39th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group, Education. Education! Education? Education. Models for Educating Library and Archives Conservators, Thursday, June 2


A big conference hall for a big topic: the education of book conservators.

The education of book conservators is a perennially debated topic, and has regained urgency with the demise of the Texas Program, previously the only program to grant an certificate of advanced studies in book and paper conservation. The current economic climate is tough for a generally perceived ‘luxury’ like conservation: many labs have suffered other budget cuts, hiring freezes, conservators with jobs are reluctant to leave them, conservators without jobs are having difficulty finding one. The funding for the training of Library and Archives conservators is one bright spot, having recently received a major boost from the Mellon Foundation by funding the establishment of pilot programs for the training of library and archives conservators in the three art conservation programs.

I was both excited and curious to see how much of this big topic could be covered in a short 1.5  hour panel discussion.

The panel discussion was lead by Marieka Kaye, Exhibits Conservator, Huntington Library, moderated by Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa, University of Delaware-Winterthur and the panel included representatives from the three art conservation programs:  Margaret Holben Ellis, New York University Institute of Fine Arts and the Morgan Library and Museum, Lois Price, the University of Delaware-Winterthur and Judy Walsh, Buffalo State.   Michelle V. Cloonan, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College included some background information.  I was taking notes during the session as fast as I could, and these pilot programs are in flux, so I apologize in advance for any errors I have likely made.

Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa introduced the participants and gave an overview of the Mellon foundation funding that allowed these new pilot programs to be established. The NYU-IFA announcement is here. The numbers are not precise, but it appears there will be 1-2 students specializing in Library and Archives conservation at each of the three institutions. Each of the three program representatives then explained what they were intending to accomplish. All of the institutional representatives emphasized their desire for input from members from the book conservation community. Since there were only 15 minutes left for discussion (out the the 90 for the session) perhaps the comments section after this post will allow a bit more extended discussion, as well as involving those unable to attend in person. Then again, maybe the somewhat permanent nature of a publicly posted comment may tend to dampen the spirits of the more argumentatively inclined AIC members!

Lois Price began her session with a nod to the Columbia and Texas programs, and acknowledged the huge responsibility in establishing a conservation program.  She outlined five strengths of the Winterthur program: a strong, established materials science component including technical analysis, an integrated/ interdiciplinary approach, support for international study, the collections of the Winterthur library with existing staff expertise, and a preventitive conservation component.  She also indicated that there will be partnerships with Simmonds and North Bennett Street School (NBSS), a bench oriented craft school with a bookbinding program.  She ended with a charge to the audience to address some problems she perceived in the mentoring of pre-program students and critical thinking skills.

Buffalo State’s three year program was represented by Judy Walsh.  Their current curriculum will not change, books and library conservation will be part of paper conservation.  There will be additional opportunities for the study of books, visiting lecturers in books and digital technologies, intercession seminars, study opportunities at Simmonds and NBSS, stipends for independent study and a new book conservation lab.  She also emphasized the interdisciplinary advantages of being able to take advantage of the knowledge of leather, or metal conservation, for example. Their goal is to graduate skilled and competent entry level Library and Archives conservators. Her charge to the field was to create more jobs and paid internship opportunities.

Peggy Ellis recounted the earlier history of the Columbia Program, mentioning how at that time the paper conservation and conservation science aspects were taught at the IFA. There will be partnerships with Palmer Library School, to learn the basics of librarianship, Columbia University Libraries Conservation Lab, for single item and special collections conservation, and the Thaw Center of the Morgan Library and Museum, which employs two book and three paper conservators.

Michelle Cloonan delved a bit into the history of library schools, then noted a number of essential competencies for a conservator, including the history of the book, the organization of the collections, preservation management, archiving and digital media, digital duration and stewardship, Audio Visual materials, and more.

