This blog post is part of a series of observations about the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd). In mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on gels in conservation. The talks were excellent, and I’ve focused on four that were notable for the wide range of materials treated and challenges faced. They ranged from coating/grime removal from a giant sequoia tree cross section, to dirt and varnish removal from Delacroix wall paintings, to removal of repairs from a fragile felt hat from a 18th century ship wreck, and an experiment comparing residues left behind by various gels on paper.
Jonathan Clark’s presentation, “Revisiting a shipwrecked felt hat for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust: a multidisciplinary approach” featured a really cool felt hat from a 1758 shipwreck. The project resulted in an unusual opportunity for collaboration between a textile and an objects conservator–both bringing needed experience to successfully treat the hat. In the past, the object had been treated aggressively with layers of synthetic materials and heavy cardboard fills. The hat was misshapen as a result of the thick repairs, making it difficult to fully see the original object. The treatment objective was to release the fragile felt hat from its past repairs and reshape it to its intended form without harming the object. Acetone softened the thick unknown adhesive, so both acetone vapor and solvent gels were used to release and reduce the adhesive. The acetone solvent gel was applied through spider tissue, a very soft and strong paper (100% manila fibers). Once in place, the spider tissue was pre-wetted with methylated spirits, then the gel was applied via spatula, which was then covered with plastic wrap to slow evaporation. Once the old repairs were removed the hat remained misshapen, to further soften the remaining adhesive holding the felt hat out of shape, it was placed in an acetone vapor environment. The softened pliable hat was then weighted and pinned to a Fosshape form, a shrinkable polyester felt, used by textile conservators to create mounts. The end result was an object that was stable and could safely be stored showing only its original materials.
This blog series is a result of receiving the FAIC Carolyn Horton grant to help me attend the conference. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the FAIC for helping make it possible for me to attend this important conference.
This blog post is the 2nd in a collection of observations about the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd). In mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on gels in conservation. The first presentations of the first day kicked off the conference, setting the tone with intriguing philosophical, as well as practical hands-on examples of gels in conservation. The two leading conservation scientists in the field of gels, Richard Wolbers and Paolo Cremonesi, each provided an introduction to gels in conservation, what has been done historically, what is currently practiced, and thoughts for the future. Wolbers not only delivered the key note presentation, but spoke several times as collaborator for many of the talks and as a moderator. In his keynote address, Wolbers emphasized minimizing toxicity through substitution of less toxic materials and Cremonesi discussed the characteristics of agar gels and the current work being done with thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels.
Bottom line, it seems that the basic goal for many of the case studies that were presented is to find a way to safely use aqueous cleaning systems on water-sensitive materials without damaging the object. A tall order.
Wolbers’ talk, “Gels, Green Chemistry, Gurus and Guides”, it provided an overview of gels in conservation, as well as a look towards the future, emphasized the goal of using Green chemistry, which involves less waste and is less toxic – something he has been advocating for years (here is the link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGpOYaU6owE).
Wolbers said, when confronted with a treatment problem, first determine if a gel is appropriate. Gels keep the gel and its contents in contact longer with the surface; gels make local application controllable or they can serve as a poultice. Naturally, the gel used shouldn’t impact the surface medium, and it should be non-toxic and clean the object. Wolbers listed some of the advantages of solid rigid agar gels: they dissolve in water, improve surface wettability, and have surfactant properties.
Ultimately, to do the best by our objects, we as a field need to continually look to other industries for ideas. For example, the cosmetic industry utilizes green chemistry to reduce exposure to potentially harmful solvents. We need to truly understand what we want to achieve in a particular circumstance and tailor it to our object, rather than relying on a few stock recipes and applying them to all situations. As conservators we must remain agile and stay creative. To do this we must understand the underlying principles of the materials we want to use and the objects we are treating. Conservation needs to be able to gain ideas and experience from other fields, and also be able to create and engineer our own materials to give us the type of control we need.
In Cremonesi’s talk, “Thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels: their properties and action in cleaning”, (here is the link to Cremonesi’s talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=UbbxCQR4El8) he listed the advantages of agar gels: how they dissolve in water, and improve surface wettability. They have limited adhesion to the surface and, most importantly, leave behind minimal residue (as compared to gellan gum. (See M. Sullivan’s paper “Rigid polysaccharide gels for paper conservation: a residue study”). Past drawbacks of agar gels had been that they could only be applied to relatively flat surfaces. However, if the liquid gel is applied (brushed or poured on) just at the moment it starts to thicken, it can be used on a variety of surfaces, planar or not.
Thermo-reversible gels are often prepared in the microwave to prepare a homogeneous gel. When heated above 80F (Cremonesi recommended type E for its low gelling temperature) the gel is liquid and when cooled below 80F it is a solid. With increased concentration, the gel becomes stiffer which will slow the release of water from the gel. While in the liquid form it can be poured into receptacles such as a syringe body. Allowed to cool, once solid it can be kept in a “pencil” shape (this slide caused many audience members to swoon) or be cut into small plugs.
At room temperature it can also be grated, with the shaving manipulated for surface cleaning. Enzymes mixed with Agar in a semi-solid state are the most effective form of the material. That said, Cremonesi said gellan gum is more appropriate for works on paper because it’s more flexible and transparent than agar.
