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Re: [BKARTS] Degrees and Bushwacking [LONG]



Since my name was brought into this, I feel that I should add a few things.
I am NOT "program trained," I do have an MLS (from a program which didn't
really know what a library was), and while I now work in an institution, it
was not because I couldn't "hack" working in private practice. We all make
choices in our lives, and those choices affect the kinds of jobs we get,
whether we can advance, whether we have bench skills, ... There is nothing
wrong with working in institutions, and some of the best
binders/conservators have found their way their. Sure, there are also
plenty who couldn't survive in "the real world" if they had to, but it's
the same way in the private sector. Some great craftspeople, some with
formal (or even program) training, some with apprenticeships or other
formal training under their belt. Some have business sense, others seem
survive to spite themselves.

So, about those choices. I'll speak for myself. After being inspired to
pursue a career in this field as a workstudy in the conservation lab at
Johns Hopkins (run by an apprentice trained trade binder become
conservator), I completed a formal apprenticeship ( trade-school, tests,
and all) in Germany. Studied conservation in Ascona, and came back to the
States. After a stint at Monastery Hill (a trade bindery with conservation
studio) I ended up working with Bill Minter in Chicago, a period I feel was
the best for me in many ways. I left Bill to take an institutional
position. Why? Well there were a number of reasons, but the foremost for me
was benefits (health insurance, retirement, vacation...) No, I'm not a
slacker, but those things are important. Now that I have a family they're
triply important. After working in libraries for a while, I came to realize
that to be a more viable player, one needed the library degree. Was it
relevant to me as a conservator, NO!. But, working in a library
environment,  getting the degree helped establish my credibility and that
of my lab. Btw, that institutional job saved me $18K in tuition because I
could get the degree on remitted tuition. Along the way, I got sucked into
digitization, and how technology provide access and assist in preservation
activities. No, it's not time at the bench, but equally valuable. Yes, my
productivity at the bench has suffered, but I enjoy the challenges of the
job. My training and experience enable me to plan projects, train staff, do
outreach, ...  What would I have done differently? I would have gotten my
degree from Columbia/Texas instead, that's it though. Would I work in
private practice again, sure, there's a lot to be said for it.

I've also been on several searches of late, including some assistant
conservator ones. HR didn't write the job description, I did (with input
from colleagues). What did I look for? I looked for someone who could hit
the ground running, had good skills, and an awareness of how conservation
works in a library. The days of the curator bringing in a "precious" book
to the "master" are dead in all but a few places. HR was involved because
there are legalities, but they did not say what the job should be. I asked
for an MLS from the conservation program at Texas, formal training, or the
best combination. I figured either way I would have to do some training. As
it was I lucked out beyond my expectations. I would have been very happy
with a North Bennet student, or someone who had worked with a reputable
private conservator or in an institution and had the skills. In a nutshell,
I was looking for someone who could work, and had the necessary awareness
of the issues of conserving research collections with all that entails, and
demonstrated some professionalism, someone who spoke the same language and
understood the materials and issues.  What I didn't want was someone who
had taken a few classes, learned what they have via the internet, or the
like. Is that elitist? I don't think so, and find that expression so
overused and misused that it has become irrelevant. Is it  exclusionary of
some, perhaps, but if one wants to work in a given environment, that one
has to  conform to the norms of that environment. No belly aching and
whining will help.

Was I in private practice, and hiring, I'd likely look for some of the same
things. My guess is that most would.

The comparisons with Michelangelo, ... are out of place. Michelangelo, and
all Renaissance artists were members of their respective guilds, guilds so
strong that they could be compared to the Longshoremen or Teamsters. They
controlled who could or couldn't open a shop or train apprentices. When I
served my apprenticeship in Germany, the system wasn't all that different,
and the Guild's were used to restrict competition, i.e. close down
copyshops binding thesis with staples into a wrapper (just like the guild
shops did). That was work for bookbinders only... The Guilds also defined
the body of knowledge for a particular trade, and all had to pass the test.

Certification is also another one of those things. I can be good, and it
can be bad. The questions are who is doing the certifying, and what are
they certifying. The apprentice exams in Germany could be considered a form
of certification. Apprentice takes same test as everyone else in country,
including hands-on work under controlled conditions. This allows comparison
with anyone else... Of course, no pass, no work, but that's life. AIC is
thinking about certification, and it needn't be bad, but one size fits all
for a field as varied as consevation (all aspects - painting, objects,
books, ...) would have to be very dumbed down so as to be meaningless.
Then, the body of knowledge would also have to be defined. AIC's Book and
Paper Group (BPG) started that with the Paper Conservation Catalog, but to
the best of my knowledge it hasn't gone beyond that. Another issue revolves
around all the conservators NOT in AIC. They could be certified as well,
but I feel that they should be included in the process.

The Guild of Book Workers has considered certification in various
iterations, and ultimately comes down to certification of what (there are
many aspects of the book arts - just bookbinding, or what?). The discussion
also always comes back to education, i.e. what skills / techniques are
desirable. What does one need to learn to be a viable binder, conservator,
... Lesson plans are out there, and should be discussed and shared. Some
standards are desirable, no?

Training opportunities are also very limited, especially for people looking
to make a viable career of binding and conservation. What private
conservator can offer a "paid" apprenticeship? What apprentice is willing
to commit for 2-3 years at low pay. I remember one incident when I was
working with Bill. Someone came into the shop asking about "wanting to
dedicate their lives to the book arts and seeking an apprenticeship. We
were looking and could have considered this person. We asked for two years.
They best that came out from them was, "oh, I thought I could learn
everything in several weeks." I guess it depends on what one is looking
for, and one's expectations.

So, where were we?

p.

ps. someone please come up with an objective definition of elitist.



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Peter D. Verheyen
<mailto:verheyen@philobiblon.com>
<http://www.philobiblon.com/philobiblon>

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