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Subject: AIC Code of Ethics revision

AIC Code of Ethics revision

From: Robert Espinosa <rje>
Date: Monday, June 28, 1993
I would like to comment not only on the Code but on some of my
colleagues remarks in the Distlist.  I found these remarks very helpful
in formulating my own thoughts on several issues.  Beginning with Gary
Frost's comments about the nature of library collections conservation
viz. a viz. the rest of the conservation profession, I found these
remarks to be very interesting. I believe he did a good job of
describing some of the key elements that define the practice of
collection conservation.

However I would use these characterizations to make quite a different
argument.  Regarding his statements,

>Collections are not so much
>esthetic objects as they are dynamic resources that fluctuate in value
>and in the forms of their use and meaning.  Treatments must accord with
>the protection of these dynamic resources, not with simple artifactual
>preservation alone,

I would suggest that this does not just apply to the library
environment, but to a host of other types of collections, especially
historical, archeological, ethnographic, archival (as in archives) and
any collection where the aggregate is a primary feature of the
collection.  I believe this is a very significant proportion of our
collections of "cultural property," not a small minority constituting a
"special case."

Furthermore, I would strongly dispute the notion that to integrate the
practice of specializations such as library collections conservation,
"the coherency of the AIC Code" would be compromised.  Rather I would
suggest that not to include these and other similar specializations
compromises the very purpose of AIC, namely "to coordinate and advance
the knowledge and improved methods of conservation needed to protect,
preserve and maintain the condition and integrity  of objects or
structures which because of their history, significance, rarity or
workmanship have a commonly accepted value and importance for the public
interest (hereinafter referred to as 'Historic and Artistic Works')."

Which brings me to the comments of Richard Cox.  He wonders why we have
a Code if there is no provision for enforcement or as he says, "no
effective means to use it?"  This begs the question of what is the "use"
of the Code (and Standards), what is the real purpose of these
documents.  I think the simple answer is our Code and Standards are not
(and rarely ever have been) documents for enforcement or  for legal
action.  In this sense, perhaps the words "Code" and "Standards" are
misleading.  Rather they are primarily documents of definition:  they
give authority and meaning to what we mean by conservation, what those
who practice conservation do, and by extension who we define as
conservation professionals.  This, I believe, is their most important
purpose.  (Since I have not seen any explicit statement about the real
purpose of these documents, I would acknowledge that this is just one
point of view as to their purpose.  This may reveal a serious flaw in
the whole process:  a set of documents whose purpose and use is
ambiguous and subject to a variety of interpretations.)

The rewriting/revision of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice,
therefore, offers the opportunity to examine and amplify our vision of
conservation.  There are various reasons for doing this.  It seems
obvious that our profession has changed and is changing in a way that
demands a new articulation of itself:  its purposes, its membership, its
goals and objectives.  There is also the pressing need to open up the
organization and the  profession to include a broader definition of
"conservation professional."  We ignore this at our own peril.  The
conservation and preservation of cultural property is no longer the
exclusive domain of conservators, but includes a growing array of
professionals, from preservation administrators, collection managers,
conservation scientists, conservation technicians, and others whose job
titles don't even fully convey their involvement in the
conservation/preservation process.  If we don't define ourselves as
incorporating (and hopefully influencing) this larger context for
conservation, if we don't see the urgent need to enfranchise within our
organization this diversity of conservation professionals, we will
witness the continued erosion of our own professional influence, not
just the atrophy of our professional organization.  And we will relegate
ourselves to a minor role in process of the preservation of cultural
property.  A more somber appraisal is that this phenomena, our
self-engineered exclusion from important forums for preservation, is
already in full swing, and if we continue "to rearrange the deck chairs
on the Titanic," we can look forward to the logical consequences. Our
task is to reverse what is already a serious movement in this direction.

How does this affect the current revision of the Code and Standards,
specifically the language that is used there?  I think many of Elizabeth
Welsh's comments are directly or indirectly concerned with these issues.
For example, her first suggestion, that we define "preservation of
cultural property" in the Preamble, underscores the need for more
explicit remarks concerning the purpose and scope of these documents.
The thorny issue throughout these documents is often, are we going to be
more restrictive or more general.  Are we going to make these
fundamental documents broader statements of principle that provide the
latitude to include a wide array of professional conservation
activities, or are we going to be more specific, with the "job
description" of a more traditional (perhaps now mythical) bench
conservator as the yardstick against which we implicitly define what
conservators do?

The ambiguous purposes of the Code and Standards, including to whom
these documents apply, are illustrated in Welsh's remarks concerning the
second paragraph of the Preamble.  Without recapitulating every comment
made by Welsh, I would just like to affirm her remarks, in general,
especially those on the Code, Sections I,  III. and V.   From these
remarks follows the need to reconsider the section on Documentation. We
should explicitly acknowledge that the treatment of whole collections
may require a different type of documentation, one that may use a
general specification to cover a large number of object, and one that
may eliminate the use of pictorial documentation.  I think the point
here is that there has to be more emphasis, not less, on words such as
"where appropriate."  The latitude to make a judgment as to the
appropriateness of the documentation for these types of projects is
exactly what is called for, not more rigidity.  The level of detail
written into the present Documentation section does not, I believe
correspond with the breadth required to cover all the conservation
specialties these Standards should embrace.

                   Conservation DistList Instance 7:8
                  Distributed: Tuesday, June 29, 1993
                        Message Id: cdl-7-8-002
Received on Monday, 28 June, 1993

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