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Subject: Professional qualifications

Professional qualifications

From: Niccolo Caldararo <caldararo>
Date: Friday, February 19, 1999
I received a couple of off-line email comments from book
conservators on the topic of professional qualifications which I
think add to our discussion. Apparently there is a process going on
in some institutions (many library situations) in which the
relationship between librarians, book conservators and paper
conservators has resulted in a reduction of the book conservator
status to that of conservation technician or craft status of
bookbinder.  It always amazes me how we contest and regard titles.
Before the 1960s most people who provided conservation services in
public settings were called preparators or technicians both in this
country and in England (see my article in JAIC, 1987 on the history
of conservation and David Watkinson's article in ICOM Preprints
1993).  During the 80s we saw an explosion of titles ranging from
the university style (Assistant conservator, Associate and full
conservator to the others, Chief--my favorite obviously--specific
ones, "objects conservator" and the more important--conservator in
charge or Grand Puupaw of Conservation Science).

As David notes in his article, in the 50s and 60s these technicians
were still considered craftsworkers (though a precious few in the
more prestigious museums were called restorers and had some special
status, like those at the Fogg).  By concerted efforts these
positions were upgraded in most countries to a skill level
considered to be of greater importance, just as today various
institutions offer levels of refresher courses (eg the Smithsonian,
Getty, etc.) the goals of which are not fully elucidated (ie, are
they to improve skills only, to disseminate new techniques or to
enhance practitioners' status as was done in England?).  Due to the
fact that most all of these positions in the 50s and 60s had been
held by apprentice-trained people, university supplemental training
was seen as a means to change this condition (low pay and low
status).  This occurred in the US as well, for example, I know one
head of a major conservation lab who had no formal training when
hired but spent a summer at one of the conservation programs in the
1970s and received a certificate allowing him to be regarded as
"qualified".  This is not an isolated case.

Watkinson attempts to understand the reason for the new
classification of "technician" which is becoming popular in the UK
and elsewhere.  He is the crux of the problem, I think, between book
conservators and paper conservators, and one of the people who
emailed me stated that the employer they work for justified the low
status for book conservation on the basis of an "AIC guideline".  I
assume the employer is referring to the "Definitions" section of the
AIC Directory which is not a "guideline" for a job description. This
is a question which David investigates in his article.  A basic
definition he comes up with from reference to laboratory technicians
in scientific labs, describes a person who is trained to support the
work of more highly trained professionals who interpret the end
product of their work.  At the 1993 conference where David gave his
paper many conservators where disturbed by such a definition as it
could define the relationship between conservators and curators in
some regards.  Watkinson sees the potential in the re-introduction
of this term in conservation to a reduction of the status and role
of the conservator.  Watkinson in his study did not see the clear
distinction between technician in the scientific laboratory
(although I consider my laboratory to be "scientific" I will use
David's terms here) and that of the conservation technician in a
conservation laboratory.  By the way, if anyone has a copy of the
ICOM Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the Working Group of
Training in Conservation and Restoration, titled: The Graduate
Conservator in Employment: Expectations and Realities, 1990, and you
would like to part with it, please contact me.

>From my view, I cannot understand why book conservators would not be
regarded as "conservators" in the library hierarchy, perhaps a
librarian or paper conservator could enlighten me on this.

Niccolo Caldararo
Director and Chief Conservator
Conservation Art Service

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:68
                 Distributed: Friday, February 19, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-68-001
Received on Friday, 19 February, 1999

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