One thing I’ve found with using gels (in my case gellan gum) is the formation of tide lines, which made me assume we were doing something wrong. According to both Wolbers and Cremonesi, I was missing a step. They talked about the importance of pre-wetting the surface to be treated with a non-polar solvent (they specifically mentioned D5, aka decamethylcyclopentasiloxane aka cyclomethicone). At first this might seem counter-intuitive: how does water work if there’s non-polar solvent in the way? Actually it’s about displacement – oil floats on water – so the water in the gel displaces the non-polar solvent to get to the surface. The non-polar solvent prevents tidelines principally by blocking capillarity. Now it’s all starting to make sense. The same principle was used by Burgio, Rivers et al (2008, Studies in Conservation) when consolidating matte paint. On this basis, any non-polar solvent (first spot tested) should work to prevent tidelines. D5 has the advantage of being a ‘green’ solvent, comes without the H&S hazards associated with hydrocarbon non-polar solvents, and is exceptionally non-polar.
This blog series is a result of receiving the FAIC Carolyn Horton grant to help me attend the conference. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the FAIC for helping make it possible for me to attend this important conference.
As 2017 comes to a close, we wanted to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have already supported our many endeavors, ranging from the Conservation DistList and Conservation OnLine (CoOL) resources to FAIC’s professional development programs, scholarships, Connecting to Collections Care webinars, and emergency programs.
Thanks to your support, we’ve managed to achieve a lot this past year. FAIC has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships and grants; produced 25 professional development workshops and courses; provided 18 free collections care webinars viewed by more than 4,100 people from around the world; and supported 74 conservation assessments to help small and mid-size museums preserve their collections. The ConsDistList has a new look and reaches 10,000 international participants twice a week on a regular schedule. Our National Heritage Responders volunteers have been busy helping museums, libraries, and archives affected by this year’s hurricanes and wild fires. Two additional NHR teams will depart shortly to continue our assistance in Puerto Rico.
In order to provide these opportunities, events, and services, we need your support. We rely on donations from people like you so that we can keep these programs running. If you haven’t done so already, we hope that you’ll consider making a year-end donation to support the programs you use and love. You can write a check to FAIC and mail it to 727 15th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005, USA, or make a contribution by credit card at www.conservation-us.org/donate.
Warm regards and many thanks for your ongoing support of FAIC!
Recent recipients of the George Stout Memorial Fund Scholarship, a grant administered by FAIC that provides funding for emerging conservators to attend AIC’s Annual Meeting.
Between 2011 and 2015, the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) awarded $2,064,962 through 462 grants and scholarships. $428,601 of this was given out in 2015 to 91 grant and scholarship recipients. While these numbers include larger grants such as Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellowships and publication grants, an important part of FAIC’s grant program is to provide professional development support for individuals to attend conferences and workshops and to pursue research projects. A full list of grants and scholarships is available here.
Emerging conservators are eligible for a number of these grants, including the FAIC / Tru Vue® International Professional Development Scholarships and George Stout Memorial Fund Scholarships – the latter of which is reserved for pre-program individuals, graduate students, and recent graduates to attend professional conferences. Each grant has specific deadlines, eligibility, and application requirements – all of which are listed online. FAIC recently moved the grant application process online to make the process easier for the applicants and the reviewers.
This brings us to the subject of this post: how to improve your applications for FAIC grants! Reviewing and awarding these grants is an important but time-consuming task, so FAIC relies on AIC’s Education & Training Committee (ETC) for assistance. Conservators from different career stages and specialties volunteer to serve on ETC, which is responsible for advancing AIC members’ knowledge of conservation practices by supporting continuing education and professional development endeavors. ETC also promotes educational issues within the field.
As many emerging conservators may be new to writing grant applications, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) interviewed some members of ETC to ask a few questions about the application and review process. Here’s what we learned:
ECPN’s Interview with ETC
Review Process:What happens with an application once it is submitted? Who reviews it, and who makes the final decision?
For each application cycle, the Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC calls for volunteers from ETC to review applications, specifying the deadline and how many volunteers are needed. The reviewers are usually different people based on who can commit time to the process during the application review period. Three reviewers are assigned to read each application, and reviews are conducted anonymously. The reviewers receive instructions and reminders for the unique criteria for each grant.
Taking into consideration the specific grant criteria and the benefit of the project to the applicant (among other things), the reviewer assigns points for each of the selection criteria categories and provides comments to help clarify the ratings provided. ETC members’ ratings and review of the applications ensures a thorough and fair review process.
Next, the AIC Board Director for Professional Education works closely with the Institutional Advancement Director to tally the scores and review comments by ETC and submits the recommended awards for final approval by the Executive Director of FAIC and AIC and the FAIC Treasurer. The goal is always to administer as many awards as the budget allows to support the professional growth of AIC members.
Audience: Who should the application be directed to? That is, who are you writing for (e.g. general audience, fellow conservators)?
Direct the application to your fellow conservators. ETC is made up of your peers — but it is important to keep in mind that ETC members come from a range of specialties. The reviewer may not know the significance of a particular project unless it is clearly defined and expressed. It is important to give details that explain the “why” —that is, why your project is relevant, timely, or important — so the reviewer can understand your thought process.
Because our field is small, there is a good chance that reviewers know some of the applicants. ETC members must also recuse themselves from a particular review if there is any conflict of interest (e.g., that member applied for a grant, or wrote a letter of support for an applicant).
ETC considers the applications based on the merit of a particular application, not with regard to whether you are a junior or well-seasoned conservator, or whether the reviewer is familiar with your work.
Content:What are the major points in the application text to pay attention to? What level of detail is desirable when discussing your project?
Address the grant review criteria directly and pay attention to the parts that are unique to you and your application. Set up the relevance of the project first by describing it; the project description should be brief and straightforward. Then discuss how the project benefits you professionally. This is section with the most freedom: explain how the project is appropriate to furthering your professional development. It is more important to state effectively how you will benefit from your involvement–this is the part that really distinguishes the applications from each other.
