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Subject: Certification


From: George Brock-Nannestad <pattac>
Date: Monday, December 9, 2002
A lot of thoughtful contributions have appeared on the DistList,
thereby emphasizing the need for everybody to consider what
certification signifies. It certainly means that those certified
must fulfil certain criteria yet to be defined regarding their
ability to perform conservation tasks consistently and in a
well-documented manner. First of all, as in all populations, there
is a statistical spread in the degree of fulfilment, and the
criteria should be set such that only the under-performers do not
get certified. We are afraid of the long-term effects of the
under-performers, both for the sake of the survival of the artifacts
processed, but also for the reputation of the profession. For this
reason we must find criteria that will prevent damage by the

The above statements are not entirely obvious, but they do need some
definitions to become operative. Some criteria of performance are

All conservation deals with a physical object (even as large as a
landscape) which has been subjected to environmental influences and
which will in future be subjected to the same or different
influences. The scientific basis for treating it requires a profound
knowledge of materials science, in particular as regards intimate
contact between disparate materials. Furthermore, the various
transport mechanisms for vapours and solvents (most particularly
water) and heat must be understood to a degree approaching second
nature. Oxidation, including the various photochemical reactions
possible must be equally familiar subjects. In other words, it is
not only basic inorganic and organic chemistry, but also physics.
The knowledge must be such that correct identification of the
breakdown mechanism leads to correct application of the physical and
chemical means available. Many of the answers on the DistList
demonstrate deep insight of the kind needed--as well as a
considerable patience on the part of the respondents.

However, very much responsible conservation work is performed
without the fulfilment of these criteria, and that is usually based
on excellent observational skills, a huge experience of practical
processes, and not the least, manual dexterity. This latter part is
just as important as the more theoretical basis. However, without
the theoretical basis, a skilled conservator of this type may be in
trouble when asked to perform outside the field of experience.
Unfortunately, given the funding available, many institutions
employing conservators will hope that their in-house conservator can
automatically perform in all areas.

Common to all conservation work is the need to document
observations, analyses, and procedures undertaken in consequence
thereof. And this rigour in approach is independent of the
understanding of the above chemical and physical mechanisms, because
it enables future conservators to retrace the steps and to devise
corrective action, if required. Hence it may be considered as the
most fundamental skill of a conservator. In other words, a
conservator should not only be known by his or her results, but
equally by the documented route of obtaining them. For this reason,
a fundamental requirement for certification is the track record, and
a panel reviewing an application for certification could use the
quality of documentation as a criterion. Incidentally, this is also
the basis of evaluating scientific work.

Alas, many persons undertaking conservation activities may be under
temporal limitations (again under-funding) that do not permit
detailed documentation, and they will have a hard time convincing a
review panel that they should be certified. However, precisely this
phenomenon points to the need of certification: the recognition that
conservation work is responsible work and that an authority funding
such work cannot responsibly commission conservation work without
making space for documentation.

So, without having had the benefit of following the discussions at
various reported AIC meetings, my advice would be: do get a program
of certification underway, and starting from a requirement of
documentation, do build a system recognizing various classes of
certification, from those certified only within their field of
experience to those having sufficient theoretical knowledge to
perform well in many fields. But, obviously, we must bear in mind
that already now, and certainly in the future, a conservation effort
will be a collaborative effort between various specialisations.
However, these specialisations must be able to communicate between

My background for making the above statements is 7 years of being
responsible for research and tuition in the restoration and
preservation of carriers for sound, moving images, and data at the
School of Conservation in Copenhagen. I have devised a curriculum in
the field on behalf of UNESCO, and at least one degree programme at
a major European educational institution. I am now a private
consultant in the field.

Looking forward to the result of the upcoming ballot,

George Brock-Nannestad

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:39
                Distributed: Tuesday, December 10, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-39-021
Received on Monday, 9 December, 2002

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