A take-away from 39th Annual Meeting after a first year on the AIC board: Stepping Out

Here’s a bit about me: I work as a conservator in a mid-sized museum in a small state. I’m an advocate of making conservation literature widely available, ideally on the internet, because that means I’ll have access to it when I need it. Its pretty common that  time in my working day doesn’t permit me to do the research that I need to do my work well, so I do it at home. Any writing I do for professional presentations increasingly is done during off-hours. I’m also passionate about opportunities for cross-specialization collaborations because, as a generalist, my practice is enhanced by learning from specialists. And I am always on the lookout for technology that makes doing research and documentation easier. What some may refer to as my outreach activities on social media platforms began as attempts  at discussion with conservators, other specialist cultural heritage professionals and knowledgable hobbyists about specific collection artifacts, their history and treatment. I’d never been involved in any sort of leadership position within AIC until elected as AIC board director for communications last year.

My time on the board thus far has brought me into discussions with members and  staff about all of the issues I mentioned above. And, since I’m new to volunteering for AIC, I’ve had to learn about how to get things done within the organization and the arc of the meeting planning year. This year, in addition going to talks and enjoying the company of more than 1200 of my fellow practitioners I also attended a number of meetings aimed to foster collaboration, build new resources, as well as helping lay plans for next year’s annual meeting. These meetings seem to have acted as a sort of lens through which I saw the presentations, and I’d like to share some thoughts.

In her General Session talk entitled “Conservation in the Twenty-first Century: Will a Twentieth Century Code of Ethics Suffice?” Barbara Appelbaum encouraged conservators to move beyond our work benches and take our place in the world, to speak for our profession and cultural heritage. Similarly in the Wooden Artifacts Group, in his presentation on Transformative Restorations, Cary Howlett observed that unless conservators publish in arenas beyond our own, restorations based on educated guesses too quickly presented by others may be misinterpreted as authentic material, muddying the historic record despite our best efforts not to do so. Both of these papers in particular were an excellent segue to next year’s conference theme: “Connecting to Conservation: Outreach and Advocacy”.

Never before have conservators had so many options for presenting our work to audiences beyond our profession. Because museum administrations have discovered their visitors are interested in what happens behind the scenes, it seems that the field of conservation and preservation is experiencing greater attention from the media. Additionally, there are numerous options to publish our own work informally on the internet in blogs or more formally in online journals and ebooks. Increasingly I find conservation resources through print-on-demand self-publishing services like Lulu.com or Amazon”s subsidiary CreativeSpace.

Last November, writing on Jeff Peachy’s blog, Peter Verheyen explained some of the issues surrounding online access to scholarly literature. He says, in part:

“The “rights” (copyright) issue is a complex one, and authors often give away their copyright to their research and other work in order to get published… Then, their institutions (in most cases) have to buy back the output of that work, often created “on the clock,” at very steep prices through those journal subscriptions.”

In addition to our institutions needing to “buy back” work done on their time, authors may not have the opportunity to re-issue their own ideas and data if someone else holds title to those assets after they’ve gone out of print. (One small point of clarification on Peter’s post: he suggests that authors for JAIC sign away all their rights to their articles to AIC. In fact, authors retain the rights to their ideas, research, and data, just not the exact sentence structure in the article, but that’s not true of some agreements with other publishers.) Online open journals have lots of different business models, some of which make it very expensive for authors to present their work in order to make those articles freely available to the general public. How economically sustainable are these models? How will the information contained within those journals stay available into the future if these models fail?

Personally, I think that we need to be better informed about our rights as authors and the publishing landscape, particularly as we move away from our benches and out into a bigger world. The landscape is complex. Anyone interested in learning more about it?

Here’s two more things that I want to throw out here. In a meeting about the AIC wikis, the possibility of publishing important out-of-print conservation resources on the wikis so that they could be updated was raised. In fact, there are projects afoot that are aimed at just that. Additionally, there is a dormant project to collect titles of books that have gone out of print that members would like to see back in print. If you’ve got suggestions about what should be on that list let me know.