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)



ABSTRACT—This paper presents an overview of the three major publication efforts of the AIC Book and Paper Specialty Group: the Annual, the Paper Conservation Catalog, and the Book Conservation Catalog. Designed to provide up-to-date information, especially about formerly unpublished treatment principles and practices, these publications have served as models to other AIC Specialty Groups.


A survey of the AIC membership in 1988 identified publications as the highest priority means for promoting increased exchange of information among conservators and greater general awareness of the goals and methods of preservation. In pioneering two new forums for up-to-date information—the Annual and the Paper Conservation Catalog—the AIC Book and Paper Specialty Group (BPG) has been especially responsive to these concerns. These publications enlarge the individual conservator's resources and, as both process and product, have increased the collegial aspect of the group by fostering increased contact among members interested in sharing information and ideas. The Annual and the Catalog have also served as models to other AIC specialty groups. This paper presents a brief overview of these publications and reports on the status of a related project, the Book Conservation Catalog.


The Book and Paper Group Annual, begun in 1982, was the first specialty group effort to address the need for a wider range of published conservation information, especially that resulting from annual meetings. It is a nonjuried compilation of papers ranging from short tips on materials and techniques to longer discussions of treatment and research, including both formative projects and conclusive work. Submissions are received from a larger cross section of the BPG membership. The Annual has served well as an alternative to the AIC Journal, allowing information to be disseminated more quickly and directly. It has been especially important as a record of the BPG program at AIC annual meetings. The quality of papers included in the Annual has been consistently high, reflecting the high standards of the BPG membership. Sales have confirmed its value to a larger audience, earning an average of $2,000 annually. Other AIC publications patterned on the Annual are the Postprints from the Paintings group and Topics in Photographic Preservation from the Photographic Materials group.


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.


Book conservators within the BPG have made significant progress on the Book Conservation Catalog since the formation of a pilot committee in 1987. The Book Catalog's goals and organization are similar to those of the Paper Conservation Catalog, with the intent to create a documented body of knowledge based on a variety of sources. The committee has proposed a detailed outline for the catalog, which has nine major headings (see table 2).


Currently in progress is the section on Structural Elements of the Book; of the 10 subheadings in this section, 7 have designated compilers. Thus far, about 25 other conservators have volunteered to serve as compilers, contributors, and translators.


In our profession, our conservation treatments speak for themselves and serve as the most enduring aspect of our work. Written words, however, serve as a vital conduit, linking our work to that of our colleagues and communicating its importance to the larger circle of those concerned with material culture.


CATHERINE I. MAYNOR received her B.A. in art history from the University of Toronto in 1978. She specialized in paper conservation at the Cooperstown Graduate Program (now the Art Conservation Department, State University College at Buffalo), receiving her master's degree there in 1983. She worked in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1986. Currently, she is paper conservator at the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Address: National Museum of American Art, Conservation, Room 233, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560.

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Copyright 1992 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works