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Subject: Certification


From: George Wheeler <george.wheeler>
Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2002
I have read with increasing concern the discussion of certification
as it has appeared in the AIC News. In the November 2002 issue it
was suggested that we all go back and read previously published
articles on the subject. This was useful exercise--to read them in
sequence as a single document--and I would like to offer my
perspective of that reading. Like all perspectives it is not without

As noted in the March 1998 AIC News (page 12) " 1995 the AIC
Board voted to establish a Certification Committee to study all
pertinent aspects of professional certification as they may relate
to the conservation field and provide recommendations to the board
regarding the establishment of a certification process..." and "The
work of the Certification Committee will be based on a thorough,
serious, and fair look at all the issues that surround the subject
of certification."

My concern crystallized in reading "Why Certification?" in the
November 2002 AIC News (page 6). For every Why there is a Why Not,
and, in my opinion, the Certification Committee (now a Task Force)
has not given a full enough expression of all sides of the issue--at
least as it appears in the AIC News.

Here are reasons and some background offered in the AIC News for why
we should support certification:

    1.  Around 1970 "...paper conservators were dismayed by the
        number of unqualified persons practicing conservation..."
        (AIC News March 1998, page 12)

        This concern led to establishing a certification process for
        paper conservators with the goal of improving the practice
        of paper conservation--certainly a laudable goal. However,
        certification is by nature and design an exclusionary
        process and can lead to a scapegoating of the "other" as
        "bad". The program was eventually abandoned in the 1980s and
        complaints ranged from questioning the credentials of those
        "grandfathered" in the certification process, to the fact
        that the body of knowledge to support consensus opinion in
        that particular field was not sufficient.

    2. "..  to protect users of conservation services..."  (AIC News
        July 1998, page 21)

        Of course, this too is a good goal. However, it has not been
        demonstrated to us that the users of conservation services
        have actually asked for this protection. Furthermore, it
        assumes we know better what those users need that they do
        themselves--a risky assumption at best and at worst projects
        an attitude of superiority.

    3.  Many other professions in the United States are currently
        active in certifying their members, and there are several
        conservation organizations, mainly in other countries, with
        developing and active programs." "In certain other
        professions there may be a right way and a wrong way to
        perform a practical function, while in conservation practice
        this is not usually the case." (AIC News May 2001, page 7)

        These statements beg the question and the comment: How are
        we different from other professions? And what may be
        appropriate for those professions (i.e. certification) may
        not be appropriate for conservation at this point in time.

    4.  Even the strongest supporters wonder, "Do we really want or
        need this? Are we really ready--can we create a successful
        program that we can afford?"" (AIC News May 2002, page 6)

        Compelling questions. Here is the answer offered as the same
        paragraph continues.

           "In his address to the AIC members at the 2001 Dallas
            issues    session, Sam Harris, a lawyer, architect, and
            engineer who also teaches at the University of
            Pennsylvania, tackled these concerns head on. While
            acknowledging that as with any important endeavor, the
            path may not always be smooth, he urged us to boldly act
            now. He warned us that the system may not be perfect,
            but a system created today can be changed as necessary
            over time. He made it clear that the important thing is
            to begin!" (AIC News May 2002, page 6)

        Clearly, Mr. Harris did not exactly tackle these concerns
        "head on" because he did not answer the questions:  Do we
        really need this? Are we ready? These I believe are the
        fundamental and most important questions. The creation of a
        successful program will follow if readiness and need are
        firmly established.

    5.  An article entitled Benefits of Certification does a good
        job describing those benefits--many of them something that
        would be useful to strive for: "...certification can
        acknowledge expertise, provide recognition and designations,
        increase proficiencies, offer continuing education and
        training (surely desirable to all), foster commitment to a
        career and professional association, and enhance self
        esteem... and may also be of benefit to any conservator
        required to work in concert with architects, engineers, and
        others with similar professional designations...and could
        enhance the standing of such a conservator in the eyes of
        other professionals... certification can establish
        additional prominence for the field of conservation,
        encouraged improved practitioner performance by promoting
        excellence in practice, become a source for more members,
        and contribute to the dissemination of expert information to
        participants in the form of preparation of courses and study
        materials...and can help us define who we are as a
        profession and discourage definition by outsiders who use
        our services... and can identify a higher level of
        performance in our profession as through our association we
        achieve greater proficiency. Public awareness of
        certification can create a perception of value and quality
        for our conservation activities and contribute to greater
        appreciation of our professional association... and can
        generate a directory of certified individuals for referral
        purpose." (AIC News May 2002, page 10)

