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Subject: Collection conservation

Collection conservation

From: Lynn Jones <ljones>
Date: Friday, June 18, 1993
Hi Walter,

In your recent mailing on the AIC Code of Ethics and Standard of
Practice revision you pointed out the deficiencies of the Code and
Standard regarding collection conservation in libraries and archives.
I'm very interested (as I know many of us are) in the development of
collection conservation as an approach, and in the way the term is used
in the profession, so in the interest of collegial discussion I offer
the following thoughts.

Your comments suggested that the term collection conservation primarily
refers to an approach toward the conservation of rare and archival
collections, and that it was at best euphemistic, and at worst simply
false, to apply the term to the systematic management of conservation of
general library collections.  This prompted me to think back to my
earliest recollection of the use of the term collection conservation.
It has been bandied about for less than ten years, closer to five I'd
guess.  When I was at Columbia in 1982 we talked about conservation of
the whole collection, but didn't contract it to "collection
conservation".  Instead we used various circumlocutions such as "general
collections conservation" and "circulating collections conservation".
Better, more concise terminology was needed to distinguish this activity
and philosophy both from piecemeal repair and book-patching programs
staffed by self-taught repairers, and from traditional conservation of
very valuable individual objects.  The collection as a whole comprises
the object to be preserved-- hence collection conservation (the singular
construction best captures this idea, I think).

The earliest reference I have found thus far is from Carolyn Morrow's
1988 article "Staffing the preservation program" (Minutes of the 111th
meeting, October 21-22, 1987, ARL: Washington, 1988).  The article
describes the "collections conservator", a professional conservator who
"manages a high-volume, production-oriented operation and develops
strategies for conserving large collections of general research
materials in their original format...." among other activities.  An
(unsuccessful) grant proposal in 1988 used the term in a similar way,
specifically to refer to an approach to the conservation of general,
circulating library collections that emphasized managerial concepts of
cost-effectiveness, high productivity, and prioritization of action,
which differed so much from the single object orientation taught in the
conservation programs and considered by AIC to be the only legitimate
conservation approach.

In 1990 RLG created a task force (chaired by Debra McKern) to identify
research libraries' needs for collection conservation: promotion of
collection conservation in research libraries and identification of
opportunities for cooperation in collection conservation.  The first
task was to define the term-- even then not easily accomplished, but the
task force agreed that the concept referred to a management approach
toward conservation of general research collections, and could be
extended to rare materials conservation when the same managerial
approach was employed for those collections.  Since the genesis of the
term, many rare book and archives conservators have adopted this
managerial approach in their work, incorporating ideals of greater
productivity and reduced unit cost for conservation, and frequently
employing a batch approach to conservation treatment of materials when
it permits adequate retention of artifactual information.  Both of
Berkeley's rare materials conservators feel considerable ownership of
the term collection conservation to describe their work, and their
efforts to take managerial responsibility to use resources wisely for
the benefit of the whole collection.

An important element of collection conservation is the establishment of
categories of treatment which can be applied to classes of materials.
When the item itself embodies artifactual or evidential information it
may not be possible to force it into a standardized treatment.  Nancy
Harris and Gillian Boal at Berkeley (as do most institutional
conservators I know) take responsibility for the needs as a whole of the
collections under their care, and both have developed categories of
standardized treatments.  However, they also continue to perform
single-item treatments as needed for the most valuable items, since the
needs of individual items often must remain foremost in determining

The use of the term collection conservation by conservators of rare
library and archival materials confirms its usefulness and the need for
validation of an approach now used by conservators of rare materials and
perhaps even non-documentary collections.  I'm gratified that other
areas of conservation have adopted both the philosophy and the term
collection conservation, and am glad that as eloquent a spokesman as
yourself claims the term and promotes it within the field of
conservation.  I'd like it to be remembered that this philosophy and the
name collection conservation began with, and still refer to, the
conservation of general, non-rare, circulating collections, as well as
to the conservation of other kinds of collections.

What do others think about these concerns?

Lynn Jones
Assistant Head, Conservation Department
UC Berkeley Library

                   Conservation DistList Instance 7:5
                  Distributed: Saturday, June 19, 1993
                        Message Id: cdl-7-5-005
Received on Friday, 18 June, 1993

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