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Elitism, AIC, and Blogs: Where is the Love?

And now, a word from IMA’s Richard McCoy:

Ellen Carrlee is an objects conservator who lives in Alaska.  We’ve never met in person and only know each other through these internets.  Along with our other friend and objects conservator, Daniel Cull, we’ve decided to take turns this week writing aboutour ideas for “New Directions” for the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  I was a guest blogger for Ellen on Monday. My post up there in Alaska is filled with lots of crazy ideas.  On Friday, Daniel Cull will make a post on his blog… who knows what he’s cooking up.  Here’s Ellen’s offering:

Straight from Wikipedia:

Elitism is the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite—a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes—are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

Cube with Mountains

First things first: we need AIC and I respect the vital role it plays in our professionalism.  You could say I was suckled at the AIC teat.  Back in 1993, I was trying to find someone who would tell me what the heck “conservation” was.  I made a long distance phone call to Jay Krueger, who my uncle told me was a friend of a friend, and one of this mysterious breed called “conservators.”  It was quite a short conversation, and the upshot was “ask AIC.”  I sent away for their brochures (by mail!) and poured over the requirements of the programs.  It was the first of many times I turned to AIC to tell me what I needed to do.

In graduate school at NYU, the conservation professors referred frequently to the standards and ethics outlined by AIC and required us to follow them in our coursework.  I became a member in 1997.  As an emerging professional, I found myself moving to Alaska, the home of exactly three conservators: one was a contemporary from the Winterthur/Delaware program (Monica Shah) and the other was the man I had just married (Scott Carroll from the Buffalo program.)

I also accepted a job as a curator of collections and exhibits, and began a part-time business doing private conservation work.  Suddenly I had a ton of questions about ethics, and the standards of practice I would have to live up to in starting a business.  Again, I turned to AIC and studied its core documents carefully.  I became more interested in listserves in order to stay informed about the conservation world, and frequently thumbed through the AIC directory to see if someone who had posted was affiliated with AIC and therefore steeped in the same professional standards I was familiar with.

Occasionally, someone with an excellent reputation and interesting postings was not listed in AIC at all, and I would wonder why.  In 2006, I jumped through the hoops to become an AIC Professional Associate, which seemed like the closest thing to being vetted by a national professional conservation organization.  I have used AIC and its core documents as a touchstone every step of my career.

Cube on bear

After I’d been in the field awhile, I began to hear more about why some people didn’t like AIC.  It was elitist, some claimed.  Critical and harsh to outsiders.  It was behind the times.  It didn’t do enough advocacy in the wider public arena to benefit its members.  It had a history of excluding natural history, archaeology, and ethnographic conservation.  It had a history of setting up confrontational or adversarial relationships with various groups of people: people who were not program-trained, restorers, foreigners, archaeologists, maritime conservators, etc.  And there were a fair number of people who had been involved with AIC their entire careers but declared they were fed up, and membership in AIC had no benefits for them.

At first, I assumed they had just had run-ins with some of the more abrasive and powerful personalities that often dominate organizations like AIC.  I daresay conservators can be a cantankerous and self-righteous lot.  I still think that’s part of the issue.  But I also think there is much to be learned (and perhaps a better path for the future) by studying the history of the organization.  There could be a thesis written on that, no doubt.

Reading the “Murray Pease Report” and other early documents however, makes it clear that in the beginning, AIC was largely an organization of conservators specializing in paintings and sculpture.  Individual artifacts of high monetary value that justified money being spent on their conservation.  Those who identified as “conservators” were interested in developing standards to differentiate themselves from “restorers.”  Conservators were scientifically and morally saving art from those who were using dubious recipe books and old wives’ tales to turn a fast buck at the peril of our heritage.  Was this the beginning of an “us versus them” mentality?  Throughout AIC’s history, the institutional culture has time and again organized itself around fighting “them.”  Loosely defined, AIC’s critics have come to see themselves in “them” … anyone who disagrees with the AIC.