Beth Doyle’s excellent post covering this same session in the  Preservation & Conservation Administration News blog (PCAN) is well work reading. All of the presenters repeatedly emphasized that this was a pilot program, and that they welcome input and discussion on how to give students the best opportunities and training. And all three commented on the close working relationship that the Mellon funding and provided. After these presentations, there was a remarkably uncontroversial, far too short Q&A session. Some of the questions and comments ranged from perceived deficiencies in the study of conservation science, frank acknowledgments of the monetary pressures libraries are facing, if a MILS is a necessary credential for a library and archives conservator, problems with not enough entry level jobs in the field, and more.  Judy Walsh had the most tweetable quip, noting the “training programs are a learners permit” for future conservators, not an end in themselves.

Unfortunately, there were no practicing book conservators on the panel, which perhaps prevented some of the questions from becoming too specific.  I outlined some of my thoughts and opinions in the 2010 Mim Watson lecture at the University of Texas, School of Information as the final guest speaker at the Texas program in a speech, titled  “A Future for Book Conservation at the End of the Mechanical Age”. From the perspective of a member of the first class from the Columbia Program in 1981, John Townsend has written a must read personal history of book conservation education. I also recommend Chela Metzger’s lecture, “Rare Skills for Rare Books: Book Conservation Education“. For a little international perspective, I recorded some more of my observations on US and UK approaches to book conservation — the comments are perhaps more illuminating than my post.

The path to becoming a book conservator has never be straightforward: we all have to be very proactive in seeking out educational pathways and professional development opportunities. Elsewhere on this AIC site there is more information about how to become a conservator, although there are, I feel, more ways that people enter into the field than is indicated. Also note there are also two major programs in the UK which attract a number of students from the US: Camberwell (London) and  West Dean College (West Sussex). The session ended quietly and I was left feeling that these programs were well conceived, competently directed, and sincere in the desire to provide the best possible education for future book conservators. I would be interested in hearing more specifics about the differences between the intended programs, which would help prospective students choose the best fit.

I was also left wondering a bit about the role of the student. Most conservators I highly respect have come from a variety of training schemes — their commonalities may have more to do with their own autodidactic study and commitment to professional development, not to mention inherent ability and generally wide ranging interests– than from what corse of training they initially embarked upon. Will future students — perhaps ones who have grown up without books — be attracted to such a narrow field, if given a choice of dealing with wide ranging objects, for example?

If conservation is based on the tripartite skill set of  SCIENCE-CRAFT-HISTORY, I worry that we are relying too heavily on science, and there is not enough emphisis on the others. Let us not underestimate the importance of this divorcing of the book conservation and craft, from its long term home in the library. Book conservation has been a bit late to be invited to the table with other conservation disciplines for a variety of reasons, some to do with the functional nature (until recently!) of books, their ubiquitousness, and their closeness to bookbinding as a craft. And I would argue that this last aspect, the close relation of bookbinding to its craft origins, may be at risk.  The structure of the codex, because it is one of the most perfect technological inventions, has been remarkably stable for the past 2,000 years.  The history and techniques are reflected and embodied in the books, and also through the traditional methods of disseminating craft knowledge, generally by close personal contact with skilled practitioners.  I maintain that this living tradition of craft knowledge needs to be preserved just as the books themselves are preserved.

20 thoughts on “39th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group, Education. Education! Education? Education. Models for Educating Library and Archives Conservators, Thursday, June 2”

  1. Warning: this is a long one (I’m not shy about discussing this subject)! I hope others soon follow with more.

    Sitting up on the stage with the panelists as a co-chair for the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group (LCCDG) this year, I was wondering whether I would have the chance to comment during the discussion portion, which ended up falling far too short. Yet I also felt strongly that the supremely experienced educators beside me should have the space to present what each art conservation program plans to do during the Mellon-funded pilot programs to support the training of future library and archives conservators. The real focus of this session was to share each of the current programs’ future plans. But just as Jeff mentioned, what about the role of the student?

