The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 8
Dec 1990

Australian Conservators' Annual Conference Emphasizes Outreach

A Report by Jan Lyall

The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) held its annual conference in Launceston, Tasmania, from 13 to 16 August 1990. In contrast to previous conferences which have tended to be technical and rather inward looking, this meeting, while not neglecting technical matters, attempted to address the broader issues of what roles conservators and the AICCM should play in the wider community.

In exploring this theme, the speakers, who represented a large number of different interest groups, gave their views on:

The experiences of the environmentalists were drawn upon by Bob Brown, Independent, Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and Phillip Toyne, Director Australian Conservation Foundation, to illustrate how issues can be brought to the attention of the public.

Of particular interest to preservation librarians and paper conservators were the first day's sessions which had the them of "Striving for a Longer Life for Paper and the Environment." Presentations covered a broad range of issues dealing with the production, permanence, use and availability of many types of paper in Australia. The presentation by Dan Sproud, Blubber Head press, highlighted the lack of knowledge in the publishing and printing industries of the problem created in libraries by the use of poor quality papers.

The Australian Government has recently issued directives to all collection institutions to generate more revenue. One area which has been seen as a source of possible revenue is conservation services. This topic was covered on the second day during discussions which examined "Private Conservation: Directions and Issues." The experiences of institutions which have been required to "go commercial" indicate that the marketing of conservation services is not an automatic revenue raising activity. One major problem has been the lack of experience of conservators in marketing their services. Difficulties identified in the use of private conservators by institutions were related to the resultant isolation of conservation from the preservation t of collections.

The third day was devoted to working group sessions. The Archival Paper Action Group had a very successful meeting in which the activities of the past year were reviewed and a plan of action was prepared for the caning year. One of the main tasks for the coming year is to establish contact with other professional organisations such as the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the Australian Council of Libraries and Information Services (ACLIS) Preservation Committees, the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA), the Commonwealth Scientific and industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Records Association.

The last day's session, "Conservation and the Wider Community," opened with a presentation by Andrew Reeves, Museum of Victoria, on the negotiations for the establishment of a Heritage Collections Council. He described the Heritage Collections Working Group which has been set up with a budget of $300,000 over three years to define the National Collection, to survey its condition, to assess its preservation needs, to recommend strategies for access and to promote its importance. The session went on to the relationships between conservators and other professionals working in collecting institutions.

The conference concluded with a panel session which debated how the conservation of cultural materials could be made of more significance to the general public and to the broad range of professionals employed in the "cultural industries." The general conclusion was that if conservators are to maintain a professional identity, while at the same time playing a more significant role in the collection institutions and in the wider community, it is essential that they increase their knowledge of factors affecting the significance of items; communicate more effectively with other professionals and with members of the public; establish strong professional links with related professional organisations; and encourage the teaching of conservation and preservation in a wide variety of professions.

The conference received very wide local media coverage and towards the end of the conference it was not uncommon to find taxi drivers and shop keepers who knew all about the Brittle Book Problem in libraries! The proceedings of the conference are to be published at the end of the year as the next issue of the AICCM Bulletin. AICCM membership details can be obtained from AICCM, GPO Box 1638, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia.

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