Cube and Dog


Following the recent debate/defeat of certification, it seems that the organization has now entered a period of introspection and re-evaluation.   AIC is unlikely to break free of its aura of elitism.  It is also doomed to be a venue for those who insist on shooting off their mouths in an undiplomatic fashion.  But it does serve a very important role in conservation in the United States: it is our national professional organization.  Let’s not underestimate that.  But perhaps elitism has been at the root of conservation remaining separate from the museum world: separate programs, training curriculums, and conferences.

Chenhall’s Nomenclature anyone? Marie MalaroAAM’s General Facilities Report?

Conservation students are not taught much about the museum profession.  Often, the conservator on staff is seen as the obstructionist. The one who says “no.”  The one who goes by the book and makes everything difficult.  The one who does not get invited to the table.  Elitism is perhaps the cause of AIC’s biggest failure: people don’t know what conservation is.  When I give a lab tour, I always have to define conservation.  My good friends still mistake me for a curator. After more than 50 years as a profession (NYU’s Conservation Center was founded in 1960 and AIC in 1972) we still are scarcely known to the public. Plenty of people think we protect trees.

Cube and Eagle

There is a term in the world of environmentalism: charismatic megafauna.  It refers to the use of large popular animals like pandas and whales to leverage support and protection for whole ecosystems and less flashy critters. Conservators have traditionally focused on Big Sexy Art, and while some aspects of preventive conservation serve to improve the condition of all collections, a lot of our cultural heritage is still neglected.  The Heritage Health Index indicates that 190 million artifacts are in peril, and many of them are in smaller museums with no conservator on staff and little funding to afford one.

These folks often post on listserves:
“How can I reshape this brittle basket in my collection?”
“There’s white fuzzy stuff on this saddle… is it mold?”
“How can I make this samovar shiny again?”

Often the answers come from their colleagues who are well-meaning but misguided.  Hardware store commercial products and Martha Stewart-inspired recommendations are common.  Occasionally someone might jump and scold, “Stop! You have to consult a conservator!”  Pragmatically and financially, many of these objects are not going to get a proper conservation treatment.  But they can be saved from poor treatment choices with just a little in-depth expertise and gentle words of caution in plain English.

Dave Harvey is the champion of this kind of service.  Marc Williams is also thoughtful and generous with his knowledge.  This is the kind of public relations that the conservation world needs more of.  Here’s some of the love!  Jump right in.  Individuals are sometimes working like this, but the profession is not.  What if providing this kind of public voice were a factor in assessing PAs and Fellows?


Elitism is not solely the realm of conservators.  There is brand of elitism found among folks who have passion for computers.  People who are conversant in Blogs, Wikis, Twitter, Ning, Delicious, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace…those people are the future. They are connected.  They have the answers.  Or do they?  While the potential of many of these platforms is appealing, the actual content is often rather meager.  Visually stimulating and easy to digest, they remind me of the recent trend toward museums as entertainment.  The blockbuster!  The wall of graphics!  The touch-me interactive!  I say, show me the REAL STUFF.  Give me content.  What is it made of?  Who made it?  Why?

Web 2.0 definitely has its place.  It can function in ways that AIC can’t or won’t.  AIC has a hard time responding in a timely manner on current events and 2.0 folks can take advantage of front line opportunities for PR in our profession.  Viral marketing!  Professional organizations are a bit like museums: slow, careful, and deliberative.  Not designed to jump headlong into new things but rather hang back, observe, and help history sort itself out.  AIC would have a hard time keeping up with Daniel Cull in terms of relevance anyway. Maneuverability is an unfair expectation of AIC.  That should be up to us.  And perhaps our smaller and more nimble regional organizations like WAAC and MRCG.

Cube in mouth

This month, I’m joining the AIA and the SAA.  As a conservator of ethnographic and archaeological materials, I was not even aware until last week that the SAA has a group about perishables.  While I enjoy the AIC annual conference, I think I’ll be aiming to go less frequently in order to direct resources at attending conferences in allied professions.  This has been a talking point in AIC for some time, but there seem to be only a handful who walk the walk.  And I am posting information liberally on the internet…info that might have been considered taboo in the past.

