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A CoOL Resource is walked out the door. (Thank you Walter Henry!)

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I remember the first time I saw the CoOL web page (Conservation Online).  It was about 1995 and I was a student working in the Lilly Library’s Book Conservation department when Jim Canary told me to check it out.

I really can’t think of a topic that isn’t covered at CoOL.  I can remember spending hours digging around all of the pages when I first saw it.  It seemed to answer all of my questions about my interest in the profession and point to ones that I hadn’t thought of.  Have a look at all of the “Conservation Topics,” or look at the number of national and international organizations who have their home pages associated with CoOL.  Dig around there.  It’s amazing.

Perhaps most importantly, though, look at the ConsDistList, an e-mail distribution list that at last count had just under 10,000 subscribers.  This dist list has been going strong since 1988 and has been one of the most important ways for conservators to share and find information on a truly international level.  It has been the central hub for information sharing within the conservation community.

Yesterday that changed when Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources announced that Stanford is no longer going to support CoOL and that the ConsDistList had produced its last instance.  Bang.  It’s over.

Stanford University Libraries also announced that they were laying off 32 employees.  Clearly, these decisions were difficult for Stanford.  As an employee of an institution that has recently experienced lay offs, I know that these are not easy times for anyone.

Also yesterday, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) sent out e-mails pledging their determination to help support CoOL and to find a way to support the information contained within the web page.  Clearly, this will take a lot of work and effort.

Walter Henry, who had been for the past 22 years the principal organizer and manager of CoOL and the ConsDistList, suggested that CoOL “contains, at a very rough guess, 120,000 documents, possibly quite a few more. I hope they have been useful to you all, and I hope to be of service to you as we move into the future.”  That’s a truck load of documents that are now hanging perilously on the edge of invisibility.

The imminent demise of CoOL and the ConsDistList marks the biggest shift in information sharing for conservators since the profession started printing journals.

I don’t think for a minute that AIC and IIC and conservators in general are willing to let this resource and the contained documents fade away.

But I would like to raise some questions around the best ways for this information and data to be shared and stored.  I would like to suggest that AIC and IIC work to make themselves platforms for the creation and sharing of this information rather than just static distribution sources.  Instead of relying on one person to manage the information (Walter, how did you do it?), I suggest that they rely on **everyone** to manage, create, and update the information.

For the past few years my friend Daniel Cull and I have been involved in creating and editing the Wikipedia article for Art Conservation-Restoration.  While clearly, this article currently contains a fraction of the information that is in CoOL, Wikipedia’s potential is limited only be our efforts and imagination.  It should contain the sum of conservation knowledge.

Could Wikipedia become a replacement for CoOL?  Maybe, just maybe.

But that’s just part of the problem.  What about the ConsDistList, and all of the other e-mail dist lists associated within CoOL?  I can only throw out suggestions or ideas.   But maybe we could build discussion networks within current social media applications such as Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc?  What role could a blog or multiple blogs play in sharing this information?  Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to use these new and existing technologies?

I don’t really have the answers to these questions, but I think this is an opportunity for conservators to open their collaborative networks and try and use social media applications to handle our information sharing.  This is an opportunity for conservators and associated museum professionals to discuss the best ways to share and distribute electronic information.

Filed under: Conservation, Current Events

10 Responses to “A CoOL Resource is walked out the door. (Thank you Walter Henry!)”

  • avatar
    Rebecca U. Says:

    I feel similarly distressed about the Getty’s proposed forfeiture of the BHA (Bibliography of the History of Art). Tough times.

  • avatar
    Sharon Keniston Says:

    How can someone/s be so selfish… bottom line or not… they could have sent request for OTHERS to take their “loss” off their hands BEFORE CUTTING THE CORD!! Can their really be educators in back of this… or only the money men?!!!

  • avatar
    Mary Striegel Says:

    AIC is creating a conservation wiki with funding from NCPTT. It should be availble before the end of the year. But the key is the archives distlist.

