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.