    As a book conservator who graduated from Buffalo State College, I have the greatest faith that these strong programs will make it work. Knowing that I would stay focused on books, I chose to attend Buffalo for the interdisciplinary approach to materials that Judy emphasized. Even without the current Mellon funding for students of library and archives conservation, I certainly received a large amount of support during my time at Buffalo.

    Having worked as a preservation assistant for various institutions for a total of four years prior to school may have given me a leg up, but the Buffalo program provided me with the funding to attend classes at Montefiascone, Rare Book School, and basically any other book-related experience I desired. I commuted to Toronto to take leather bookbinding courses every Sunday for two semesters, and was able to complete a mini internship at Syracuse University during winter break. I felt like the world truly was my oyster during those two years. I was also encouraged to get fantastic library and archives-related internships each summer with the most invaluable mentors, and I landed an extremely nurturing one-year internship at the Huntington Library, where I was hired upon graduation.

    The end of my education was not yet complete though, as almost every mentor I ever had (all graduates of Columbia or UT) emphasized the importance of the MLIS. For the past three years I have worked towards gaining this second degree, continuously cycling through feelings of confidence that I’m doing the right thing to feelings of disdain and extreme burn-out.

    Hearing the discussion following this session I again wondered if I was wasting my time and money (especially if libraries are not looking for people with the MLIS anymore) or if some day I would see the benefit to obtaining a full MLIS degree. I actually do hope future students will only have to take 6 courses for a certificate, rather than the full 14 course degree because as Judy stated, it is difficult to expect someone working for low pay to go through two graduate programs. On the other hand, there is little to regret in learning as much as I can and since I was lucky to be supported by stipends and grant-funded money at Buffalo, the debt is not nearly as high as friends in other professions.

    It’s obvious that there can never be a one-size-fits-all curriculum for library and archives conservators. After all, look at the myriad roles these conservators play in their day-to-day jobs. Some may want to be bench conservators forever, or some may want to immediately head a lab or be an administrator, while others may want to or are required to do both. People working in libraries even have the opportunity to now move more towards digital collections, which should be a separate discipline entirely.

    Everything is governed by the type of library a conservator works for, how much staff is on hand, how much money there is for resources. What I took away as the message of the session: each student will have to find the best way to suit his or her needs and future goals, and these needs and goals may have to change with the types of jobs and opportunities available to them when it comes time to find a job – and the biggest point yet – this is what library and archives conservators have been doing to shape their careers all along. There will always be a need for continuing education.

    What I’d really like to see is a discussion session for past graduates from all the programs, to share their opinions on how they feel they have been received in the field of library and archives conservation (especially when taking an “alternative” route) and what they have found to be the most useful in their careers. Now that I have worked in a professional library conservation position for five years, I can reflect on my education in a more practical way, and I know there are many people out there whose insight would add a greater depth to this ongoing discussion. The informal discussion that was held on this subject last year in Milwaukee touched more on the students’ point of view because the programs had not yet developed plans. I hope we can continue to support, analyze, and continuously re-evaluate what has been discussed so far.

  2. Marieka’s thoughtful observations reminded me of one other important point I forgot to mention — Conservators in Private Practice. The last statistic I saw indicated that roughly half of conservators are in private practice, or some type of temporary grant funded position. Peggy Ellis made an astute comment during the Q &A that FAIC should be more active in providing resources for those who find themselves in private practice. FAIC, AIC, the programs, and all of us need to work need to work harder to promote the interests of CIPP. The speciality group CIPP http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/cipp/ is a great group of people, however with their limited resources may not be the best group to solely rely on to fulfill this function. This topic will hopefully be explored at next years conference as an aspect of outreach?