When I was in graduate school, treatment reports done as part of the core courses were saved in a file cabinet in the library.  But it was locked.  Students had to request the key, and it was discouraged.  I never found out why, and I was too timid to ask.  In some ways, I feel the conservation profession is locked in that way, particularly when it comes to availability of treatment information, lest it “fall into the wrong hands.”  After more than a decade in the profession, I have come to believe that in many cases, lack of treatment information does not generally force those objects into the competent hands of conservators.  Nor does it mean that the object won’t be treated.  People will just give it their best shot.  Inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in?


I have had several stimulating telephone conversations with Jim Jobling at the Conservation Research Lab at Texas A&M.  Certainly there are many ways that his lab is not “AIC compliant.”  And you know what?  He doesn’t care.  He does his work the best he can according to the parallel universe of standards that have developed in maritime conservation world.  Google the names of people who treat shipwreck material or wetsite archaeology and most of those names are not coming from the AIC world.  In fact, many of those names have been affiliated with the Texas A&M program.  Or the program at East Carolina University.  If AIC cannot or will not be more inclusive then it is up to us.

I have long suspected that People Who Know Things tend to share generously, while people who are not sure of their knowledge tend to be defensive and secretive.  How about being the change we want to see? I’m trying to put content on my blog that looks like info I’d like to find.  What if Richard Wolbers had his notes on cleaning techniques that worked and ones that didn’t right there on the web?  What if Tony Sigel had a series of brilliant YouTube clips showing tips for treating ceramics?  Rogue exhibit critiques with Toby Raphael?

Only a small percentage of what I am doing is unique or mature enough to bother jumping through the hoops of journal publication.

But plenty of my files are interesting…

…To folks on lab tours: here is more detail on what happens behind-the-scenes
…To the scientist at NOAA: can we collaborate on this project?
…To the grant committee: here is this prototype of what I would do with the money
…To the prospective intern: this is what working with me would be like, are we a good fit?


Plenty of files in the AIC office are interesting too.  Documents on the history of the organization.  Discussions and reports about difficult issues like certification.  Letters to AIC.  Writings from the Kecks.  Do you have to go to Delaware to read the AIC oral history project?  I would love to see pdf postings of all the past conference brochures!

My own blog doesn’t even need to generate new material…I just need to clean up and post the useful stuff that’s already on my hard drive.  I think AIC could do the same.  And so could you.  If you look at my blog it is probably obvious that what I want is a real webpage, but I can’t be bothered with learning how to set it up.  In fact, I’m pretty bad with technology in general.  If you see a hyperlink (is that the right word?) in this posting, it is because the folks at the IMA know how to make it work, not me.  But a weblog is an easy place to dump my content for everyone to use, and best of all, it has a comment section to allow collaboration.

So, what do you think?

Filed under: Conservation, Guest Bloggers

24 Responses to “Elitism, AIC, and Blogs: Where is the Love?”

  • avatar
    Mary F. Striegel Says:

    I find reading your blogs very interesting, though I am not in agreement with some or even most of the positions you offer. This leaves me in a quandry. If I disagree with you, am I one of those powerful, elitist, abrasive people who help run AIC? Let me think, I work with the public, with archeologists, with ethnographic conservators, with people from Texas A&M. I’m inclusive. I’m not a conservator, but a conservation scientist (does that make me an outsider?) I’ve served on the AIC board for six years. Hence, the quandry.

    I do know that I try to put information out the door to anyone who will listen. I am a Federal employee (your tax dollar at work) so I try to serve the public.

    I think there is a role for the electronic era of wikis, blogs, webcasts and podcasts. I think there are places where that information can be very valuable. For example, our website (, contains videos, podcasts, and the likes for historic preservation and conservation. NCPTT leads the nation with information about cemetery preservation (now there’s a money maker for you.)

    BUT, when I am trying to figure out the deposition velocity of sulfur dioxide air pollution on marble and limestone I don’t seek that kind of information on-line. There is a certain value in peer reviewed information. The popular belief is that acid rain eats our stones (google it yourself!) The reality is that dry deposition of sulfur dioxide is 75% of the initial deposition to stone, that rain plays a complex role in interacting with the dry deposition, and that no one can define a dose response function for marble (unless you do the experiment for say 100 years or so). There are different levels and needs of information that you are not likely to find online.