  • avatar
    Justin Johnson Says:

    Not sure what the AIC wiki is all about really, but one avenue that I think AIC and IIC should seriously consider as an alternative to the distlist are member forums. These type of forums are extremely valuable to all sorts of people who share common interests. Not to mention membership and access could just be wrapped up in our already existing AIC memberships. Should AIC find a way to host specialty group forums on their site I think they would finally start taking steps towards a new future.

    Everything that the DistList was about could be covered in these forums, while introducing a new level of interactivity. While social media sites such as those mentioned in this post are useful to an extent, Im just not so sure they are as universally accessible as theCoOL/DistList medium. In my opinion, an interactive platform would probably find the most success if it were hosted by our own organization. We are already spending quite a bit for AIC memberships, and having quite a bit of experience in this area I think they could quite easily implement these forums without much of a budget increase if any.

    Just my two cents..

  • avatar

    I like part of your idea, Justin, the forums — which allows you to learn the answers to questions that you might not have encountered YET by reading the “talk”, and, I think that the list should be free or funded in general by ads or support, not by people having to pay to join. If you read the many blogs right now, MANY are losing jobs (hmm, walter?) and the idea of having to pay for what we cannot afford right now is a problem — and then there are students, always struggling — and some of these people have a lot to offer a list in terms of commentary. In our firm we had to choose who could afford to join what org this year — dollars were tight. However, I have no problem sifting through sponsors/ads as appropriate on the side, be they AIC (and some of AIC’s dollars can go toward this) or Amazon or Talas. If I only can afford to join WAAC, I also want to be able to go to the “coOL” list . . . WAAC may or may not be able to contribute, but it is a viable group. SO, I would vote to try to find a way to fund it creatively but without exclusions.

  • avatar

    I too like the idea of forums, however, I tend to think that they wont work in the conservation world, mainly because they have been tried and totally failed before. The old AIC website for example had forums. E-Conservation magazine set up forums with similar intentions, and they are barely used – which is a shame.

    The other problem with forums is that they are not so “searchable” in the same way the distlist archive was easily searchable and the way wikipedia is easily searchable.

    I don’t know if wikipedia is the answer to all our needs, but, I do know that everything on CoOL could (in theory) go on wikipedia and be a valuable resource for both conservation as a profession and an idea.

    Maybe though its time to try out a variety of things and see what get’s the best “take up”.

    Richard thanks for the post, and all the comments thanks for the ideas. Some good stuff.

    As a side question: AIC + Wiki = What’s this all about?



  • avatar

    I’m grateful for AIC’s interest in seeing CoOL live on. I am a little concerned, however, that whatever organization plays host to whatever becomes futureCoOL is willing to hold this new resource lightly.

    One of the great things about CoOL as it has been is that while Stanford generously hosted it, it didn’t come across as Stanford’s product. It felt like it was by and for the larger conservation community.

    While I appreciate what AIC is, I also feel it is important to acknowledge what AIC, or any other conservation organization, is not, and that is the larger conservation community. I feel it is important that no aspect of futureCoOL should be connected to membership to AIC, or any other organization.

    So, as Richard McCoy states in his post, I too hope the new host “work to make themselves a platform for the creation and sharing of this information” and “that they rely on **everyone** to manage, create, and update the information.”

  • avatar
    Rachael Perkins Arenstein Says:

    I just want to encourage people to give the AIC staff and Board some time to work with Stanford. AIC has a lot invested in CoOL (archives, websites, listservs, etc.) and there is no doubt that any commitment to maintain the assets would not be taken lightly. (Just as I’m sure Stanford did not take these issues lightly).

    Once that is secure there will be time to reimagine and reinvent. The DistList as it is now is irreplacable and I agree with much of Dale’s comments.

    As for the idea of wikipedia – I personally don’t see it as a replacement for some of the other types of content. I think looking at the history of changes on Richard and Daniel’s excellent entry on Art Conservation-Restoration shows the challenges in keeping an entry appropriately vetted.

    The AIC wiki catalogues should be live soon and then I will be excited to hear from colleagues on how people want to use the platform to expand content.

  • avatar

    I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information .,,

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