So instead of listing your accomplishments, explain what you will accomplish — either by attending the conference, presenting your work, or pursuing your research. And be clear about your level of participation and whether you are attending a workshop or conference, or presenting. While your financial need is implied—you are applying for a grant, after all—you should still mention it. It is helpful for your case if the reviewer knows that your institution does not provide professional development funding, or has not provided it for a number of years.
Describing how you plan to disseminate what you’ve gained from the project is also an important factor. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll write a book on the subject, but FAIC is interested in the most bang for the buck: how far will the benefits go if this person is selected for funding?
Budget:What are the important considerations when reviewing a proposed budget? What costs should and should not be included? What is the best way to explain how you arrived at your cost estimates? What should you do if your estimated costs exceed the amount that can be awarded?
The budget needs to be complete and reasonable. Being stingy with yourself will not necessarily score you points, but you should not price out a luxury hotel and first-class flights. The Federal Government Service Administration (GSA) provides numbers that can be a great guide for drafting a budget. The online application form prompts you to consider expenses related mostly to travel and lodging, and additional explanation of expenses beyond this form is usually not necessary. While the grants don’t cover food, there is a place to fill out your estimated meal costs to show what you will be covering yourself.
Do not request for more than the maximum award; it may appear as though you didn’t read the grant description. If your projected costs exceed the maximum award, fully outline those costs and request up to the award limit. Outlining all of your costs—regardless of whether they are covered by the grant or exceed the award limit—provides valuable data for FAIC. This information can be used if grants are ever re-evaluated, and FAIC can use the budget information to advocate for higher award limits.
Having an expensive project doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. In fact, it engenders sympathy and understanding that you will have to seek additional funding or otherwise provide funds out of pocket. The better the reviewers understand the total costs, the better the committee can try to support you. The number of grants given out each cycle varies, and the goal is to provide enough support to allow the awardees to fulfill their projects.
Recommendation Letters:How should you select recommenders? How can you help prepare them to know what points to speak to? Do your recommenders have to be AIC members? Should they have status within AIC (PA, Fellow)?
The letters should come from someone with whom you have a professional relationship, and who will write a positive recommendation that specifically discusses how the project will benefit you. If you are unsure whether a recommender’s letter will be positive, you can ask them or ask someone else to write for you. The perceived status of your recommender is not so significant; someone who seems important in AIC does not necessarily write a better letter. The requirements for recommenders’ status within AIC vary from grant to grant, so be sure to read the application procedures section very carefully.
Providing a recommender with your current CV and a draft of your application can help them to tailor the recommendation letter to your application. Also, let your recommenders know they can fill out the Letter of Support Form [insert link] provided by FAIC, rather than writing a traditional letter. All of these materials can be submitted electronically by the recommender, so the recommendation remains confidential. The deadlines are firm, so make sure to ask for recommendations well in advance and indicate the application deadlines in your request.
For more on this topic, look at the guides ETC has developed for requesting and writing letters of recommendation.
General:Are there any easily fixable but common mistakes you see in applications? If your application is not accepted, what steps can you take to improve your chances next time? What are some general tips you would provide to first time grant applicants?
Do not overthink it. Your essay need not be lengthy; completeness and accuracy are what counts, so answer the questions and speak to the grant criteria directly. Be concise in making your case, and keep in mind that reviewers may read dozens of applications at a time.
Almost all of the projects and applicants seem worthy in each cycle, so it may come down to minor errors or omissions that result in an incomplete application. It does not reflect poorly on you for future applications if you not receive funding for your first application, so please don’t get discouraged.
For some common reasons why applications do not receive funding, see the great list below, provided to ECPN by Eric Pourchot, Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC.
Some Final Thoughts
In 2015, about half of FAIC grant and scholarship applications were funded, and the total funding awarded was 34% of the total amount requested. And—as we mentioned in our last post on the structure of FAIC and AIC—FAIC must raise the funds to support these grants and scholarships. A good portion of this comes from the Specialty Groups, AIC members, and individual donors! In 2015, $49,000 was raised through individual donations to support FAIC grants and other programs. So, if you are ever the recipient of one of these scholarships and grants, in the future consider “paying it forward” if you can by making a donation to FAIC!
We’d like to thank Nina Owczarek and Susan Russick from ETC and Eric Pourchot (Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC) for answering our questions, and Stephanie Lussier (AIC Board Director, Professional Education) and Heather Galloway (Chair, ETC) for their help reviewing this post.
— Jessica Walthew (Education & Training Officer) and Rebecca Gridley (Vice Chair) on behalf of ECPN
ECPN asked Eric Pourchot, Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC, for some common reasons applications are not funded. Keep these in mind when drafting your application!
The proposal did not meet the eligibility requirements or did not address the purpose of the grant or scholarship. For example, a professional development proposal might address the institution’s need for the proposed training, but not the benefit for the individual, which is the purpose of the grant. Read the guidelines carefully and think like a reviewer as you write the proposal.
The proposal is incomplete. Be sure to double-check attachments, any required letters of support, etc.
The project’s cost is out of proportion to the scale of the grant or scholarship. For example, a proposal might show $20,000-$30,000 in expenses, with no firm source of funding. If the grant limit is $1,000, reviewers may ask how likely it is that the project will be completed.
The proposal has errors or inconsistencies. These sometimes can be overlooked, but when competition is stiff, a proposal that doesn’t appear to be well thought-out will often be rated lower than more polished proposals.