    Archivability of information is another area that troubles me. I’m certain that each of us has had the computer fail, the laptop stolen, the SD card of our camera die. Who keeps the infromation whenn it’s in electronic world alone? Blogs, websites, etc are transient (sort of like some modern or contemporary art). Ever reference a website in a presentation only to find it gone or reconfigured?

    Not enough time to continue, but you get the message. I hope that I have not come across as agressive or defensive. I’m simply interested but with different viewpoints and world views.

  • avatar

    If you disagree with me, game on! Then I listen thoughtfully to what you have to say and perhaps we both come away with something useful we didn’t have before. I, too, really value peer-reviewed information and that aspect makes me suspicious of anonymous wikis, for example. But there is a lot of useful, almost casual information that I think has the potential to suddenly be more widely available in these formats. Things that spark new directions, give clues, suggest resources etc. I, too, am concerned about electronic data not surviving. I have 6 filing cabinets of hard copies behind my chair as I write this. If I see something useful to me on a distlist, I print it out and file it! And nothing on my blog exists electronically without a backup. But just as “personal practice” in data control differs from the overall trend of the profession, so too do issues like inclusiveness and elitism.

  • avatar

    I’m very interested to see if others are willing to follow Mary’s excellent lead and chime in to discuss the many and important issues that Ellen has raised (and I don’t just mean we conservators).

    As the curtains continue to fall around what goes on within cultural institutions and also what is presented and discussed under the guise of professional associations, conservators will need to have a good sense of what information we want to share and what must seek to keep private.

    One thing that I find fascinating is that what Ellen is so rightly asking for in this post is for conservators to not only become better understood within their own institutions but also with the visitors that enter our institutions. By publishing this post here, she is serving that point in a very immediate way.

    I’ve come to know that the IMA’s blog is read fairly widely in the museum world and by a broad museum-based audience.

    I think that conservators can engage in a meaningful discussion about the role of our professional association here on blog is showing the efficacy of this format and the impressive will of Ellen to stand up and start a dialogue.

    I’ve yet to see this kind of dialogue happen in this immediate and direct around other conservation associations here or abroad.


  • avatar
    Suzy Says:

    Wikis do not have to be anonymous and even on Wikipedia, you can track all the changes that have been made to an article, and who made them. And it’s entirely possible to make an invite-only wiki for conservation information. In fact, I think it’s detrimental to our profession if we cannot have access to as much information as possible about the materials and techniques we use. Why let this information moulder in somebody’s filing cabinet or in a print-only publication, where it will benefit only a few people, a few objects? Make it accessible to as many conservators or cultural heritage caretakers as possible, make it organized and findable and encourage people to respond to it.

  • avatar

    Something I’ve been interested in for many years is a real study of the information seeking behavior of conservators. To my knowledge, no rigorous study has been done. Of course, it would have to be updated continually especially these days, a moving target I’m sure. I do know, that it will vary depending on what the conservator works on. Painting conservators typically consume a great deal of visual and art historical information while those working on say, vintage cars, spend a lot of time trolling eBay and have a predeliction for junkyards. After many years in the conservation information world I have a working knowledge of the subject but really have no idea where most conservators go for information. needless to say, it depends on the conservator.

    I often wonder if there is even a unified profession called conservation? As Ellen noted, many specialties never converged with the AIC such as people who restore vintage farm equipment, textile machinery and so on. I’m particularly thinking of the “Big Stuff” conferences which I’ve always yearned to attend (just not the same online). ( Where do you get your information when you are restoring a WWI tank? Do you really care if its reversible? If you’re conserving or restoring an 18th century garden landscpe its unlikely that you can comply with the AIC guidelines.

    Does it matter if the AIC is totally inclusive of all these activities? Well, it would be useful but its unlikely. The world is a big messy place that is always spilling out of our neat categories and digital information is proving to be particularly unruly. Perhaps our expectations are part of the problem?

    The Elitism topic is a big one and deserves a discussion. However, elitism is a sad fact of life although generally a unacknowledged one.