  3. One thing from the session that i would like clarification on: I came away with the sense that there is no guarantee from any of the three programs taht they will have *any* library/archives/book conservation students at any given time. The Buffalo program rep indicated that students might be ‘seduced away’ by other tracks and they and NYU/IFA both indicated that incentives would be offered for students to stick with this track. If I recall correctly the WUDPAC rep indicated that they do not choose students based on specialty and would not change this going forward – all of which leads me to the point stated at the beggining. Can anyone clarify?

  4. Regarding Jeff’s comment about those in private practice. A great many of their business training needs could be met through basic business courses offered through community colleges and arts organizations. These could include writing a business/marketing plan, accounting, advertising (yes, advertising), and related.

    While those in private practice may have a harder time fulfilling their basic research needs, those in academic (incl museums) settings are not necessarily that much better off. And yes, time for conducting research may never be billable (or fully compensated) as is the case even in academic settings beyond a certain point. It is something that comes with choosing this avocation and lifestyle.

  5. Thanks for the post, Jeff. It seems to me that the best discussions happen in the hallways at any conference. I’m glad to see some of them moving out to places where others can be part.

    I’m also interested in that intersection between marketing-outreach-fundraising. How best would that be addressed at the 2012 meeting? Workshop? Debate? Suggestions welcome.

    I completely agree that FAIC needs more support to help us all, not just CIPP conservators, further our work. FAIC underwrites professional workshops to keep course fees down (note that on the flier about the wood anatomy course, FAIC covers 45% of the cost to AIC members who take the course). And FAIC now owns CoOL, AIC’s library of its member’s intellectual output. FAIC funds these and other projects through grants from federal agencies and foundations.

    One thing that would help FAIC in its fundraising efforts would be to have greater participation from AIC members. Now I’m not talking substantial financial gifts here. I’m talking $1. At the risk of sounding like public radio, if every AIC member gave $1 to CoOL or whatever other favorite FAIC fund, not only is FAIC $3,000 richer but also FAIC can say that they’ve got 100% support from AIC members. While they wouldn’t mind if the gifts were more substantial, a high percentage of membership support is something that funders with far deeper pockets will respond to.

  6. “And FAIC now owns CoOL, AIC’s library of its member’s intellectual output.”

    While CoOL did indeed move over to AIC after Stanford shut it down it is important to remember that contributors to CoOL extend FAR beyond AIC’s members, be it via the listserv archives represented (including “my” book_arts-l ( http://cool.conservation-us.org/byform/mailing-lists/bookarts/ ) and other groups) or the articles and other reference works linked to. It is important to remember that hosting and claiming intellectual property rights over materials in CoOL are two different things and unless authors specifically signed away their rights as in the case of the AIC Journal…, the intellectual property rights (copyright) rest with the contributors. That said, I am grateful for AIC’s continued hosting and have donated to help with that.

    For CoOl to become the discipline-specific repository that captures its members output it needs to open up, allow members to directly deposit their findings, presentations, papers, … and do so in an open access way that allows conservation/preservation professionals worldwide to access those materials, regardless of AIC affiliation in the spirit of “open access.” That would do much to meet the research needs of the profession overall.

  7. Very true, Peter. What I meant is that FAIC owns the server, pays the ISP, pays Walter to maintain the assets and enhance services, and that the contents include AIC’s library of its member’s intellectual output. And, as one who relies on CoOL, I thank you for your financial contribution.

    I would like to clarify, however, your suggestion that authors sign away their rights when publishing their work in JAIC. Authors retain their rights to their ideas, research, and data, but not their sentence structure. As you know this is not uncommon in peer-reviewed journals since the paper that results from the peer-review process is not the version originally submitted by the author, but a product resulting from the work of a collective. I am told that AIC has allowed authors to republish documents in JAIC in other publications as long as AIC is credited. The policy is found here.

    That said, I’m interested in the opportunities offered by Creative Commons licensing, and would love to see CoOL become the vital platform you describe in your final paragraph.

