flying expert people in from all over would be more expensive and problematic than supporting full time faculty on site
    * to address Matt’s #7 comment about meeting with the people from other collections at UT, I believe the Dean was provided with documentation describing all the free hours of conservation treatment that these collections received thanks to PCS students, apparently it didn’t tip the balance. too bad…

    so glad this discussion is underway…

  14. […] are some good ideas posited already over at the BPIG roundup. If you have some thoughts, please post them here. All […]

  15. 8. Invite heavy hitter scientists, scholars, writers, academics and others who are known to have either praised or otherwise identified in some way the work of conservators, preservation administrators, archivists, etc. for facilitating the generation of new knowledge. Making direct ties between our work and the people who benefit from it is essential.

    9. Identify faculty with spinal cords: Why so much focus on the Dean? Because “the talent” (i.e. faculty) sit on their hands, avoid active and difficult participation on committees, and sit silently grinding their teeth while less bashful people start running with their ideas. The most confrontational email sent by faculty to the main iSchool mail list in the last several years was between two faculty members debating their justifications over whether or not to wear regalia to commencement ceremonies. Faculty activism is non-existent even though tenure is alive and well. Non-tenured faculty deserve some slack, but honestly if you can’t be bold without out it you may be in the wrong medieval profession. Don’t blame Dillon just because he’s the only one who shows up to debate. Shame on the faculty! ( http://tinyurl.com/ybbnse6 | http://tinyurl.com/yeo8sns [cruel irony])

    10. Get real about multidisciplinary education: This is essentially a combination of all the points, but the upshot is that this is difficult work and the LIS and iSchool movement adherents have been terrible at doing difficult work. There are competing self-interests, diverse and often conflicting educational and philosophical backgrounds, differing views on what constitutes scholarship, and many other legitimate debates about where we go from here. We can talk about changing academic landscapes, but in actuality we’re simply bringing people under one roof whose academic souls remained tied to wherever and however they cut their teeth. This is true for everyone. There is an abundance of arrogance, intransigence, and avoidance and a lack of communication, cooperation and collaboration. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all polite whistling through the graveyard kind of stuff because actual acrimony and upheaval would require more #9. This blog and others like it are a step in the right direction and I applaud you all.

  16. Matt Hoffman (whoever you are … I’m doubting that’s your real name, but I think I understand your need for a disguise), I applaud you. You’ve hit the nail on the head and on nearly every great idea captured in the Mellon Program Review report on the Kilgarlin Center (completed during the summer of 2009 — I’m working now to try to make that report and the very useful employment data about the Kilgarlin Center students / alumni public) … and then offered us some fantastic ideas that truly get beyond the entrenchment of the past / the “what went so wrong at UT” that many of us, alums especially, are working through in order to meet a professional obligation to envision and enable the future.

  17. In wake of the January 2010 announcements from the UT ischool -announcements that perhaps define a turning point in our field of library and archives preservation/conservation, I would like to throw a few of my own words out into the digital air.

    First, a note of support for the many ideas and concerns discussed here on the topic of library and archives preservation/conservation education. I think it will take all this energy and more to build a new future for this important educational area, at UT and beyond…

    Second– on a historic note. It took a very long time for Paul Banks and his colleagues to build the conservation/preservation program that started in 1981 at Columbia School of Library Service and has now reached this particular incarnation in 2010 at UT Austin. For better or worse the structure Paul built defined important/controversial outlines of the field for many years. New educational structures for preservation/conservation now evolving at UT and at other institutions may also take great effort and live controversial lives. If I can be forgiven for being slightly Zen here, we have great opportunities and risks at this moment: “Barn Burned Down — Now I Can See The Moon. ”

    On that note and at this interesting time in our field, I have a series of thanks to proclaim from this temporary blog soap-box. Forgive me for any thanks I have forgotten…there are so many folks to thank that I am sure to forget some.

    1. Thanks to ALL colleagues at the UT ischool who have supported preservation and conservation studies over the years and continue to devote energy into it. There is so much potential good work to do, and there are so many potential new ideas to build on…

    2. Thanks to the amazing students I have worked with at the school since 2001…conservators, PA’s, librarians, archivists, book historians and all inbetween…YOU have been wonderful.

    3. Thanks to the current PA and conservation students and their pals who have kept their focus on love of their work and professionalism as all this turmoil roiled around them.

    4. Thanks to all of you concerned citizens out there who have created this and other forums for communication on topics we hold dear.

    5. BIG thanks to NEH, who gave tremendous financial and professional support to the library and archives conservation/preservation education program at Columbia and UT over the years. NEH(it seemed to me) was always clear about the type of support they hoped to provide, and the type of support they were disappointed at still being asked to provide. Their position makes sense to me and I fully support it.

    6. Mellon worked with us this last summer to discuss the future of conservation education at the ischool UT Austin, and their support has been incredible and invaluable.

    7. Colleagues at ANAGPIC have been amazingly supportive.

    8. ALA, SAA, Guild of Bookworkers and AIC(and other groups) have all worked to incorporate the voices of library and archives preservation/conservation over the years. This is a young specialization and it has made an indelible mark on allied professions.

    9. Judge Kilgarlin has been very generous and articulate in his support for conservation and preservation education during his association with the UT School of Information, and I am honored to have been associated with his ideals.

    10. UT and the ischool have, alongside NEH, Judge Kilgarlin, Mr. Kim Watson and others, invested many years of of energy into preservation/conservation education as it has evolved, and they all have my thanks.

    For particulars on the curriculum and certificates at the ischool, I cannot offer details other than what is on the (new)website.

    I am always happy to chat on the phone about library and archives conservation education issues ….and I will dip my toes into blog-land as I feel able to carve out the time.

    Thanks again for all you folks do for the field, and for providing these blogs…

    chela metzger
    lecturer–UT Austin ischool
    book conservator, bookbinder, old-school librarian type

  18. @Beth

    I’m so out of the loop, I didn’t realize there was another director after Ellen.

  19. […] but none were found. [More on the UT-iSchool’s administrations viewpoint was presented at BPIG’s midwinter meeting with Andrew Dillon, Dean of the […]

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