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Subject: Conservation technicians

Conservation technicians

From: Maria Grandinette <mgrand>
Date: Thursday, April 17, 2003
I am writing on behalf of the AIC Collections Care Task Force in
response to several recent queries about conservation technicians.

[The AIC currently distinguishes between a conservation technician
and a collections care specialist.  (For those who are interested
please see:  <URL:>)  I
have used the word "conservation technician" or "technician"
throughout my statement for ease; however, the task force includes
the role of collections care specialists in its study.]

In 1994, in recognition of the importance of the role that
technicians play in the field of conservation, the AIC Board
established the Collections Care Task Force under the direction of
Chairperson, Carolyn Rose.  The task force was asked to define and
clarify the role of conservation technicians.  In addition, they
were charged with developing a set of guidelines for the formal
education and on-site training of conservation technicians.  Members
of the task force were chosen both for their representation of
different specializations of conservation practice and for their
strong interest and experience in technician and collections care
training.  We have drafted a document-which is remarkably close to
completion-that broadly defines the tasks that technicians and
collection care specialists perform and the knowledge and skills
required to perform those tasks.

The range and diversity of tasks routinely performed by conservation
technicians is astounding.  In fact, the task force found it a very
challenging experience to understand and distinguish the important
difference in technician tasks performed as they vary from area of
specialization and venue where practiced.  In other words, object
conservation in an art museum vs. object conservation in a historic
site museum or paper conservation in a private art collection vs.
paper conservation in a public archive are discrete activities.
Because the differences in conservation practice are very complex
and not always evident from a single perspective, the discussions
were not always easy.  It was easier, for instance, for a task force
member from a library background to concede that technicians perform
interventive treatment activities than it was for a member of a
painting lab in an art museum.  Conversely, it was a challenge for
the task force member from a small, private, art conservation lab to
comprehend the sheer number of technicians generally employed in
large library conservation labs.

The task force decided the best way to tackle its charge was to
explore the full range of tasks performed by conservation
technicians and to specify the knowledge and skills required to
perform each task.  In the end, we identified nineteen tasks.  After
delineating the tasks, the group determined a broad set of knowledge
areas and skill areas for each task.

Based on this framework, the task force discussed and assigned the
types and amounts of formal education (i.e., through a course or
class) or on-site training (one-on-one with a conservator) a
technician would need to complete to be able to be proficient at
each task.  The task force (no pun intended) decided to indicate
amounts of education, training, and/or experience for three levels
of technicians: basic, intermediate, and advanced.

In response to the many ways, kinds, and levels of work technicians
do, the document the task force drafted does not attempt to define a
core curricula for technicians, i.e., something that definitively
states to be a technician you must know x, y, and z.  To do that
would ignore the diversity of activities and skill sets found among
technicians.  The task force acknowledges that a technician's
training may be very narrow and specialized.  He or she may perform
a task at a basic level and may never be required to perform beyond
that level.  On the other hand, most conservators have encountered
technicians with highly advanced skill sets in a single specialized

The document attempts to provide a matrix that can be used:  to
clarify what type education and training are required to perform a
task; to help employers assign tasks appropriately; to help evaluate
job applicants and hire qualified employees; to produce appropriate
job descriptions; to quantify staff training needs; to upgrade
knowledge and skill to appropriate levels by task; as a guide for
curriculum development for collection care training, workshops or
programs; to better and more consistently train conservation
technicians; to establish training standards; to justify training
development and implementation funding; to indicate the role of
conservation and conservators in the training, supervision, and
oversight of collections care activities; and, to legitimize and
validate the role of technicians in meeting collections care goals.

Our document is in the final stages of revision and review.  Given
its cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional nature, we have taken
a broad perspective.  We are working to complete and make it
available to our colleagues soon, and it is our sincere hope that
you will find it useful.

Maria Grandinette
on behalf of the Collections Care Task Force of the AIC

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:63
                 Distributed: Wednesday, April 23, 2003
                       Message Id: cdl-16-63-002
Received on Thursday, 17 April, 2003

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