  • avatar
    Jeff Peachey Says:

    Ellen and Richard are on the right track in encouraging conservators to become better understood by their own institutions. And from a CIPP perspective, we should become better understood by the public as a whole. What a minute, isn’t that core of what a professional organization should do– represent us to the public?

  • avatar

    Great comment, Mitchell. I would bet that the vast majority of conservators use Google search before they go digging around JAIC, AATA, and BCIN (I’m guessing it’s about 5:1, Google to professional journals).

    I’m not saying professional journals should be used, but that Google search is fantastic. I wish all of the information contained within my museum could be searched and categorized (Images, Video, News, etc) as simply and efficiently as Google brings does.

    I’ve long thought it would be interesting if Google did a “Google Museums” project similar to “Google Books.” But I digress. My point is that I agree with Ellen and think it’s probably just as damaging to artworks to not have the information easily accessible as it to have it accessible so that anyone in the world can learn how to do some complicated treatment. Right now you can find a heck of a lot of information about how to do things without ever consulting anything associated with the conservation profession …

  • avatar


    Thanks for your posting, it’s full of both great information and brilliant observations. I think perhaps the most important point you raised, for me, is that conservators are not even understood within the museum world.. so really should we be surprised if the “public” doesn’t really comprehend what it is we do, when our professional colleagues don’t?! (An assumption I realise on both parts).

    Question: At the big museum conferences AAM etc, are there conservation panels, or similar? And conversely are other museum professionals speaking at AIC-AM to allow conservators to actually understand what it is curators, archaeologists, designers, etc, want/need?

    Comment in response to Mitchell Bishop: IMHO opinion there is not a unified conservation profession, I presume that in some way AIC hopes to be a unified voice, but, it quite obviosly from the points Ellen (and you) raise cannot or does not achieve that. But my question would be do we want/need a unified voice? I’d prefer to see a “clearing house” of sorts. Where a multiplicities of conservation(s) are represented.

    Second comment to M. Bishop: Reversibility…. do you think any treatments are reversible? I thought we’d all moved towards vaguer ideas such as retreatability, in which case a treatment of a tank could easily fall under the same ethic/philosophy.

    Comment in response to wiki vs. peer review: Why are we framing this discussion in an “either or” scenario… surely there is more than enough space for both? They are both valuable means of communication, but operate in different methods.

    One other thing… we should however remember “peer reviewed journal” does not equate to accuracy.

    All the best,


  • avatar

    Per D. Cull, quite right moved beyond the reversibility ethos, a tedious debate at best and ludicrous from the standpoint of materials science, and yes, bravo,. the treatment of a tank can in fact be informed by something in the direction that reversibility intended which was probably more along the lines of not adding material that could not be distinguished or removing anything that held evidence of use or some other scientific value such as dating, etc. I think where it really gets interesting is something like the restoration of vintage aircraft or cars where the aesthetic demands a pristine presentation to attain the “value” that collectors seek. That said, There is a place near where I live that “restores” cars so they look funky and used. I can remember at time when clocks were restored to working order even if it meant making new parts so they would run and putting the old bits in a box or simply tossing them. Certainly visitors were not told that virtually all of the parts of the clock were remade so it could function. Historically, one of the objections to the free flow of information in the past has been a reluctance to disclose this type of information. That said, I wonder what my visitors would say if I engaged them in a dialog, as a curator, asking them how important it was that our carriages were in working order? I just might put out a questionnaire!

  • avatar
    Nancie Ravenel Says:

    Assumptions. Too often I find that my curatorial colleagues and collector groups I’ve worked with assume that I’ll have a certain reaction – as if there’s one way I approach any given kind of object. I’d like to think that those assumptions are based on their past experiences or what they’ve been told about conservators. I’m not sure that a professional organization can alter those perceptions all by itself – we all bear that responsibility as individuals for the benefit of the group. We may have to wait for a new generation who has had different experiences.

    Ellen mentioned how little cross training there has for emerging conservators and other museum professionals. I see that changing, especially with the student interns I’ve worked with who come from the University of Delaware’s undergraduate program who often have had experiences in collections management as well as conservation. I hear that graduate fellows in the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum’s programs in American Material Culture and Art Conservation get at least one opportunity to work together on a research project. I’m sure there are other examples of this kind of peer-to-peer work examples, at least I hope there are, because I think (hope) that these sorts of experiences will help dispel the assumptions about who conservators are and what they do for emerging professionals.