  8. Just a note that my blog with post cited by the Digital Cellulose blog – which at least for a while could be found on http://librarypreservation2.blogspot.com – was suddenly and inexplicably “deleted” by Blogger for spam. I’m hoping it will be reinstated in the next few days.

  9. I had originally posted this on my blog (Library Preservation 2) on Saturday evening. On Sunday afternoon Blogger suddenly and unexpectedly deleted my blog (I am trying to get it back.) Jeff Peachey asked me to repost my post on this site which I will somewhat reluctantly do, with a few minor edits. After originally posting this, Marieka wrote some good comments challenging some of what I said and supporting these programs. Unfortunately, I have been unable to recover these comments.

    At the AIC meeting this past week there was a session about the 3 new library conservation education programs. The event has been well covered on the internets by the tweeting of @queensuzy and @fletcherdurant, and the blogging of Beth on PCAN and Jeff Peachey on the AIC’s Conservators Converse. What follows is a bit of a ramble, a bit of a rant, and a bit of a response. (I had initially planned to write this as a response on the Conservators Converse blog, but as my response grew, I grew uncomfortable about inflicting my words on some other organization’s blog. So I post them here, but be sure to read what everyone else wrote. )

    I noticed when I read Jeff’s report that when he wrote about the training of “book conservators” my immediate response was “No, library conservators.” Not a criticism – not a big point – just an observation of my response. I guess the library thing is pretty important to me.

    I suppose that a reason we are so concerned about training future library/book conservators is because ensuring a healthy future for our profession validates what we are doing today. Few things would make us feel more lousy about our profession than if the library & conservation world decided they didn’t need conservators – that our profession was no longer needed. So, a robust training program assures ourselves, correctly or not, that we and our work are still valued.

    I’d really be curious to know how much “market research” went into designing these programs. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t think they did any (well, maybe I do mean to imply that) but I would be curious to know how they assessed the need that these programs are designed to fill, and what kind of future needs do they project.

    I was curious to read the comment from Judy Walsh of the Buffalo State program that these “training programs are a learners permit.” Is this point made explicitly clear to those looking to enter the program? “Okay, for 3 years you will pay us lots of money and spend lots of energy and you will receive a degree that, by itself, many institutions won’t consider sufficient to hire you.” (There’s also a bit of cruel irony in Mellon funding the training of entry-level conservators but the employment opportunities they fund are only for advanced-level conservators.)

    I remain less concerned about the training of conservators, then I am of preservation administrators. This is not because I think PAs are more valuable than conservators, I just think a PA’s value is less recognized. As library collections and their management becomes more complex and diverse libraries need people who have a general sense of the whole of library collections. (I fully acknowledge that my assessment for libraries’ need for preservation administrators is based on absolutely no research of the market’s perception of their need for preservation administrators. It actually seems that the market doesn’t perceive much of a need for preservation administrators. Markets can be idiots!)

    I guess its natural and to be expected that conservation programs would train conservators, and not preservation administrators. I am not aware that the art/museum world has anything like a PA in their professional job descriptions.

    Now for a bit of possibly unnecessary self-disclosure – which I think may help explain some of the source of my comments. I’m a D-list conservator. (Okay, maybe C-list, but D-list has a better pop-culture ring to it.) I write this as a pretty realistic assessment of my training and abilities within the library conservation world. I don’t have an advanced conservation degree and I don’t work in a recognized and respected library program, but I’ve trained with some good people and I’ve been working with books as physical objects in a library setting for about 15 years. I do pretty good work. I know what I can, and can’t do, and work within my limits (most of the time.) I think there are a lot of D-list conservators out there and I think a lot of libraries rely on the work of D-list conservators (if they even use the conservator title) to care for their collections. Despite all the work of D-list conservators, and despite all the need for D-list conservators, there is no official/institutional structures/training to account for D-listers.

    The 3 training programs appear to be aimed at creating a handful of B+ conservators trained to work on the “treasures” of the library – the rare and special collections materials, but can they do anything else?