        The functional word here is "can". Can certification do all
        this? *Will* certification do all this? Can it be done
        without certification? I believe much (not all) of what is
        described above is being done right now and will continue to
        be done with or without certification. Some of the goals or
        benefits described above are, in my opinion, misguided or
        rely on faulty or incomplete logic. For example, there is no
        certainty that certification will create or identify a
        "higher level of performance." And, how can certification
        "enhance self-esteem"? The creation and growth of individual
        self-esteem is an internal process, not something conferred
        by an external source. In the same way for the profession as
        a whole, it is in no way clear if or how certification will
        "establish additional prominence for the field of
        conservation." The growth toward this prominence begins
        internally. I believe the profession has begun to do this
        and I question why we look to certification, again,
        externally granted, to demonstrate to others that we are an
        important profession.  The desire, the want for
        certification is certainly palpable among many in our
        profession. Where does that desire come from? It is my
        unprovable belief that this desire comes from a collective
        insecurity about our profession. We often compare ourselves
        to the medical profession which, of course, has
        certification. This is not a good analogue. (Forget that
        university training in medicine began in the Middle Ages and
        certification did not come until about 1900. University
        training in conservation began in 1960--we needn't wait 600
        years for certification!) We are really not very much like
        medicine and the difference strikes at the very heart of
        certification. Medicine has thousands and thousands of
        clinical and laboratory researchers and practitioners who
        have created a deep, broad, and sophisticated body of
        knowledge and experience from which consensus has been
        derived. We in conservation have nothing close to that body
        of knowledge. Efforts are being made to change that,
        commendable efforts. However, our body of knowledge must be
        much larger in order to incorporate legitimate dissent and
        difference and distinguish that legitimate process from
        exclusion created by individual and parochial points of
        view. In short, the body of knowledge must be much larger
        and more diverse to be used to judge ourselves.

    The final item in the list of benefits also gives me pause.
    "...generate a directory of certified individuals for referral
    purpose." Is this the real purpose of certification--who gets on
    the list and who doesn't?

    6.  As members of AIC, we have long wanted to increase the
        status of our profession, but our natural tendency toward
        obsession with detail and perfection sometimes impedes
        efficiency in deciding larger issues. The hesitation to move
        ahead without answers to every question can't be an obstacle
        to our ability to better serve the world's cultural
        heritage. We have to take some chances, we have to move
        forward." (AIC News September 2002, page 5)

        There are questionable assumptions embedded in these
        statements: Does our profession accept the notion that we
        are "obsessed" (surely a judgmental word) with detail and
        perfection and that this leads to impeding efficiency in
        deciding larger issues? Taking chances does not necessarily
        mean moving forward, and there is surely no straight-line
        connection between moving ahead--i.e. having
        certification--and increasing our ability to serve the
        world's cultural heritage. Apparently, one of the
        motivations for certification is that some of us are not
        obsessed *enough* with detail and perfection--i.e. the "bad"
        conservators. And why must deciding large and important
        issues be an "efficient" process? Taking chances involves,
        by definition, risks: are the risks adequately identified,
        examined, and measured?

Final Comments

In going back over the issues of the AIC News there appear to be
only benefits and no downside to certification. Will certification
suppress innovation? How much energy will be spent on certification
that might be usefully spent elsewhere? What is lost by the process
of exclusion? There may be several reasons why someone chooses not
to pursue certification. How do we avoid labeling them as "bad"
conservators? At some point the Task Force appears to have moved
from "examining all sides"--a task which is still incomplete--to
working to make sure that certification happens, i.e. that there is
a "right" answer about certification. It is such "right" answers
that makes one circumspect about a functioning certification

I am not sure that our profession is yet mature enough for
certification. This is not a judgment of our profession but an
opinion as to where we are. We are a young profession. Its very
wide-open nature--because we know so little--is a source of both
excitement and frustration. Certification may be viewed as a way to
ease the frustration. I would rather hold onto to the excitement and
direct our energy towards creating more knowledge and garnering more
experience so that at some point in the future certification will
seem a natural next step, not a leap whose fundamental risks are
insufficiently examined or dimly perceived.

Respectfully submitted,

George Wheeler

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:34
                 Distributed: Friday, November 22, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-34-001
Received on Tuesday, 19 November, 2002

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