The budget is inflated, has errors, or isn’t justified. This is not always a fatal flaw, but often puts a proposal at a disadvantage. If airfare or hotel prices are listed as much higher than what can be found online, for example, reviewers may question the overall proposal. Conversely (but more rarely), a budget that doesn’t appear to reflect the real costs of a project may be seen as not feasible. If there is a factor that distorts the budget, that should be indicated and justified in the narrative. For example, scheduling might not allow the applicant to travel over a weekend, raising the cost of a round trip flight, or the applicant may be staying with friends and not require a hotel.
Recent recipients of the George Stout grant presenting at AIC’s Annual Meeting.
Have you ever wondered where AIC (the association) and FAIC (the foundation) overlap, and where they diverge? Or who works for AIC and FAIC, and how they got involved?
This blogpost series takes a closer look at the structure and mission of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the Foundation for AIC (FAIC) to introduce newcomers to the field —or even those who are not so new— to what AIC is and what it does. To get a more personalized and in-depth view, ECPN interviewed staff and board members for AIC and FAIC. In our follow-up blogposts, you will hear directly from those involved about these organizations and the work they do. But first… let’s get back to basics!
First and foremost, AIC is a membership organization for conservation professionals. To this end, the AIC staff works to support AIC members, and the AIC board serves to support the members and address their concerns. AIC members themselves make up much of the organization’s structure: members are elected to serve on the AIC board and in specialty group leadership, or are appointed to committees and networks (such as ECPN). These different groups work together to support the field of conservation through their combined action. Which brings us to AIC’s mission statement:
“The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) is the national membership organization supporting conservation professionals in preserving cultural heritage by establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public.”
This is a tall order. How does AIC accomplish this? The AIC staff recently revamped portions of the website to detail the initiatives that fulfill each component of this mission. Some of these initiatives –such as organizing the Annual Meeting and managing communication between members (your specialty group listservs)– are probably already familiar to you. We’ll learn more about these important programs and projects in forthcoming posts in this series.
The Foundation for AIC also supports conservation education, research, and outreach activities, but is separate from AIC. As Eryl Wentworth, Executive Director for both organizations, explains: “AIC and FAIC have a symbiotic relationship. They are separate legal entities with different missions, working both in tandem and independently to advance the field.” FAIC’s goals of advancing the profession, providing information resources, strengthening the professional education program, and expanding outreach, all benefit AIC members in critical ways.
There are important distinctions between AIC and FAIC in how they are funded, classified, and organized. AIC is a 501(c)6 nonprofit, and your AIC membership dues support the resources and staff devoted to AIC initiatives, such as the Annual Meeting, online tools and resources, and publications to disseminate conservation research (AIC News and the Journal of AIC (JAIC)). The Foundation (FAIC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and in contrast, is responsible for raising funds to support its own management and initiatives. Funds raised from grants and individual donations (including from AIC members) support the programs administered by FAIC, which include Connecting to Collections Care (C2CC), Angels projects, the Collections Assessment for Preservation program (CAP), and the Oral History Project, to name only a few.
AIC and the FAIC are each managed by a board of directors. The AIC board is made up of conservation professionals nominated by the Nominating Committee and elected by the broader AIC membership. There are four administrative leadership positions (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer) and four additional board directors that oversee different aspects of the organization, such as Professional Education, Communications, Specialty Groups, and Committees and Networks. These positions are all voluntary, and AIC relies heavily on its members to participate in the leadership of the organization. The FAIC Board includes leadership from the AIC Board (including the Executive Director of AIC and FAIC), plus professionals in allied fields and in such areas as marketing, publishing, insurance, and law. These board members provide additional voices that help to broaden the reach of the organization in related areas of arts and culture, as well as expertise we otherwise lack.
Both organizations are based in a Washington D.C. office staffed by 13 professionals in nonprofit management. Some of the staff work for both organizations, while others’ responsibilities are directly tied to either AIC or FAIC. The AIC/FAIC staff are deeply invested in helping our profession grow and to educating the public about what we do. You may have met some of the AIC staff at the Annual Meeting, or have been in touch with them to update your membership information. Their work extends beyond this, and includes crucial advocacy for the field in the broader context.
Stay tuned for our next posts, which will offer further insight into these organizations and the people who keep them running!
Thanks AIC and FAIC!
— Jessica Walthew (Education & Training Officer) and Rebecca Gridley (Vice Chair) on behalf of ECPN
What digital tools and resources do conservators use and create?
Who are the audiences for conservation content?
How can this content be delivered to these groups by digital means?
What kinds of digital tools, resources, and platforms will be needed as the profession continues to grow?
It is with the above questions that “Charting the Digital Landscape of the Conservation Profession,” a project of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC), interrogates our profession’s origin, its role in this particular technological moment, and its propagation into the future with the aid of technology. As all AIC members have been made aware with the recent mailing, funding from the Mellon, Kress, and Getty Foundations is supporting FAIC in its investigation into the so-called “digital landscape” of the profession. This will help develop a baseline report on the discipline’s use of digital resources in order to better understand its breadth and complexity, and to identify areas critical to the community both now and into the future.
This session was the first in a series of planned forums designed to both map the digital landscape of the profession and to contextualize the data gleaned from the recent survey by discussing the tools currently used and their possible development in the future. An expert panel was brought together for brief presentations, after which there was a lengthy, free-form discussion amongst all attendees.
