Thoughts on the future training of library conservators

Oh, so you thought this blog was dead, eh? Me too. But then I went to the AIC conference and now maybe I have a few things to say. Mostly things about the future of education programs for library/archives conservators, which was a discussion panel held at this year’s conference in Philadelphia. Three programs were represented on the panel – Buffalo, NYU and Winterthur/Delaware.  Others have already blogged about their interpretations of the discussion, and it’s implications for the future of library conservation training. Kevin Driedger’s post is what really prompted me to sit down and write this post, but both Jeff Peachey and Beth at PCAN have a good “who said what” outline of the discussion – if you weren’t there, go read their write-ups and come back here. My notes are a jumbled mess that barely make sense to me, let alone anyone else, but I’ve got a list of all the tweets I made while the discussion was going on in situ. Feel free to just skip ahead to the next part, though.

•Interesting to hear how library conservation edu. programs really rely heavily on adjunct faculty. Not sure if that’s a good thing.
•Those Buffalo library conservation students have it extra good – they get an extra $1K stipend than the other students. WHAT.
•Wish they had given us a list of the admission req. for these programs. They all seem to be quite different. One requires German!
•”Offer more entry-level jobs for recent grads . Too many ppl fall into that 2-5 years of experience gap.” AMEN
•So far nobody has addressed the issue of too many grads, not enuf jobs. Lotta talk about equipment and labs, rare book issues.
•”Different relationship to objects and identity in the library. May be a challenge to conservators”. Do the programs address this?
•More institutions req. a MLIS for conservation jobs. Prog’s offering flexibility in curriculum to give students access to the MLIS.
•NYU program constrained in that they HAVE to give an art history degree. So [MLIS] degree has to be gotten after the program.
•Finally someone has brought up the job issue again. Museums can’t provide as many internships bc they have had too many staff cuts.
•None of the library conservation programs have increased the # of students each year. (But maybe it’s still too many?)
•The UT program created ppl who became advocates for libraries, not just conservation. Ppl who can think of the Coll. as a whole.
•Programs need to train ppl to address the institut’l needs of libraries, not just shoehorn conservators into a new type of conserv.
•”Critical: how are Lib&archives dif. than museums? How to train students in light of these differences?”
•”critical: training for born-digital works. This is where all the new material is in libraries/archives”. Aka it ain’t all like the Morgan.

Since I love lists, I’m going to give a breakdown of my biggest concerns regarding discussion about the education of library/archives conservators, some of which were addressed by the panelists and some of which were hardly brought up at all.  It’s also worth noting here than I’m a graduate of the program-formerly-known-as-the-Kilgarlin-center at UT Austin. So take my musings with a grain of salt, particularly since I’m also a conservator in private practice with one foot in the lab and another in archives (the processing/filing side of things, that is) and the digital lands.

1) All three of the programs have the library science component just kind of tacked on – none offer a full MLIS within the expected time of study. In contrast, at UT you came out with both a full MLIS and the “Certificate of Advanced Study” in conservation, after 2 years of classes and an internship year. I can’t say for certain just how many library conservator jobs require a MLIS (or MSIS, etc) but it seems like not having the degree could be a pretty big gap in one’s future job prospects as a library conservator. There is only so much value in handskills and benchwork if you cannot advocate for your profession, your job position and your projects. Again, maybe I’m being paranoid…but I fear that without a strong emphasis on the LIBRARY component of library conservation, these programs may be leading their graduates toward the old “Ivory Tower” (or ivory basement, as it usually is) mindset. Working in a library is about being part of a system, of an organization – and I see library science as the compass to navigate that system for the benefit of the collection.

2) There was a lot of talk about “collaboration” and partnering with other institutions to provide the full training experience. However, none of these programs have the capability to offer all the necessary components (i.e. treatment training, binding skills training, benchwork opportunities, library science classes, etc.) by themselves. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but what happens if one of these collaborating institutions has to bail on the conservation program? Suddenly you are sitting on a 2-legged stool…

3) There was little discussion about digitization, or collections care or really much to do about anything that could be construed as preservation projects or other library-wide projects that conservators are often responsible for in archives and academic libraries. A LOT of the discussion geared towards the training of conservators in rare book treatments, conservation science and the use of expensive analytical equipment (i.e. things whose name contains the letter “X” or the word “scanning”), that most small-to-medium sized academic libraries don’t own or have access to. Someone who’s only interned at the Morgan Library (which I think is an awesome library, btw) or some other very fancy, private library is going to have a very rude awakening when they realize that those 19th cen. publisher’s bindings they’re planning to treat are also going right back into the circulating collection for any undergrad to throw into their backpack. I worry that a focus on (or an avoidance of anything except) rare book/single item treatment is overlooking a critical part of a library/archives conservator’s job and the accompanying skills that are needed for such work in libraries that include both circulating and special collections materials.

