The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 1
Feb 1990

Outreach in Australia

The Australian Bicentenary promulgated innumerable commemorative projects, but few were as far-reaching as the one organized in New South Wales (NSW) by the local branches of the professional organizations of art galleries, museums, archivists, librarians and conservators.1 The five associations made a joint application for NSW bicentennial funding to carry out a conservation/preservation outreach project called "Conservation on the Move." Four conservators were funded in 1986 for three years: two paintings conservators for regional gallery work, one conservator for local museums and one for public libraries and collections of historical records.

The paintings conservators operated from a semi-trailer which was driven from gallery to gallery behind a prime mover. The semi-trailer was fitted up as a paintings/works-of-art-on-paper laboratory, including fume extractor and darkroom. The lab was attached to each gallery for four weeks.

Local museums were serviced by two conservators instead of the usual one. This service was set up originally in 1982. The NSW Real Estate Institute had previously donated a van to carry staff and conservation supplies out into the country centers.

The Society of Archivists ran a series of weekend workshops throughout the state to help people organize and care for small archives. AICCM, the conservators' association, offered in-depth seminars on a number of subjects for metropolitan participants over the three years.

The Library Association of Australia (now known as Australian Library and Information Association, ALIA), NSW branch, used its grant money to appoint a consultant conservator in late 1986. The School of Librarianship, University of NSW in Sydney, provided a base of operations, the use of a paper conservation laboratory, and backup facilities.

ALIA's appointee, Helen Price, a graduate of the Conservation of Cultural Materials course in Canberra, became conservator/educator in the school, teaching preservation theory and basic practical techniques to postgraduates preparing for work as librarians, records managers and archivists. The laboratory was also used to provide continuing education workshops for professionals already practicing in these fields.

In addition, instruction and consultation were offered in other parts of the state to public libraries, local government bodies, regional groups of the Library Association, family history groups or historical societies, which organized and sponsored the activities: seminars, workshops, collection visits/surveys and sessions as "conservator in residence."

Notes produced for these seminars and workshops have been published by the Library Association of Australia (NSW) under the title Stopping the rot: A handbook for local studies collections.2 Experience over these three years has confirmed that the bulk of the country's heritage is held outside the large metropolitan institutions. These regional collections will need to be considered by both national and state legislators when overall preservation policy is formulated. Training in simple conservation techniques and preventive practices is needed by custodians of regional and local collections, to help stem the backlog of work crying out to be done. Owners of these collections could never afford total professional conservation care, yet so much can be done by willing, available local custodians in providing better environmental conditions, handling techniques and storage systems once they are given knowledge, direction and confidence in their new-found skills.

Readers interested in further information may write to Helen Price at the School of Librarianship, University of NSW, Box 1, Kensington, NSW 2033, Australia.

1 Regional Galleries Association of NSW, Museums Association of Australia (NSW), Australian Society of Archivists (Sydney), Australian Library and Information Association (NSW), and Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Material (NSW).

2 Published 1988. Available from School of Librarianship, University of New South Wales, Box 1, Kensington, NSW 2033, Australia. New edition expected in September 1989.

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