Please note: This post will err on the side of being longer: Although a report on the survey results will be published by FAIC, this interest session, which put so many experienced professionals and stake-holders in dialogue, is unlikely to be published as delivered. Additionally, many attendees voiced concern that the session was scheduled over many other specialty events, preventing stakeholders from attending to hear more about the project or to voice their concerns about the digital future of the discipline.
To those who are interested in the intimate details:Read on!
To those who would prefer to skim:Know that the FAIC’s report is expected in December 2014, and stay tuned for future forums in the “Digital Landscape” series.
Introducing the session, Eric Pourchot, the FAIC Institutional Advancement Director, began by discussion the project and the initial survey findings. FAIC’s investigation, he said, seeks to identify the critical issues surrounding the digital tools and resources used to shape both the questions and answers concerning urgent need, target audience, and content delivery methods.
He began by outlining five components of the project:
A review of existing resources
A survey of creators of digital resources as well as of the end users
Meetings (and phone interviews) with key stake holders
Formulation of recommendations, priorities, and conclusions
Although I halted a bit at all of this business-speak about timeline and budget and reports and endgames, I was curious as to the initial results of the survey, which I did take. Additionally, the survey goal of identifying the major ways in which digital resources are created, used, and shared both now and in the future, gets at interesting problems and questions we should all ask ourselves.
560 responses to the professionally-designed survey had been completed by the date of the presentation, so, Eric emphasized, the data is still very preliminary. More international participation will be sought before the survey closes and the data is analyzed for accuracy and for various statistical “cross-tabs” by the contracted company.
When asked for the success rate of finding information on a certain topic, those searching for information on Preventive Conservation, for environmental guidelines, for material suppliers, as well as for disaster planning information were successful more than half the time. Unsurprisingly, when it was treatment information that was sought, more than half of the users were unsuccessful. To qualify the lack of “success” of a search, 70% of users cited the lake of information specific to their exact needs. 49% are concerned that the information is not up-to-date. 43% cite concern about the reliability; and 32% were dismayed by the time it took to find the information.
Eric expressed surprise that an archive of treatments topped the list of enhancements desired by the respondents. I do not remember if this was a fill-in question or what I personally responded, but this result did not necessarily strike me as surprising. Rather, I see it being in line with the lack of information on treatment procedures—both historic and current—that was noted in the above section of the survey.
From among the list of Digital Tools used most often, Eric noted the absence of collaborative spaces, such as Basecamp and Dropbox, from the list of image and document management tools, but suggested that maybe some forgot to list these oft-used programs, as they are not conservation-specific.
Finally respondents identified policy issues that were of most concern to them as obstacles to creating, sharing, and accessing content: Copyright/IP (Getty), Institutional/repository policies, time (?), and standards/terminology ranked high. It was unclear at first what was meant by the latter, but David Bloom’s talk (below) did a good deal to illuminate the importance of this.
Eric concluded by noting that although a web-survey platform does self-select for respondents with certain habits, sympathies, and concerns (i.e., those who access the internet regularly and seek to use it as a professional tool), the data represents a good range of age and experience. These groups can be correlated to certain responses; for example, 45-65 year-olds are more likely to search for collections info and are more interested in faster internet access and better online communication. Younger stakeholders, are searching more for professional information and jobs.
Again, be reminded that this data is very preliminary. A final report can be expected by December 2014.
In America, the Mellon began considering supporting digitization efforts and moving conservation documentation online: In 2009 it funded the design phase of ConservationSpace.org to begin imagining online, inclusive, and sustainable routes for sharing. Merv Richard of the National Gallery lead 100 conservators in the development of its structure, its priorities, and its breadth, presenting a discussion session at AIC’s 41st Annual Meeting, Indianapolis.
Important observations are being made when studying potential models, notably the similarities in which the National Park Service, libraries, natural science collections, etc. handle networked information. Although there were necessarily different emphases on workflow and information, there were also large intersections.
In the meantime, CoOL shows its age. It’s long history has necessitated a few migrations over hosts and models—from Stanford Libraries to AIC, and from Gopher to WAIS to W3. It is still, however, based on a library-catalogue model, in which everything is represented to the user as a hypertext (hypermedia) object. In such a system, there are only two options available: to follow a link or to send a query to a server. As important as this resource has been for our professional communication and for the development of our discipline, it lacks the tools to for collaboration over networked content. Having become a legacy resource, it is discontinuous from other infrastructures, such as Wikipedia (pdf), Hathi Trust, Shared Digital Future, and Google Books, all of which which point to a more expansive set of technological opportunity, such as indexing, semantic resource discovery, and linking to related fields.
Our discipline does not exist in a vacuum, and the structuring of our online resources should not show otherwise. Additionally, we need to be able to identity trustworthy information, and this is not a unique problem: We have to open ourselves up to the solutions that other disciplines have come to implement.
Ken encourages us to think of accessible data as infrastructure, which forces the creator to think about applications of the data. A web-platform should be more than just switches and networks! It should support collaborative research, annotation, sharing, and publication. This plat form should increase our ability to contribute to, extract from, and recombine a harmonized infrastructure that we fell represents us.
Planning for the extent of our needs and building it is not beyond a shared professional effort. We will find it to have been worth it.
3. SPEAKER: Nancie Ravenel
Nancie Ravenel, Conservator at the Shelburne Museum, former Chair of Publications and Board Director of Communications, works very hard to create and disseminate information about digital tools and their use to conservators. She is continuously defining the digital cutting-edge, at once “demystifying” conservation through outreach, embodying the essential competencies, and articulating the value of this profession. Her segment of the session provided an overview of key resources she uses as a conservator, noting how the inaccessibility of certain resources (e.g. ARTstor, ILL, and other resources requiring an institutional subscription) changes how she locates and navigates information.
