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Subject: Unpaid positions

Unpaid positions

From: Karen Motylewski <kmoty>
Date: Thursday, December 10, 1998
I've been following the discussion about conservation training
programs with interest, as you might expect.  The discussion is
timely as we carry out a GSLIS-wide curriculum assessment and
prepare for our upcoming reaccreditation review.

Preservation and Conservation Studies has always been a little
different from the museum conservation programs, as all of you
probably know.  We educate students for a very specific context, and
though not all of our graduates eventually or permanently work
within it, our curriculum targets a different spectrum of materials
than the museum programs.  We assume that many objects PCS graduates
will be responsible for will have limited value in their original
form (e.g. the bulk of recorded sound, moving images, contemporary
newspapers, large-edition monographs, serials, etc.).  While some of
our graduates become conservators of rare books and other artifacts,
and many collections include historical and beautiful objects, in
general we expect a relatively modest portion of the materials that
form our baseline will warrant complex individual-item treatment. In
another distinction, most of the organizations we envision training
for have huge collections with some redundancy between or even
within institutions.  The scale of the preservation and conservation
challenge they present, the vision of Paul Banks, and our historic
funding sources, in particular the National Endowment for the
Humanities, have led us to emphasize preventive and
whole-collections approaches, management skills, and context-based
decision making.

We feel fortunate that the libraries and archives continue to
provide more positions than our graduates can fill.  We also
recognize that this is cyclical, and we're not sanguine about the
short-term future.  Information agencies are scrambling to meet
pressures for online access to their resources; this changes their
skill requirements and economics. Information technology is
cumulative, not successive.  Digital collections are the next
practical and philosophical preservation challenge.  Like museum
conservation programs, we respond to such change by increasing the
body of knowledge students must absorb.

I was particularly struck by comments from Laurie Booth and Mark
Clarke.  I was privileged to apprentice in an active private
practice and then to move to a regional center where I worked with
client institutions across the whole spectrum of resources,
collections, and scale.  Both experiences were extraordinary because
I learned from people who were among the very best in their fields.
They gave me a powerful grounding in the realities of conservation
practice.  There's plenty of work available--what there isn't always
is money to pay for it.  As Laurie points out, that's a potent
argument for grantsmanship, marketing, and management in
conservation training.  As Peggy Ellis points out, the formal
training programs address those now, if we haven't always.  If it
isn't enough, well, you can only fit so much into a few years.  The
polishing comes from doing, not classroom learning.

Mark Clarke raises important issues that seem to be from the
perspective of a European program, although he doesn't identify it
as such.  All of the North American conservation programs demand
considerable preparation.  We expect applicants to talk to working
conservators and preservation administrators, program graduates, and
current students.  We expect (and in some cases require massive)
pre-program experience in a working lab or equivalent.  We (at PCS
at least) are ruthlessly honest about our philosophy, career
prospects, and the demands of training.  I bet the other programs
are the same.  By the time most students arrive at UT they have few
illusions; if they retain them at the start they've lost them by the
finish, with sadness on all sides.  What I think they gain (along
with subject knowledge) is a telescoped education in
problem-solving, decision-making, and life-long learning.  I
absolutely believe those skills will help them build satisfying
careers, in or out of this field.  I'd be surprised to hear that
anyone chooses conservation or preservation management for job
security or pay.  We choose it because we love the work and believe
it's important.  If it ceases to compensate us for the sacrifices,
we move on to another context or another field.

I know what I think after three and a half years at PCS.  I am
passionate about our students and the conservation and preservation
of cultural heritage...and sometimes I want to beat my head against
a wall.  I want to hear what recent program graduates and
conservators trained in other models have to say.  Why have you
become conservators?  Are you struggling to find a job, or the right
job?  Are you supporting yourself in private practice? Are you
bitter or disillusioned about your training? The field?  Has anyone
following the Distlist moved away from conservation, and if so, why
and to what?

Karen Motylewski, Director and Senior Lecturer
Conservation and Preservation Studies
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
SZB564/D7000, University of Texas at Austin,
Austin, TX 78704-1276
Fax: 512-471-8285

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:51
                Distributed: Tuesday, December 15, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-51-009
Received on Thursday, 10 December, 1998

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