    I whole-heartedly agree that more conservators need to participate in list-serves beyond those that have been created for the conservation profession. I admit that I generally find myself listening more than I post, but I believe what I’m learning through listening helps me tremendously in the way that I interact with individuals from those groups in the real world.

    As for wikis – I’m a big fan – a great tool for groups to communicate and work through problems. I’m very much looking forward to the AIC wikis (funded by a grant from NCPTT, I believe). I see peer review as something that occurs after conclusions have been made. I would love to hear more about what folks find doesn’t work. I do wonder about how it will be possible to find some of this information that is generated in blogs and in wikis unless there is some centralized system. Admittedly, thanks to Walter Henry, CoOL does some of this for us already. Could books published by be abstracted in AATA or BCIN?

    That’s all I got in me tonight, and I’ve gone on long enough. Looking forward to what Dan has to say on Friday.

  • avatar

    Funny, I always said that “elitism” defined by “a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes” was always a good thing, its pretentiousness that is the problem, but that is perhaps a debate better served in rhetoric.

    I don’t want to interject more divides into this debate, but from my perspective, one of the major unmentioned divides in AIC is between museum and library conservators. I would suggest that there are some important differences as well as substantial overlap and hybridization between the two groups, and if you look amongst the people participating in this debate, it seems to be currently dominated by museum people with museum perspectives. (Of course the brief history that Ellen laid out may indicate why this is so…)

    As for opening up our treatment reports, this is something that I always wished for a a graduate student. How easy would it be to have one large database where people could submit their reports and have them in some searchable format. I’m not even suggesting including photo-documentation or standardized report structures, just a grouping of reports with some sort of basic organization so that when I want to gather information on ways that other conservators have approached early laced-case bindings, I can see what has been done rather than having to reinvent the wheel each time I see a new variation in my treatment flows.

    However, I wonder if perhaps conservators are not the guardians of this information? Confidentiality agreements are common practice in the private sphere, and institutions traditionally have been loathe to share, but what approach can we take to get institutions on board with putting out all of their information on objects? Or do we seek to share reports that have been purged of identifying information?

  • avatar

    I should also point out that in the realm of cross-training, the University of Texas program does require that its students obtain a library degree as part of their program. Again, the difference between library and museum conservation.

  • avatar
    Scott Carrlee Says:

    Regarding conservation presence at general museum conferences…I graduated from Buffalo in 1992 and have probably attended a dozen AIC meetings in my career. For the past three years I’ve been a conservator doing outreach services as a curator, and attended AAM, AASLH, and WMA. The lack of conservators present is shameful. Often, I would be the only one in the room. At a conference of several thousand museum folks, there might be 5 conservators on the attendee list whose names I recognized. And yet, conservation is a major topic at general museum conferences. Ironically, at their meetings they often talk about conservation with no conservators present, but at our conservation meetings we rarely talk about general museum issues. I find it very odd this separateness between conservation and the general museum world.

  • avatar

    1) While we are talking mostly about the United States, I am always struck by the presence of conservators from abroad at AIC conferences. I am lucky and privileged to enjoy the interlibrary loan services of the Alaska State Library, but for many conservators in other countries I would imagine a lot of our printed material is hard to come by. Is the internet a vital link between us? Potentially more vital than we realize?
    2) Sources we turn to: I’ve found that objects made in enough quantity for “average folks” to consider collecting them have a decent shot of being on the web in a way that is meaningful to us. Glass marbles, for example, have some killer websites about them. Jeff Bridgman has a marvelous website about American flags…he is both a dealer and collector and very generous with his knowledge on his website. Art with a big “A” has less “fansites” or collectors who posting in this way.
    3) The “Big Stuff” is the bane of my existance. If only I could deal with things that just fit on my tabletop! But no, I must help care for big things in my collection. Totem poles. Watercraft. Snow machines. An 18-ton Baldwin electric locomotive. A Keystone Loening aircraft. This last one we were lucky to hire Malcolm Collum to write us up a treatment report. But now he’s off at NASM. Is it my imagination or are there precious few folks in AIC who work on this kind of material? Don’t even get me started on the complications of the organ in our collection that is played every Friday!
    4) The Alaska State Museum is one section in a division called “Libraries Museums and Archives” within the Department of Education and Early Development. We’ve recently begin having meetings about collaboration between these sections and it is SHOCKING how little we know about each other. Perhaps the most interesting is the lack of an overarching professional standard for libraries or archives that correlates to AAM accreditation. Once you get your MLIS degree, that’s it. Fascinating!