“What does Nancie do in the digital landscape?,“ Ravenel asked. She makes stuff. She finds stuff. She uses and organizes what she makes and finds. And she shares what she’s learned.
Nancie divided her presentation of each function into four sections:
◦ Key resources she uses as a conservator
◦ Expectations of these resources
◦ What is missing
◦ and What remains problematic
In our capacity of makers of stuff, many of us, like Nancie, have begun to experiment, or are already proficient at, using Photoshop for image processing and analysis, experimenting with 3D images and printing, gleaning information for CT scans, producing video, and generating reports.
Where making stuff is concerned, further development is needed in the area of best practices and standards for createng, processing, and preservation of digital assets! We need to pay attention to how assets are created so that they can be easily shared, compared, and preserved. Of great concern to Ravenel is the fact that Adobe’s new licensing model increases the expense of doing work.
On the frontier of finding stuff, certain resources get more use from researchers like Nancie, perhaps for their ease-of-use. Ravenel identifies CoOL/CoOL DistList, jurn.org, AATA, JSTOR, Google Scholar/Books/Images/Art Project/Patent, CAMEO, Digital Public Library of America (dp.la), WorldCat, Internet Archive, SIRIS, any number of other art museum collections and databases (such as Yale University Art Museum or Rhode Island Furniture Archive) and other conservation-related websites, such as MuseumPests.net.
The pseudo-faceted search offered by Google Scholar, which collates different versions, pulls from CoOL, and provides links to all, is noted as being a big plus!
There is, however, lots of what Nancie terms “grey literature” in our field—which is not published in a formal peer-reviewed manner (such as listserv or post-print content, as well as newsletters, blogs, or video content). The profusion of places where content is available, the inconsistent terminology, and the inconsistent metadata or keywords (that which is read by reference management or that which facilitates search) applied to some resources are the most problematic when finding stuff.
As Richard McCoy has always insisted to us, “if you can’t ‘google’ it, it doesn’t exist,” Nancie reiterates a similar concern: If you can’t find it and access it after a reasonable search period, it might as well not exist. In the way of a list of what is harder to find and access she provides the following areas in need:
• AIC Specialty Group Postprints that are not digitized, that are inconsistently abstracted within AATA, or whose manner of distribution makes access challenging.
• Posts in AIC Specialty Group electronic mailing list archives are difficult to access due to lack of keyword search
• Conservation papers within archives often have skeletal finding aids; and information is needed about which archives will take conservation records.
• ARTstor does not provide images of comparative objects that aren’t fine art.
Any effort to wrangle these new ways of assembling and mining information using technology need to consider using linked resources, combining resources, employing a more faceted search engine, and deploying better search options for finding related objects. Research on changing search habits of everyone from chemists to art historians should help us along the way.
In her capacity as a user and organizer what she makes and finds, Nancie knows that not every tool works for everyone. However, she highlights digital tools such as Bamboo DiRT, which, as a compendium of digital-humanities research tools, works and synch across platforms, browsers, and devices, allows for exporting and sharing, and can allow you to look at your research practices in new and different ways. Practices to be analyzed include note taking, note management, reference management, image and document annotation, image analysis, and time tracking. Databases such as these offer structure for documenting and analyzing workflow; and if used systematically, they can greatly increase the scientific validity of any project over the mere anecdotal approach. For a large cleaning project, such as that undertaken with the Shelburne carousel horses, this is indispensable.
What is missing or problematic? A digital lab notebook is not ideal around liquids but is very suited to logging details and organizing image captures. These methods cannot measure the results of treatments using computational methods. Missing are also good tools for comparing, annotating, and adding metadata to images on mobile devices and well as for improved cooperation between tools.
And after all of this analysis of one’s use of digital tools, how is it best to share what one has learned? The AIC Code of Ethics reminds us that:
“the conservation professional shall contribute to the evolution and growth of the profession…This contribution may be made by such means as continuing development of personal skills and knowledge, sharing of information and experience with colleagues, adding to the profession’s written body of knowledge, and providing and promoting educational opportunities in the field.”
The self-reflexive exercise that Nancie Ravenel modeled in her talk—of analyzing personal use of digital tools and how personal needs and goals may reflect and inform those of others—will not only be indispensable to the future development of digital tools which will meet this call to share, but it contains in itself a call to share: Nancie asks, what do you use to share and collaborate with your colleagues. How may these systems serve as a model for further infrastructure?
Email, listservs, and forums; the AIC Wiki; research blogs, and project wikis enabling collaboration and peer review; document repositories like ResearchGate.net and Academia.edu; shared bibliographies on reference management systems like Zotero.org and Mendeley.com; collaboration and document-sharing software like Basecamp, Google Drive, and Dropbox; and social-media platforms allowing for real-time interaction like Google Hangouts are all good examples of tools finding use now.
Missing or problematic factors in our attempts to share with colleges include the lack of streamlined ways of finding and sharing treatment histories/images of specific artworks and artifacts; the lack of archives that will accept conservation records from private practices; and the persistent problem of antiquated IP legislation which is often confusing.
In addition to sharing information with other conservators, we must also consider our obligation to share with the public. Here better, more interactive tools for the display of complex information. As media platforms are ever-changing, these tools but be adaptable and provide for some evaluation of the suitability of the effort to the application.