4) Jobs. Jobs. JOBS! Where are they? What are these programs going to do for their graduates, who will be entering a TERRIBLE job market that has continued to whittle away at the ability of conservators to pay their bills and eat food not purchased with food stamps? Are graduates going to be able to come right out of the program, degree in hand, and get a real, entry-level job without having to go for a second degree (a la NYU, which only gives out an art history degree) or another year of unpaid interning? I understand that it’s not the entire responsibility of the education programs to find jobs for their graduates, but I’d like to see more of an acceptance about the possibility that graduates may end up in private practice rather than in an institution. Are these programs going to be teaching grant-writing, insurance shopping or self-advertising skills?  Has there been a good dialogue between those in charge of hiring library/archives conservators and preservation administrators, and the directors of these education programs?  Are they on the same page regarding what skills the former wants and what the latter is teaching to the students?

I could keep going on, but as usual I have more questions than answers at this point.  The panel was rather eye-opening and I hope that the topic can be revisited every couple of years at the conference and perhaps more frequently in the blogosphere/twitterverse/internet tubes/etc.

Back from AIC


I have since returned from AIC in a sunny but chilly LA, to a decidedly cool and rainy Chicago. Apparently word is that it got up to 80 something in Chicago while I was gone and was generally gorgeous.

Anyway, just a brief note to mention that Dan Cull has put up a coherent summary of all the Web 2.0 madness that took place under everyone’s noses.

Digital surrogates (aka Photoshop for conservation)

Just heard Adam Novak’s interesting talk about using digital surrogates as loss compensation in the print “Siege of La Rochelle” at the National Gallery of Art.

When to use digital surrogates instead of inpainting by hand:
*can make large time commitment
*area of loss is too large to reproduce by hand
*have access to a copy of same print

Sadly, he chose to use the magic wand tool instead of the much more accurate and powerful “Select Color Range” tool.

I appreciated that he showed each step of his image-altering and print-setup process. Also, he used 4 separate images of the same replacement print to create a “best fit” montage. On top of that, he also had to choose the right kind of paper to match the original print itself. I know from personal experience that this can be a royal pain in the tuchis. And then Golden acrylics came out with a Digital Ground for preparing materials to accept inkjet inks. Which unfortunately is soluble in water, but Golden is working on make a less-soluble version of their Digital Ground.

In the end, though, Novak created a more than acceptable surrogate without the use of the Digital Ground.

LIbrary and Archives collections discussion groups @ BPG

Spent the day in the Book & Paper Group discussion talks about library and archival collections.

Anne Hillam (New York Academy of Medicine) and Renate Mesmer’s (Folger Shakespeare LIbrary) talk “The Use of Rubber Cement for Facing Leather Spines: A Viable Option?” was fascinating. They described their experimental use of rubber cement (boo! hiss!) to face fragile leather on tightback spines before lifting them. Their method consists of applying a microcrystaline-wax barrier layer to the leather, then a layer of rubber cement followed by plastic wrap. Once it has dried, you then can lift the leather as usual and sand the flesh layer down as necessary. Once the spine has been readhered to the book, the plastic wrap can be peeled away the rubber cement just rolls right off mechanically. Like picking dried Elmer’s glue from your fingers when you were a kid, I reckon. They also heartily encouraged all of us to try out this method for ourselves and to do our own research on its effectiveness and any potential drawbacks.

Priscilla Anderson and Sarah Reidell had a great 2-part talk about Adhesive Pre-Coated Repair Materials. They also gave out an impressive handout of both how-to’s and recipes for a variety of pre-coated adhesive repair materials. And their presentation included some how-to videos that I would love to see online. Same goes for the handout! Their handout would make for some great wiki/blog material, esp if people could chime in with their own experiences or recipe-tweaks.

EDIT: PDFs of the handouts from today’s Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group talks can be found here.

Heat-set tissue tips:

*use large piece of glass over tissue, over object, then place heating pad on glass for several hours until tissue is activated & sticks

*use of resins/Beva to infill leather losses – moldable & can be tinted

*wet out pre-coated berlin tissue using Klucel G to avoid adding extra solvent (I think?)

AIC is not ALA

…but I’m liveblogging it anyway!

Best talk thus far has been Joyce Stoner’s “Conservation 1.0” which was really like “All you wanted to know about the history of art conservation but were afraid to ask…in 20 minutes”. Of course the finer points of what was and wasn’t included can be argued about ad nauseum, but it was informative nonetheless. Would make a great video if it were remixed ala Battlestar Galactica’s 8-minute recap video “What the Frak?”

Finally met Richard McCoy, a la “Hi, we’ve never met but I know you from the internet!” Maybe there should be “blogger” ribbons for next year’s AIC, like they have at ALA. OR we could all wear funny hats with large ostrich feathers to pick each other out of the crowd.

Still thinking about whether or not the Web 2.0 communication style is “in our DNA” (per Richard) like it is for librarian-types and museum folk. Conservators seem to not be as quick to embrace this sort of open-source, collaborative, information-explosion type of communication…but there are many exceptions regardless.