  • avatar
    Mary F. Striegel Says:

    I keep thinking about this elitism thing. I’ve heard it around AIC before I was on the board and now after. It feels to me like a red herring is some way. I remember once complaining to a colleague that someone was trying to control me. His answer was, “then don’t do it.” If AIC is elitist, then jump in and get involved. Is there really someone that is keeping you out?

    Now, if you try to get involved and people disagree with your views or ideas, that’s a different story. Many of the topics we are touching on here have been discussed before. There may be new anwsers. But if you have been around a while and you’ve seen hard work on a topic, sometimes its tough to see it identified as the lastest “new” problem. That’s where real research comes in. What has been done before to address a topic.

    Now on a completely different note:

    Research Priorities and Conservation Literature:
    Since 1989 I’ve been trying to figure out the research priorities needed for conservation. The AIC membership has been surveyed at least three times since then. There are some interesting observations about this effort.

    1. The same topics keep coming up.
    2. Even if advances have been made in the topic area and published in journals, the knowledge is not being received by the end-user — the conservator.
    3. Research topics can be divided into:
    a. those that are already answered
    b. those that can be answered with research
    c. those that technology cannot yet address

    This points to the infromation world. If articles are already published in peer reviewed journals, then why aren’t conservators finding and reading the articles. If much of our literature is in gray literature (hard to find no-peer reviewed stuff like postprints), then why? Why do we need our infromation in 400 -600 word tidbits on websites? Some of this may be an exaggeration, but it’s not that far reaching. The problem boils down to time. Who has time to search for and read journal articles while working on the big stuff? Who has time to take their postprint and make it into a peer-reveiwed publication (or a wiki entry on the AIC wiki)? Who has time to do the appropriate research when the artifact needs to be on display in 30 days or less? I don’t think computers and the internet has enhanced our lives by giving us more free time, it simply means we want more information quicker so that we can do more work.

    And speaking of work. . .

  • avatar
    Gary Says:

    I can’t remark on the “elitist” debate, but I’ve found this blog and the comments fascinating and very informative. As a museum and blog mate of Richard’s from IMA security I have always thought that understanding the roles of the other departments (conservation, curatorial, registration) helps me and our officers work in conjunction instead of opposition with staff. Great post, thanks.

  • avatar

    Mary’s comments on “Research Priorities and Conservation Literature,” is so much more than a comment.

    It’s basically at the heart of what we’re talking about here.

    What are the research priorities for conservators? For museums? For publishing about cultural property?

    These are not only the “big questions,” but they are the *biggest and most important issues* on the table right now for our profession.

    When I saw the title of the AIC Annual Meeting was “Conservation 2.0: New Directions,” I assumed that this would be the very topic of that whole meeting. Instead, it seems we are having that meeting here. Okay with me.

    I think the #1 research priority for conservation is better understand how are we are creating, searching, and sharing the information that we create around cultural property.

    Of course conservators aren’t unique in this situation; it’s an easy comparison to say that we are living in the equivalent of the 1500s, the time when printing presses started mucking up everything for all those scribes and illustrators working inside of churches.

    Newspapers are going away, and very quickly not slowly.
    I mean check out that NYT article, and ask yourself what’s the difference between that and Ellen’s “Blog Post.” Fundamentally, I argue the difference = nothing. Both had notable authors, both use words, both use web links, both are expressing opinions, both have exactly the same potential to reach everyone who has an internet connection. They’re just different web links. Sure, Frank Rich gets a lot more hits than this blog, and likewise there are a lot more comments (just under 700 there, we’re just under 20 here). But all of a sudden each conservators, each museum, each whatever has it’s very own printing press.

