Mellon Seeds

I’d like to separate some of the ongoing conversations about Texas from concrete ideas on what a library conservation training program would look like. I’d like to use this post as a landing place for ideas that answer these questions:

What are the basic curricular requirements for graduate level training in book and paper conservation?  In order to deliver such a curriculum effectively, what is the desirable scope of faculty (numbers and expertise), financial aid, laboratory facilities, internship opportunities, and administrative staff?

There are some good ideas posited already over at the BPIG roundup. If you have some thoughts, please post them here. All ideas, big and small, blue sky and practical are welcome, the more the better.

Roberta Pilette and I sat down after the BPIG meeting to think this through….here’s an image of what we were thinking.

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11 Responses

  1. To expand on the napkin, here is our “McCormick and Schmick’s Conservation Education Program” outline.

    Library component

    Cataloging/Metadata & Archives are included
    Materials aspect/science
    Chemistry
    History

    Craft—binding/bench:
    Paper & book
    Flexible for courses that could take AV and/or photo in place of one of the required treatment classes

    Management: People, programs and projects

    Digital: understand, not necessarily do

    Standards/best practices:
    Who is doing what & where—international component

    Research methods:
    Assessments/statistics

    Location:
    Allows for short courses and bringing in speakers
    Community service aspect (mini-angels projects)
    Substitute for a summer project?
    Supplies for such projects would be considered part of the supplies for the program; e.g. the recipient institution does not have to pay for supplies. If they can, that’s great, but not a requirement.

    Preservation overview course (NEDCC curriculum) gives the overview of the field

    Flexibility—encouraged to take courses in other areas:
    IP/Copyright from Law
    Management from Business

    Internships are funded

    • a few quick thoughts on what needs to be included in book and paper conservation training is ethics and treatment decision-making. Its not that these would need to be their own course, but ethics is what separates conservation from restoration work and decision-making is what divides a conservator from a technician. These are also skills that I would imagine to be very difficult to acquire under an independent study without intensive support and oversight.

  2. graduates of the UT conservation program seem to become administrators more often that graduates of other conservation programs. is this because the UT program (as it is/was) emphasizes library skills at the same level, or even more than craft? ….and what if a conservation program focused more on craft/conservation skills rather than administration?

    the above brainstorming from Ms. Pilette & Beth is great, really great. its thorough and useful to start discussion, but in my opinion too comprehensive. instead i would focus on three topics for the next generation of conservation education, which for some reason are somewhat overlooked in the current program: 1-comprehensive literature reviews on conservation and connoisseurship, 2-book, paper (other?) conservation skills (bench work, bookbinding, related crafts like sharpening, etc.), and 3-directed conservation science research (possibly up to the phd level).

    this framework might be too simple… however my underlying point–which would be a fundamental change from the current program and from the one proposed by previous authors– is that i do not think a library degree is necessary for library & archive conservators.library-management education and conservation education are not as closely aligned as they may have been 30 yrs ago. i understand the vision that paul banks had for library & archive conservators, but i think the profession has matured and become more sophisticated and specialized. And as a current UT conservation student, i can attest first-hand to the numerous requirements of the program that keep me out of the labs and away from training. i would instead advocate for the investment in a conservation-only path. practically, this type of program would not be aligned with library and archive programs. rather it would seem to me to make more sense at art, book-art, or conservation programs.

    with the UT program at an end, we must advocate for the next conservation education opportunity… and hopefully we can help shape what it is. this was my 2 cents, id be happy to hear yours.

  3. I wrote this, and then I read what “diplomaticsbooks” wrote, and I guess I’m kinda saying the same thing.

    I don’t mean to be deviously provocative, but the idea came to me that maybe we need to let go of the idea of libraries having conservators on staff. I’m not saying that libraries shouldn’t conserve their materials, but maybe it would be a more effective structure for libraries to hire outside non-librarian conservators to do their work.

    My impression is that programs like the UT program are training librarian conservators – people who understand the technical details of conservation, but within the broader context of institutional libraries. So these students end up taking courses in cataloging and library administration. Is trying to create these well-rounded, library system understanding conservators a waste of time, when all we really want them to do is “fix books”?

    It is my understanding that 100 years ago, many libraries had in-house binderies. Today, this work is done by well standardized commercial entities. Should this be the approach for conservation as well? (This arrangement is already the case for many libraries.)

    I’m wondering whether it would serve us better to approach conservation as a technical professional who works on library materials, rather than as a librarian with technical skills.

    Libraries do need preservation professionals who understand the big pictures of collections care and who can work intelligently with conservators. I just don’t know if libraries need librarian conservators. (but I’m open to be convinced otherwise.)

  4. I’m concerned by the notion that it isn’t important to have library training combined with craft. I can sympathize with the stresses of feeling like you’re time is being taken up by fulfilling library assignments instead of allowing you to refine your skills as a conservator. I never felt as though the program was training us to be library managers, it was training us on how to communicate with these individuals and institutions and providing us with a more concrete context for our work. Most people that seek out master’s degrees do it with the goal of being a professional in a given field and by receiving a rounded education. This is where extensive pre-program experience comes in handy because by the time you get to the program, the learning curve isn’t so high when it comes to treatments and bookbinding skills, and you can focus more on learning about things you don’t know, which was still a lot for me. Graduate school is hard. Any student from any of the other conservation training programs will tell you the same thing. It’s a very difficult and stressful time; one just has to accept that to a degree. Fortunately, it doesn’t last forever and lots of other people have survived it.

    Based on your comments, and my own experiences, I think the program would benefit from being a little longer so that students didn’t feel so rushed and pressured to complete all the required courses. The few library school classes that we were required to take could have been taught better, which is a complaint that many students at the ischool have said themselves. In fact, these concerns have been presented to the administration and faculty and hopefully with this curriculum review they will be improved.