4. SPEAKER: David Bloom
Described by Eric Pourchot as a “professional museophile,” David Bloom was a seeming non-sequitur to the flow of the event. However, as coordinator of VertNet, and NSF-funded collaborative project making biodiversity data freely available online, he spoke very eloquently about the importance of and the opportunities offered by data-sharing and online collaboration. He addressed issues of community engagement in digital projects, interdisciplinary collaborations, and sustaining efforts and applicability throughout these projects. As argued in the other short talks, conservation is yet another “data-sharing community” which can learn from the challenges met by other disciplines.
As described by Bloom, VertNet is a scalable, searchable, cloud-hosted, taxa-based network containing millions of records pertaining to vertebrate biodiversity. It has evolved (pun-intended) from the first networked-information system built in 1999 and has grown over various revisions as well as by simple economies of scale—as the addition of new data-fields became necessary. It is used by researchers, educators, students, and policy-makers, to name a few. As the network is a compilation of data from multiple institutions, it is maintained for the benefit or the community, and decisions are made with multiple stakeholders under consideration.
Amongst the considerable technical challenges through all of its iterations, VertNet has struggled to establish cloud-based aggregation, to cache and index, to establish search and download infrastructure, and to reign in all associated costs.
Additionally, intellectual property considerations must be mentioned, as even though the data is factual (the information cannot be copyrighted), the data “belongs” to the host institution, as they are the historical keepers. As a trust, VertNet does not come to own the data directly. This made a distributed network with star-shaped sub-networks necessary, even though it was expensive to maintain, especially for a small institution, requiring many servers with many possible points of failure. Once one point failed, it was difficult to locate. Costing about 200k/yr, this was an expensive system to maintain, and although it was still the best and most secure way to structure the network, it was not as inclusive as it could have been for its expense.
There are always social challenges to building such “socio-technical networks,” and this is something that the FAIC is discovering by simply attempting to poll its membership. It doesn’t work if people don’t want to play. What ensues are knowledge gaps, variable reliability, and a lack of resources. To speak more broadly, any entity entrusted with indexing information needs for people to get over their fear of sharing to learn the benefits and acquire the skills associated with being connected (i.e. Social-media privacy controversies). All the knowledge and time needed to meet everyone where they are technologically and bring them along in a respectful manner does not exist in one place, so priorities must be defined for the best investment of time and funds to bring the discipline forward.
Bloom found that disparate data hosts could not communicate with each other—they either had different names for similar data fields which needed to be streamlined or they did not maintain consistent terminology, either globally or internally.
This problem had already been solved in a number of ways. For example, Darwin Core classification system was developed by Dublin Core; ABCD is the European standard; and Biodiversity Information Standards was developed by TDWG. There are 186 fields defined by Darwin Core with a standardized vocabulary in as many fields as possible. These standards are community-ratified and community maintained in order to not be easily or unnecessarily changed. This allows for easy importation by mapping incoming data-sets to a Darwin-Core standard; all the data is optimized for searchability and discoverability; and publication and citation tools are hence streamlined.
This type of study of the state of the art,necessary when designing new database infrastructure, can serve as a model for the field of conservation. At the foundation of a successful system, will be a serious study of what has been done in other fields and of what is most useful to prioritize for this one.
As VertNet is based entirely on voluntary participation, it is critical that participants understand the benefits of submitting their data to the trust. The staff at VertNet makes themselves available to help the host institution through any technical difficulties encountered in the data exportation and importation process. Backups of this data are scrupulously maintained throughout the migration process. A major benefit to the exporting institution is VertNet’s data-quality checks which will complete, clean up, and streamline fields and then will send back a report so that the client can update their own databases. This brings local data-maintenance standards in-line with those maintained by the global database.
Additionally, the NSF grant has made training workshops, the development of analytical tools, and certain instances of impromptu instruction possible for clients. This has lead to VertNet’s exponential growth without advertising. The repository now represents 176 institutions with 488 collections and many, many more want in from the waiting list. All these institutions are voluntarily submitting their data despite historical concerns about “ownership.” All these institutions realize the benefit of membership for themselves, for researchers, and for the state of the discipline.
Unfortunately, however, this “traditional” (eek) model of procuring NSF (or NEH, IMLS, etc.) funding to maintain cost is becoming unsustainable. Support for these services is desperately needed now that its utility is established. The value-add model is difficult even if VertNet does believe in “free data.”
The associated cost does not change; however, the database was built as community tool. So even though the common perception is an unchanging status-quo, the community will have to support the project insofar as they find the resource valuable and important. A common misconception propagated by recalcitrant host institutions is that “we can do it ourselves.”. The fact is, however, that most stewards of data can’t—and even more won’t—turn around and make these records available to the community for revision, maintenance, reference, or analysis.
The audience then exploded with responses :
Pamela Hatchfield (Head of Objects Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and AIC Board President) began by reminding those who had been romanced by visions of star-shaped networks that concerns about maintaining privacy are still driven by private funding. Although there is now a conservation module in TMS, and terminological standardization is a frequently cited concern, this data is clearly not intended for the public. Historically, private institutions maintain the attitude that data should be tightly held. There is a huge revenue stream from images at the MFA, and as such it is difficult even for staff to obtain publication rights. Terry Drayman-Weisser (Director of Conservation and Technical Research at the Walters Art Museum) pointed out the the Walters walks the middle path by providing a judiciously selected summary of the conservation record associated with an object. Not all of the information is published.
Certain institutions, such as at the British Museum, have an obligation to make these records public, unless the object falls into certain categories. The 2007 Mellon “Issues in Conservation Documentation” meeting at the National Gallery, London, provides summary of the participants’ approaches to public access at the time of publication.
