Highlights of AIC


It’s interesting how the activity of my blog is inversely proportional to the activity of real life: when I’m busy, nothing happens here! May was a pretty hectic month with the end of the school year and a trip to Philadelphia for the American Institute for Conservation‘s 39th Annual Meeting.

It was really great to catch up with all of my former employers from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and Iowa State University, and to see some of the many conservators from the North East. I had never visited Philly before, and the conference location was very conveniently located downtown. During the afternoon breaks, I had a few opportunities to play tourist at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

There were several great talks over the course of the three days, and I thought I’d mention a few of my favorites. By the by, I’m liking the new AIC blog that was launched just before the meeting and session notes/summaries are flooding in every day.

There was quite a bit of discussion on digitization this year. Gabrielle Beentjes, from the National Archives of the Netherlands, presented an extensive process chart for pre-digitization treatment decisions during a general session. There were also several talks sponsored by the Archives Conservation Discussion Group about mass digitization projects in different institutions. I am particularly interested in this topic, since just last year I finished my master’s paper on conservator collaboration on special collections digitization projects in research libraries. It is apparent that workflows and collaborative models surrounding library digitization projects continue to evolve, but it was encouraging to hear that conservators maintain an active role.

Quite a few presentations covered treatment techniques that were new to me. I really enjoyed Samantha Sheesley’s talk on applications of Lascaux in paper and photo conservation (nice writeup by Stephanie Growler here). I look forward to experimenting with some of the procedures she described.

The most entertaining talk came from Salvador Munoz-Vinas, of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, with his discussion of the “Frankenstein Syndrome” of conservation treatment. He is an excellent speaker and highlighted several fascinating architectural conservation projects as examples. Henceforth, I will always think about Robocop before making any treatment decisions. I’m definitely adding his book to my summer reading list.

Of course the session that has prompted the most post-conference internet discussion was the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group panel on the models for educating library conservators. There are several very good summaries and responses out there – most notably from Beth Doyle, Jeff Peachey, Kevin Driedger, and Suzy Morgan. Last year, this discussion was geared toward “pie in the sky” thinking about the most useful curriculum for library conservators and questioning the need for an MLS. This year, the discussion focused on the three art conservation programs that have stepped in to fill the UT vacuum – while still debating the need for an MLS.

I can’t comment on whether or not a Winterthur, Buffalo, or NYU grad will be, on average, more effective as a conservator in a library/archive setting than a UT grad. Does a graduate degree in  library science and certificate in conservation beat out a graduate degree in conservation and a certificate in library science? As long as a “hiring monoculture” doesn’t develop, I don’t see how it will make that much of a difference. I certainly hope (for my own sake) that the individuals out there hiring library conservators are more concerned with the experiences and demonstrated skills of the individual applicant than their alma mater.

After each of the three graduate programs laid out the core elements of their curricula, plenty of audience members pointed out topics that they believe were not emphasized enough in these educational models. Apparently the list of qualifications that we would like the average library conservator to have is unrealistically long for the number of years the typical student spends in school – and shifting library initiatives means that list is getting longer all the time. As a ronin library conservation student, these discussions provide a valuable perspective on my self-directed curriculum. For example, I’m thankful that I have an MLS and that my library program placed so much emphasis on digitization, digital preservation, and preservation outreach. I’m also thankful that I can spend two years developing my bench skills at NBSS. I am, however, envious of the materials science and lab training that can be had through one of these new programs. Will I ever work in a lab that has access to that level of analytical equipment? Probably not – but it would be nice to have in the arsenal. I’m also jealous that I my training hasn’t included financial incentives to maintain my interest in book conservation so that I’m not “wooed away” to art conservation. Apparently I got on the wrong boat.

Of course the session ended with a call for more entry-level professional jobs. This I actually found pretty amusing, because it seems like there aren’t that many professional jobs of any variety up for grabs these days. How are libraries and archives supposed to create any new conservation positions when their budgets are still being cut? In the last mailing from my old university, I read that the University of North Carolina system was getting another 10% budget cut this year and I have a feeling that the libraries are not  exempt. The story could be different everywhere else – but I doubt it.

But enough gloom and doom about grad schools and getting a job… I’ve got work to do.


Upcoming discussions include split-board bindings, German Lapped Component and paper bindings, limp leather, laced paper case, and limp vellum. Stay tuned!


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