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Subject: Private practice in institutional lab

Private practice in institutional lab

From: Jack C. Thompson <tcl>
Date: Tuesday, January 9, 2001
Anne Lane <alane [at] rhtc__net> writes

>One of the thoughts being bandied about our institution right now is
>the concept of establishing a dual-duty conservation lab as part of
>a proposed new storage facility in a renovated school building. The
>proposal is to hire a staff conservator who, in addition to caring
>for our own stuff, would take on private commissions using the same

What you are describing has been done many times, but it is, in my
opinion, unethical for an institutional conservation lab to solicit
private commissions.

It is not uncommon for such labs to be required to undertake ever
larger percentages of private commissions to underwrite staff
salaries, to the detriment of the institution's own collections.

An institutional lab is built with public money; a private lab is
built with private money.  A subsidized institutional lab can easily
undercut the price which a private lab must charge.

An institutional lab has an unfair advantage, in that they are
presumed to have greater expertise; that is not always the truth,
but institutions tend to be called for advice and referral.

And if an institutional lab screws something up, the institution's
reputation suffers.  The same thing is true of a private lab, but
the effect is not quite the same.

A regional conservation lab is a slightly different animal.  Such
labs may be non-profit, supported by a number of institutions, but
they serve public and private collectors on a more-or-less equal

There is an alternative.  For many years my own lab was housed in a
state historical society's warehouse.  But I purchased all of my own
equipment and paid rent.  The one benefit which I did take advantage
of was medical and dental insurance which I was allowed to offer to
my staff at a reduced group rate, based on the historical society's

There was another 'benefit' if it could be so defined.  The
institution referred all telephone inquiries which staff was
unwilling/unable/incompetent to answer to me.  Sometimes that
amounted to over 400 telephone calls/month which brought little or
no business, but which had to be responded to in a quiet and
understanding voice, because they assumed that I was part of the

Now, for some exceptions.  If your institutional lab is the only
conservation lab in a couple hundred miles, public or private, you
have a duty to the public at large.  Some privately owned artifacts
will end up in public collections, so if there is a way to preserve
them before they are donated/sold to a public collection, it should
be done.

If there are private conservators in your area, and if you have
analytical expertise/equipment which is very expensive to purchase
(FTIR, Mass spec, X-ray, etc.) it would be appropriate to offer
analytical services to private conservators at a competitive price.

In my opinion,

Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, Oregon  97217
503-735-3942 (voice/fax)

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:38
                Distributed: Saturday, January 13, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-14-38-005
Received on Tuesday, 9 January, 2001

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