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Subject: Conservation principles

Conservation principles

From: Deborah Rohan <deborah.rohan>
Date: Monday, June 26, 2006
I have been much interested in this discussion, as Messrs. Hassard,
Gottsegen, and Sossani have developed it. In my own institution,
interventive conservation is regarded as a luxury, which I can
indulge maybe two days a week. I have one assistant, of experienced
technician grade, and myself do the admin, materials ordering, and
preservation planning. We are gearing up to a major move, and my
first priority is to ensure that all our documents are packaged to
withstand the ministrations of the movers. I still find time for
some bookbinding, paper and parchment repair, and I have recently
instructed several trainees from different offices in the repair of
wax and shellac seals. And I do hope to take an hour sometime soon
to sharpen my knives. But it is a problem: we are necessarily
specialising non-specialists, expert consultants to our
institutions, and it's all too easy to lose proficiency if you lose
the time to practice.

Shortage of skills is a serious problem, and has been addressed,
with some success, by the Society of Archivists' Conservation
Training Scheme. This is a small in-service scheme, run by the
Society, and largely administered voluntarily by its instructors and
committee. It provides trainees with 24 weeks of one-to-one,
on-the-bench training by experienced conservators working in
institutions, usually county record offices.

Instructors have their specialities, and, because it's such a small
world, trainees tell each other which are best for which subjects. I
have never been qualified to teach bookbinding, and would not
undertake to teach map repair; although permitted to teach paper and
parchment repair as well as seals, my last half-dozen trainees have
all been in  that subject (and my office is running out of broken
seals!) because I love working with wax, and know how to get a good
result. I really enjoy these placements; apart from anything else,
they ensure that I keep up to standard myself. I'm allowed six weeks
of training time per year, and, as the conversation doesn't stop at
seals, I usually learn something too; for instance, I've just been
given an invitation to visit the Hydrographic Office in Somerset,
and see how they repair tracings.

The Society's scheme is not internationally accredited, but so far
it hasn't needed to be. Its catchment area is in local and national
record offices in Great Britain, and there are enough trainees and
(just) enough instructors to provide training for these
establishments. As Mr. Hassard has noted, a diploma does not always
mean practical proficiency, and the Training Scheme prides itself in
refreshing parts diplomas can't always reach. As well as craft
skills in a special subject, each placement helps develop experience
of archival materials, of different sorts of damage and methods of
treatment, knowledge of problems and solutions unique to different
offices, and a network of friends and colleagues that can last a
lifetime.

As to minimum intervention and reversible repairs, I can only say
that having seen the stress placed on heavily silked and repaired
paper documents of the 1950s, which were done by good craftsmen
using what was then cutting-edge knowledge, I have no great opinion
of my own infallibility. I would rather do less and use less, trying
to foresee future structural problems and reversal needs as well as
saving time for the vast number of tasks that are part of my job.

Deborah Rohan
Conservator,
Cambridgeshire Archives Service,
RES 1009, Shire Hall,
Castle Street,
Cambridge CB3 0AP
+44 1223 717297


                                  ***
                  Conservation DistList Instance 20:2
                   Distributed: Monday, July 3, 2006
                        Message Id: cdl-20-2-007
                                  ***
Received on Monday, 26 June, 2006

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