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Subject: Book conservation and ethics

Book conservation and ethics

From: Scott K. Kellar <0006385936>
Date: Wednesday, April 13, 1994
In responding to Robert's questions regarding the 'questionable'
practice of rare book conservation (in respect to the AIC Code) I think
that it is only fair to scrutinize the Code itself, or at least it's
guiding principles. Perhaps rare book conservation is comparable to the
parable of putting new wine in an old wineskin. The fascinating and
frustrating thing is that it seems an appropriate wineskin, or
guideline, in many, perhaps most respects. It is a human urge to either
painfully cram the foot into the small shoe or deny that it is, after
all, a shoe at all. While the Code may be perfectly appropriate for a
pure artifact, it does not perfectly fit the book... and that's okay!

>From Stonyhurst to Stephen King the book is an identity evolving or
devolving from artifact to content or from content to artifact, without
ever being entirely divorced from either one or the other. It is like a
chalice of wine (more wine), two valued substances codependent on one
another, one of which may or may not be of greater 'value' than the
other, but needing it's partner nonetheless. Enough analogies. The point
is that each book must be evaluated individually as to what exactly
should be conserved and how it will best be conserved. A simple way to
phrase this might be, 'to what, if any, degree is it appropriate to
alter this functioning artifact in order to prolong the useful life of
the content and the artifact itself?'. (A surgeon might ask himself a
similar question.) As the soldier needs the priest and poet so also the
conservator must rely on other resources to help answer this question.

As to the issue of whether it is "ever" appropriate to alter, change,
infiltrate or otherwise touch a rare book--I heartily agree that 'less
is better'--Nevertheless I would hope that my landlord would not
hesitate to bolster a sagging foundation even if I was living in an
'artifact', for the building's sake as well as my own. With regard to
the specific issue of whether rebinding or recovering a rare book is
every legitimate--I think the same principles can still be applied.
Certainly this practice is extremely invasive, yet there seems to me to
be occasional cases where time, environment and abuse have left no other
recourse if the book must be returned to it's role as a functioning

With regard to preserving original fragments and photodocumentation, I
feel they are both appropriate and very worth while (even if you can't
'feel' them).

I would go further than Don Etherington to say that whenever *anything*
is 'conserved', there is alteration of the original. It is integral to
the concept; all other activities to prolong the useful life of a
cultural object could be better described as preservation. The line is
blurred when the conservator is called upon to provide an protective
environment or enclosure--here there is no alteration of the original.

Regarding collection maintenance and book repair, or collections
conservation, I would suggest that the same principles still apply.
Undoubtedly the priority of artifactual preservation is lower, in
general, than with rare book conservation, yet the dichotomy between the
two areas is purely artificial. Collections conservation has the unique
added impact of conserving institutional resources as well as the
artifact/content value of the collections.

By the way, is anyone aware of any similar discussions that may be
taking place among our fellow fields of conservation? Architecture,
furniture, ??

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:73
                 Distributed: Wednesday, April 13, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-73-004
Received on Wednesday, 13 April, 1994

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