    What are libraries to do with their vast medium-rare, and less-than-rare collections? Do these programs train people to do ordinary tasks like 15 minute rebacks of common, modern hardcover books? (An incredibly useful skill to have in a library – if for nothing else than to train a newly hired book repair para-professional.) Do these programs instruct about such things as commercial library binding and microfilm – shudder – which remain useful preservation tools, but are completely outside the realm of the art conservation world in which they are embedded.

    It would seem to me that especially as the libraries are looking at models of shared print repositories, and dealing with issues of mass digitization projects, and trying to understand the relationship of their physical collection to their digital collection, libraries will need people who can think smartly about the broader related preservation issues. Libraries will need these people, but will they find them?

  10. Hi Kevin-

    You are correct in that I often interchange ‘book conservator’ and ‘library are archives conservator’. I assume the initial impetus behind the term ‘library and archives conservator’ was to imply the conservator had training to deal with the specific and unique needs materials of libraries, but I’ve never been completely comfortable with labeling a conservator for the location of the objects they deal with. This seems to tie in with my CIPP comment above — there are a lot of books that need treatment not located in libraries, archives or other institutions.

    I wonder if the craft based skill set between collections and single-item treatments is as different as you imply? And, I wonder how long paper based books will continue to be used as functional, shared objects of textually based information in various collections? A topic for future conferences in itself, to be sure.

  11. Jeff

    Regarding the book/library conservator distinction – I suppose this is just an expression of my own professional self-identity. As I wrote in a recent blog post http://librarypreservation2.blogspot.com/2011/05/librarianconservator.html (which is back online!) I see myself as a librarian/conservator. The library is the context within which I work. My first goal is to help fulfill the mission of the library, and I do that by conserving materials. So I see myself as a library conservator.

    I don’t know that everyone who conserves materials for libraries needs to have that same type of professional self-identity – but it’s what has developed for me.

  12. Something I mentioned at the end of the discussion session: please remember the online courses offered by FAIC, which are developed for conservators in private practice, or those planning to start a private practice (especially recent graduates). I have found them to be very useful as an introduction to some of the business issues conservators should keep in mind, whether your practice is full-time or you’re simply doing a little work on the side to make some extra money. There are three relevant courses listed right now: Marketing for Conservation, Estimating Conservation Projects, and Mitigating Risk: Contracts and Insurance for Conservation. You can find these courses here: http://www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=499&parentID=473#onlinecourses

  13. Hi, great thread. Obviously a topic near and dear to my heart.

    I wanted to address the concern Katie picked up on that there at any one time there may not be anyone pursuing a specialization in books/library/archives in the programs. That is quite true, and with that in mind you could say there may be fewer graduates that when UT was in operation, and given this job market, perhaps that is ok.

    I can say for Winterthur, we have a the ability to major or to minor in library and archives, but you do not declare your major or minor until after your first year. Next year we have a major and a minor in library/archives.Both are second year students.


  14. P.s. On the topic of the MLIS, I think what Peter said, WHERE you get your MLIS is of some concern. There are some universities that are churning out on-line degrees…all of which could be very good and useful for those who are already working in libraries or in conservation. But there may be some danger of a 2 tiered educational system in library studies, with face to face degrees being preferred by more elite institutions, if choosing between candidates. This is hear-say, but I have heard it–more than once.

    The trend toward not hiring mls librarians for library jobs is often based on the easy availability of PhD’s who will never find tenure track work and explore libraries to make a living. Of course libraries have a desperate need for subject expertise. It is worth noting that the majority of major research institutions hire librarians with 2 masters, MLIS Plus something else. 2 masters degrees can be a be considered a basic academic library set up, and conservators in libraries may fare best in terms of promotion in that environment with 2 degrees as well. But as Jake Nadal said, libraries are in flux.

    Maybe conservators should all just get doctorates. They earn a crazy number of credits as it is!

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