    The idea of not having conservators on staff at a library is worrisome. First of all, outsourcing treatments is much more expensive than having an in-house conservator. One of the conservator’s main roles, in collaboration with curators, is prioritizing and selecting treatments within the context of the institution. Quality control is another issue. If there is no on-staff conservator who will review the treatments to make sure that they have been done ethically and correctly? Librarians won’t have anyone to consult on issues of housing, selecting, exhibits, and a whole slew of other topics that come up day to day. In retrospect, I’m glad that I’ve received some library training in conjunction with my conservation training. It has and will continue to allow me to communicate and understand library’s concerns and needs. I think it’s a bit short sighted to state that library training is unnecessary when one hasn’t yet begun a career as a library conservator. In the short time that I’ve been away from Texas, skills I learned at UT have come in handy, even though at the time I was learning them I may have felt frustrated because I wasn’t able to be in the lab. I’m not trying to say that every single thing you learned in every single library class may be useful, it might not, but then again it might.

  5. @kathy: my background should not be the point (and its more than you are assuming), and everyone’s experiences, large or small, will shape their viewpoint differently… and also the discussion about a larger craft focus for the library and archive conservation program is NOT new.

    otherwise, your points are interesting… those about the length of the program seem actually to emphasize your idea to improve the craft component of conservation training (though i certainly understand that you aren’t advocating conservation-only ed)…

  6. I guess I wonder why book conservation should be different than any other branch of conservation. AIC has compiled a list of what they consider the “essential competencies” for a conservator:
    bit.ly/51LQ8k
    Aren’t books moving out of the library and into the museum?

    • I think Jeff raises an excellent point. As the use, scope and nature of the collections that receive treatment by well-trained conservators shifts towards the museological, why not look toward existing programs and educational standards in object conservation for inspiration?

    • Hi Jeff!
      In general I agree with you–as a PCS graduate in private practice supporting preservation and conservation activities in libraries and archives, I find myself seldom utilizing my bench skills. I have a small group of dealers and private collectors whom I enjoy working with, and this allows me to spend about 15% of my time performing treatments–if I didn’t need the additional income, it would almost be a hobby!
      But for the core group of my clients, I almost never can ethically recommend that they put money into treatment, even though I would love to be doing more bench work! What most of my collections-holding clients need is to increase intellectual control & access, and to provide appropriate storage furniture and housings to mitigate the effects of fluctuating temp & RH. My clients need to learn how to manage their assets and provide better service to their user groups in order to stay culturally relevant. Very little of this need is addressable via bench skills.
      I too think that complex treatments can be best taught in a museum program; this doesn’t mean that materials science, collections maintenance, and management of preservation activities are not a VITAL part of library and archival education–but the role of the artifact in collections has changed and new challenges for research institutions in the digital era should in turn change the focus of our professional education.

  7. In relation to book conservation training, perhaps a way to bridge the varied worlds of museums and libraries would be to site any future training program within a consortium of institutions already hosting library or museum studies programs, as is possible in several metropolitan areas. The costs of administering, teaching and training the students can be shared amongst several institutions, with work-study opportunities for those students within local cultural heritage institutions of varying size and focus.

    Those students who wish to pursue library, archival, or museum immersion would have collections at hand to work with, in return for their host institution potentially covering their tuition costs or paying them outright. The students, in conjunction with their employers, could draw upon the collections to design group or solo projects to satisfy course requirements. The students would learn how to adapt theory to real-life restrictive resource environments, would be accountable that the work delivered/performed (either solely or jointly in a group project) be useable for their employers, and would gain valuable references for future job applications. Students could collaborate with their professional colleagues on research projects, availing themselves of the teaching institutions’ equipment as needed and providing publishable content for the cultural institutions’ existing PR/marketing channels, helping raise their profile within the field. Add on a layer of fellowship offerings within that community, and students could choose to stay a bit longer and fully explore a research interest in depth, fine-tune bench skills if needed, or write grants before taking their first long-term job or hanging out their shingle.

    It seems to me that most funding entities really like collaborative projects that spread the exposure over several institutions, as it also demonstrates the community’s willingness to buy into a program for the long-term. By pooling various disparate institutions’ assets and strengths, a ready-made forum would exist for on-going debate of ethical dilemmas posed by treatments, or the definition and enlargement of the roles to be played by future conservators, preservation administrators and curators alike, without having to wait for annual conferences to begin the discussions.

    And while this blog is creating an excellent opportunity for individuals to voice their thoughts and concerns regarding the future of conservation training, amongst other critical topics pertinent to our field, what about proposing a sort of “town-hall listening tour” for a chosen individual who will be participating in the future high-level discussions on the future of conservation education? The individual could publicize his or her attendance at the upcoming conferences sponsored by the various constituents affected by conservation training (ie. ALA, AIC, SAA, AAM) with dedicated time to speak about the concerns that have already been raised and ask for feedback. It might provide a measure of how great the upset of the closure of the Kilgarlin Center is to the various fields, if at all, and offer those of us who may be more reticient about posting our personal opinions online the opportunity for a more discreet communication. At the very least, it would be good to have the contact information of a point person within this high-level discussion that we can refer people to.

  8. @Laura and everyone, I know for a fact that some of the principles who need this info for the Mellon meeting are reading the blog. This is the best place to post ideas. If anyone wishes to remain anonymous, they can email the PCAN editors and we will get their message to the right people.

    Mellon has been quiet about who they invited to the meeting, we respect their right to do that and the invitees’ right not to have this info made public unless they personally make that information known. I assure you they are reading the posts here and are paying attention.

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