    So, for me the question isn’t if we are going to fundamentally change how we share information (print-publish, present at the AM, e-mail, whatever), but how can we do it to our benefit? And how can we do it is so that we can include everyone?

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    Hi Museum folks,

    I’m one of Ellen’s colleagues in the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums. I manage one of three sections of the Alaska State Library.

    Ellen’s post and your excellent comments prompted a few thoughts that I wanted to share from “Libraryland”

    1) I had no idea there was this gulf between conservators and general museum people. Scott and Ellen appeared to be vital, collaborative members of the Alaska State Museum and I just sort of assumed that it was that way everywhere. But as Ellen says, there is a lot we don’t yet know about one another. I joined the Museum’s docent program this year and its been quite the fun and informative experience.

    2) Conservators are not alone in making themselves understood to the public. Librarians are having to constantly explain that they don’t actually read books all day and that everything isn’t on the free internet. I know some catalogers who feel about their libraries that some conservators appear to feel about their museums. But I’m happy to report that we don’t have separate cataloger’s conferences. For the most part, there will be at least one session on all kinds of librarianship at a library conference.

    3) I think knowledge/cultural/artifact workers of all stripes will need to do a better job of letting the public know we exist and that getting rid of us is like giving society a lobotomy.

  • avatar
    Marc Walton Says:

    What an interesting and viable debate. But it seems almost entirely irrelevant.
    On Elitism:
    In its position as a professional organization, AIC, by definition, is elitist. Elitism is not a bad term (but has been made so by Republican spin; remember “elitist northern democrats”?). I agree with conservationoccasional, elitism is a good thing and any attempts to reform this quality may result in the undoing of our only umbrella organization for American conservation.
    On publishing:
    On the front of publishing and the availability of treatment reports, there are already major efforts underway to bring treatment reports online (i.e., the Mellon foundation’s digital initiative). I would say “open-source conservation” is the inevitable way of the future. No more locked cabinets at NYU, Ellen (though I never looked at these anyway, way too much junk to wade through)! This does not mean that a hierarchy will cease to exist in literature, it most certainly will: peer-reviewed articles at the top, gray area post-prints in the middle, and digital media at the very, very bottom. It is nice to think that all the things we need to know will exist in a Wikipedia entry, but this is impractical when considering the volumes of information a conservator must collect and marshal for a treatment. Digital media is simply a portal which may guide us toward the relevant information.
    So there is nothing really new here. We still need to publish research on cultural heritage in peer reviewed literature. Blogs and other digital venues (the individual publishing houses at each museum) will not replace the article seriously and critically examined by our colleagues.
    So I have to ask, what is all the noise about?

  • avatar

    Marc, there are huge new things afoot with the digital venues, and to me the excitement is quite separate from peer reviewed literature. It consists of the precursors to peer-reviewed literature, notes, ideas, and useful documents I produce but never plan to publish. For example, my research on PEG treatments for archaeological basketry. I’ve got a 6″ pile of articles that took me weeks to sift through, and I’ve been grappling with it for quite a while. LO! Dana Senge in Seattle is also trying to work through this literature. My blog has allowed us to communicate and share info easily. An archaeological conservator I’ve never met in Maine sent me 4 WOAM journals in the mail after she saw my blog. It has allowed me to connect with archaeologists who don’t read the conservation literature but have seen (or treated) many baskets and have useful insights. One of them told me that after 40 years working with baskets she is convinced that the freeze-dried ones don’t come out as well. I am not technologically sophisticated enough to make a website, but a blog allows me to share and communicate easily. I find myself wondering, after I finish this research, where I ought to publish it. Such a product needs peer review in order to be valid and trustworthy, and at this point those journals are usually not free online. Many folks who use PEG in the archaeology and museum world won’t easily find the article in a print-only conservation journal. These issues are new territory. As for those locked cabinets at NYU, you should have looked…there was much more than just “junk” in there….

  • avatar

    Yo Dude that stole my lunch, Im real happy for you, Ima let you finish,but the Hamburglar is one of the best food thiefs of all time…this is at pretty hilarious!

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