I did have time to ask a question about the privacy concerns attendant on a biodiversity database. Why does it seem that there is less hesitancy at the prospect of sharing? In reality, these institutions do overcome certain hurdles when deciding what to make publicly available: It turns out that certain data about endangered species should not be shared. Although he did not have time to elaborate, I was curious how this “species privacy” might compare to “object privacy.”
VertNet, it turns out, cannot even find protection under the “Sweat-of-the-Brow” doctrine, as this factual information cannot be copyrighted. What about those portions of conservation documentation which are markedly drawn from speculation, interpretation, and original research? This information can be copyrighted, as per each institution’s policies, but our culture is changing. “We don’t train students to cite resources properly,” he noted, “and then we wonder why we don’t get cited.”
The time allotted for the session was drawing to a close, and everyone expressed their regrets that the conversation could not go on for longer and that more people could have attended.
I would personally like to thank FAIC, the speakers, the Mellon, Kress, and Getty Foundations, and all of the participants for their part in a very though-provoking discussion. I hope and trust that it will continue in future fora.
Since 2010, there have been four Preventive Conservation workshops on Ossabaw Island, three of which have been generously funded by FAIC. These workshops have provided a unique training experience for both emerging conservation professionals and pre-program students. Background and History of the Island
Ossabaw Island is a 26,000-acre remote barrier island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. It has five residents, and may only be accessed by private boat. It is mostly wilderness, but there are some very interesting historic buildings, including some slave cabins of tabby construction (a technique using oyster shells, sand, and water as the mortar ingredients), the Club House (c. 1885) – where lectures take place and participants are housed, and the Torrey-West House or the “Main House” – where the actual work is carried out.
Dr. and Mrs. Torrey bought the island in 1924 and had a house built there to be their family’s winter home to escape the harsh winters of their native Michigan. The house was completed in 1926, and the Torreys spent four months (January – April) there each year afterward. The current owner of the house is Mrs. Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West, who is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Torrey and is currently 101 years old.
In 1961, Mrs. West and her husband started an artist colony, where writers, artists, and composers could come stay in the Wests’ home and be inspired by the island’s natural beauty and tranquility. In the 1970s, this evolved into the Genesis Project, where college students and less-established artists came to work on various projects. The Genesis participants were more self-sufficient and built settlements, cooking/dining/washing facilities, and a pottery kiln at an area of the island called “Middle Place.”
With her money running out, Mrs. West decided to sell the island to the state of Georgia in 1978, but she had several stipulations. She wanted the island to remain wild and continue to be a place of inspiration, creativity, and discovery, so the state was not allowed to build a causeway or start a ferry service to the island. They also had to continue encouraging arts and sciences projects/research and allow her to continue living in her house on the island until her death. The Workshop
The original goals of the workshop were to use the Main House to:
1. Train housekeepers working in historic houses.
2. Professionalize preventive conservation.
3. Expose professional and emerging conservators to a nascent historic house and provide an opportunity for them to take part in its institutionalization.
The workshop provides a unique opportunity for participants to learn about preventive conservation and housekeeping practices for a historic house. The things that make this program so unique are that the house…
is still a home in which the current owner is a 101-year-old woman who resides there full-time.
is on a remote island, and supplies must be brought out by chartered boat from the mainland.
suffers from MANY problems, such as:
The environment of the island (heat, humidity, salty ocean air, etc.)
Mold and mildew
Extensive damage to house, furniture, pillows/cushions, carpets/rugs, books, taxidermy, etc by termites, carpet beetles, silverfish, rodents, and other pests.
As Mrs. West became older, she could not take care of the house by herself, and she could not afford to pay for the amount of repairs and housekeeping that the house required.
Exotic game heads (a lioness, black rhino, water buffalo, and a few kinds of antelope) have always been a major component of the living room décor, even appearing in the original architect drawings for the house. These may have been shot by Dr. Torrey himself on a safari hunting trip to Africa. All of them were treated with an arsenic-based pesticide. Testing of the heads found that some had arsenic content that was off the charts (>160 ppb).
Though current housekeepers in historic houses were the original target audience, most of the people who have completed the workshop have been pre-program conservation students. A house with such a rich and fascinating history, but so many conservation issues, provides a lot of opportunities for pre-programmers to learn and gain hands-on experience. That is probably the workshop’s greatest achievement: exposing potential conservation students to collections care and preventive conservation.
I was lucky enough to have been one of the participants in the 2013 season. It was not glamorous. We worked hard and got dirty, crawling around on the floors and under cobwebbed furniture, vacuuming, dusting, moving heavy wooden furniture, and examining sticky traps that had caught all sorts of disgusting, multi-legged creatures. Through all of this, we got exposure to integrated pest management (IPM) and the care of furniture, paintings, textiles, books, and works of art on paper. It could be gross, but it was fun and exciting, too. As David said in his presentation, “Everything is an adventure on Ossabaw.”
Another major achievement of the workshop has been in helping emerging conservation professionals by providing third-year students or recent graduates the opportunity to be instructors. In 2013, that included two former WUDPAC students, Stephanie Hulman (paintings) and Emily Schuetz Stryker (textiles). These young professionals play an essential role because they have knowledge of the most recent techniques and advancements in the field and are better able to answer pre-program students’ questions about portfolios and conservation school.
Unfortunately, Emily Schuetz Stryker died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year. She was a great instructor, a wonderful person, and the most talented knitter that I have ever met. The Ossabaw workshop would not have been the same without her sense of humor and her wonderful laugh.
RIP Emily Schuetz Stryker (1987 – 2014)