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Subject: Professional qualifications

Professional qualifications

From: Karen Motylewski <kmoty>
Date: Wednesday, February 10, 1999
I'd like to respond to Niccolo Caldararo and others who have
expressed concern in this and previous threads about what is
perceived as the unfair competitive advantage of "program trained"
conservators and Preservation Administrators.  Thanks to Niccolo for
pointing out that accessible studies of issues of quality of
training and skills measurement in the U.S. are now quite old;
thanks to Joan Marie Reifsnyder for pointing to some more recent
European studies.

This is an important subject for continuing public discussion, as
both have pointed out, and a worthy target of systematic research. I
sometimes get things wrong, and sometimes imagine a comprehensive
project from partial information, but hasn't the Getty Conservation
Institute been studying these questions intensively for
international education, and hasn't the AIC task force or committee
on certification been wrestling with them too?  If so, would either
be willing to share their findings and interpretations to date?

I believe all the U.S. formal conservation training programs are
consistent in our commitment to provide broad, intensive training
that includes the chemistry, behavior, and.  We all provide, in
differing proportions: education and experience in needs assessment;
strategic planning; factors in deterioration (chemical, physical,
and biological, including human) and preventive conservation/
preservation; management; education in historical treatment for
materials and formats of concern to each program; and bench
practice.  We all require internship or study with respected senior

I believe that the faculty, staff, and graduates of formal programs
and the employers of our graduates agree that directed formal
training packs a broader and more representative set of experiences
into a shorter period than can be provided by self-training or
apprenticeship.  Many employers have come to believe that a formal
credential from a known program provides short-hand assurance of
basic skills and knowledge.  The faculty and internship supervisors
for formal programs tend to be known and respected for the purpose
of references, although as Joan Marie points out, it looks *on the
surface* as though at least a few of us couldn't compete with our
students for some positions.  All of these factors, and occasionally
snobbery or cronyism, have, over the years, increased the number of
job postings that specify program credentials.

When we're talking about  US state or federal government employment
qualifications tend to be firm--what the posting says limits the
eligibility of applicants.  On the other hand, most postings use a
locution like "graduation from a recognized training program or X
years of equivalent experience." I don't think I've ever seen
graduation from a formal program listed as a ranking factor at the
federal level.  There are too many, legitimate, concerns for equal
employment opportunity.  I'm less familiar with the spectrum of
requirements and their expression in state level postings, but I'll
bet they're similar.

When we're talking about non-government employment, whatever the
posting says, the institution is almost always listing desiderata --
its ideal employee.  If no one meets all of the criteria, most
institutions either (1) seriously consider the other qualifications
and experience of the candidates and choose from the existing pool;
(2) close the recruitment, re-write the qualifications to
accommodate the real pool, repeat the interview process, and hire
from the now-available candidates; or (3) if the qualifications are
real and *not* ideal, close or extend the recruitment period until a
candidate who meets them turns up.

Maybe I'm naive, but I believe most conservation and preservation
positions are filled on merit (demonstrated skills and experience)
and not credentials.  What every professional should have or develop
is the skill to identify what in his or her experience provides
requested qualifications and to demonstrate how he or she meets
them.  I could list 20 or more conservators for whom I have utmost
respect who have no formal program training.  A number are
(deservedly) AIC Fellows.  Their lack of academic credentials
doesn't seem to have disadvantaged them.

I know I haven't addressed "competitive advantage" in private
practice. I've had less reason to think about it.  On the other
hand, most work appears to come to conservators on the basis of
word-of-mouth recommendation, geography, and cost.  Those factors
are independent of formal credentials.  In this matter I've heard
formally trained conservators argue from the other side--that
uncredentialed practitioners can charge less and provide less
quality--the "buyer" is too uneducated to recognize the difference.
Some are, but I think it's up to our profession to educate those
buyers (and to be educated by them).  This position will horrify
some readers.

I believe our formal training programs, from the museum-oriented
programs to PCS to the SCMRE (CAL) furniture program provide
first-class training, value for money, condensed experience, and
networking opportunities.  We hope they speed the learning process
and decrease expensive learning-by-error.   While I'm pretty sure
the directors of all have improvements we wish we could implement,
the programs provide an irreplaceable service to the protection of
cultural property and patrimony. Still, some future conservators
will choose the academic route and some will follow others.  Both
have advantages and disadvantages in the short and long terms.  It
is, in the end, a *choice.*

Please, please let's hear from conservators from all training paths
and length of experience, and please gird your loins and say it in
public.  As always, thank you for your patience.

Karen Motylewski, Director and Senior Lecturer
Conservation and Preservation Studies
Graduate School of Library &  Information Science
SZB564/D7000, University of Texas at Austin,
Austin, TX 78712-1276
Fax: 512-471-8285

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:66
                Distributed: Thursday, February 11, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-66-002
Received on Wednesday, 10 February, 1999

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