JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 1, Article 12 (pp. 103 to 106)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 1, Article 12 (pp. 103 to 106)




The Paper Conservation Catalog is unique among specialty group publications and serves as a testament to the remarkable volunteer spirit of the BPG, whose members collectively devote hundreds of hours each year to the project. The AIC Board of Directors has formally encouraged all the specialty groups to record their body of knowledge—an ever-growing mass of new information and techniques of which conservators must keep abreast. In recognition that published conservation literature represents only a fraction of our collective expertise, the fundamental goal of the Catalog is to assemble in a comprehensive, written form information about current treatments for historic and artistic and works on paper. Also included are important related topics such as examination, documentation, housing, and display. Thirty-eight different topics or “chapters” have been identified for inclusion in the Catalog (see table 1).


Discussion of principles and practices is drawn primarily from direct communication with BPG members and is supplemented with information from conservation and other technical literature. Thus, the Catalog is a unique forum for presenting the specific techniques and insights developed through practical experience—the kind of information one gains in consulting or working with a colleague. It reports a variety of treatments in fairly common use, including disparate and even conflicting approaches. The standardized format used in each chapter is designed to present these approaches clearly and to accommodate future contributions of varying length. The Catalog is unique in its presentation of the philosophical guidelines behind treatment decisions. The “Factors to Consider” section in each chapter outlines important concerns—both philosophical and practical—in the decision-making process. The Catalog's intent is not to establish definitive procedures but to present a core of information that can be expanded upon, and even rewritten, as experience and research bring new information to light. It is designed for practicing conservators but has potential for even broader impact. It provides related professionals, including curators, librarians, and collections managers, with an understanding of the complexities of conservation problems and treatment solutions as well as with the vocabulary with which to communicate with conservators.

Now that other specialty groups have begun to develop their own versions of the Catalog, specifically the Paintings, Wooden Artifacts and Photographic Materials groups, we feel it would be informative for the general membership to know something about how the project and its funding work. The Catalog was begun in 1983 by a volunteer editorial committee of eight conservators working in Washington, D.C., who drafted several prototype chapters. From the beginning, the project received support from BPG members, many of whom volunteered to serve as compilers (i.e., primary authors) or contributors (those who review drafts and submit discrete amounts of information). Relying solely on volunteers to compile and retype drafts limited production to about one chapter per year. The Catalog gained significant momentum when three years of funding were awarded in 1987 by the National Endowment for the Humanities to pay for a part-time editorial assistant and computer equipment. The impact of the grant has been a steady improvement in the publication's quality and quantity of information as well as a more consistent, professional format. November 1990 marked the successful completion of the grant, with nine new chapters published, an average of three per year, together totaling more than over 500 pages of text. About 100 BPG members, in addition to the Editorial Board in Washington, participated. Participants have commented favorably on the process of creating a chapter, which involves in-depth discussion of principles and practices and results in the formation of new contacts within the field. The Catalog is distributed as a benefit of membership to all BPG members. Sales of the Catalog to nonmembers have exceeded expectations, totaling about $2,500 in its first three years. The value of the project was reaffirmed by approval of an NEH grant for an additional three years of funding.

The current grant operates on a budget of approximately $72,500. Funds are used for the part-time editorial assistant's salary; computer equipment; supplies and materials (e.g., photocopy costs for chapter drafts distributed for additional contributions and revision); services such as telephone and mailing (including mailing each edition to the BPG membership), and travel costs for the project director and editorial assistant to attend the AIC annual meeting. Income earned from the project is used to reprint previous editions. The BPG covers the annual printing costs for each edition, which have averaged about $5,000. The grant is administered through the AIC office, whose staff has been enormously helpful and supportive.

Briefly, the process of producing each year's edition (which generally contains three chapters) is the following: The designated compiler or compilers, who are the primary authors and chapter organizers, produce a preliminary outline, which is reviewed by the Editorial Board. Content and format revisions are proposed via one board member, who acts as liaison. The compiler continues to develop the chapter, working with other contributors to expand each section. The BPG members have been extremely generous with their time, devoting untold hours to the project in what truly constitutes a “labor of love.”

The Editorial Board, which consists of 8–10 paper conservators in the Washington, D.C., area, has primary responsibility for producing the Catalog. It selects compilers and contributors and reviews chapters at each stage of development, determining content and ensuring standards of quality. Some board members have been involved with the project since its inception and provide continuity and experience; new members have brought fresh ideas and perspectives.

The part-time editorial assistant position has been invaluable, relieving the project director and the board of much basic editing and administrative work, including handling correspondence, maintaining files, scheduling meetings, and arranging printing and mailing of the Catalog. The editorial assistant coordinates input from an increasingly large number of compilers and contributors. Individuals who have expressed interest in a chapter or who are thought likely to have input by the compiler or board are contacted about participating. The goal is to be as inclusive of information as possible. At the end of the year, the edition is printed and mailed to BPG members and is available for purchase through the AIC office.

To gather reactions to published editions beyond the many informal acclaims the project has received, the Editorial Board devised a short survey that was sent to BPG members in 1991. About 20% of the membership responded, primarily practicing conservators with up to 18 years of experience, from 36 states and 11 foreign countries. The general level of satisfaction with the Catalog's format, length, and presentation of information was high. The overwhelming majority of additional comments praised the Catalog as a valuable reference tool, teaching aid, and, in one person's words, “idea book.” The survey was useful in establishing priorities for publication of new chapters and revision of old ones as well as recruiting more participation in the project.

Copyright � 1992 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works