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[BKARTS] Degrees and Bushwacking



I didn’t see the original posting of the Harvard
position announcement, and I only dipped into the
complaints about it when I noticed lots of postings on
the subject, so forgive me if my belated comments are
off target. People have made a number of excellent
observations about the difference between practical
skill/experience and formal degrees, but I have always
assumed that Harvard is at least a modestly good
institution and didn't get that way by expecting job
qualifications if they were not relevant.

So I checked the on-line curriculum vitae of our list
owner, Peter, who is twice formally degreed and who
has served for some years as an academically-based
conservator, at Syracuse University. Forgive me,
Peter, for using you as an example – you have not
weighed in on this subject yourself, as far as I know,
perhaps being reluctant to ruffle more feathers on the
list. But Peter is the very model of a university
based binder-conservator, and the role he plays is
illuminating.

Peter’s CV makes it clear that an academically based
conservator, and presumably the sort of person who is
being sought by Harvard, plays a role that goes far
beyond the practical ‘doing’ of conservation. Peter’s
comments about his position include reference to a
wide variety of conservation and archival
technologies, academic applications, grant-seeking,
publishing, etc. Read it and ask how much of this kind
of institutional experience and expertise is gained
from binding thousands of books.

Obviously much of this is learned on the job,
especially as new technologies and applications emerge
and must be incorporated into the conservator’s
repertoire. Still, I suspect that Harvard, and most
likely other academic centers, expect either academic
degrees or formal training for the simple reasons
that: prior familiarity with academic institutions is
essential to working effectively within one, from the
start; evidence of success in formal training is
evidence of future success in additional training (the
principle that, for college admissions, high school
grades are a more important measure of how well one
learns than evidence of what one has learned);
evidence of experience in the other tasks that
comprise the job could be essential – the grant
writing, publishing, working collaboratively with
faculty on research projects, developing strategic
plans, managing a large institutional budget or a good
portion thereof, evaluating technologies, etc, etc.

I understand the bitterness in many of the postings,
though I don’t consider it entirely fair or justified.
If a binder/conservator hopes to land a position in an
academic institution, an academic degree is expected.
So get it. If you didn’t get it, why not? If there are
applicants for the Harvard position who are
outstanding conservators AND have formal academic
degrees and training, why shouldn’t Harvard hire them?
We can’t all be Bucky Fuller (let alone Mozart or
Michaelangelo) – most of us have to get a degree. If
you didn't, don't blame Harvard.

Apologies for the length of this positing.

Don Pollock




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