On Conservation Training

Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware.

A Scholarly Communications blog post by Helen Cullyer.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's strategic plan emphasizes both continuity and change across the organization's five programs.  The Scholarly Communications (SC) program has launched several new grantmaking initiatives, such as a program for the digitization of hidden collections in libraries and archives that replaces the hidden collections cataloging program, and a major, multi-faceted initiative in scholarly publishing.  However, SC is still committed to providing ongoing support in a number of areas that remain crucial to libraries, archives, and the scholars that use their collections.  These areas include interoperability of digital collections, shared storage and preservation initiatives for print collections, and graduate level training in the conservation of library and archival materials.

SC's grantmaking in conservation training is a collaborative enterprise.  SC works closely with staff in the Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH) program, which has provided longstanding support to art conservation training programs in the US.  Since 2010, SC, in collaboration with ACH, has made a series of grants to three art conservation programs for the development of specialized tracks in the conservation of library and archival materials, with an emphasis on book and paper collections.  The goal of this interim initiative has been to fill an urgent need following the termination of the graduate-level certificate program in library and archives conservation at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.  The three art conservation programs at New York University and the Universities of Delaware and Buffalo that have received Mellon funding for this purpose have collaborated with each other, with major libraries, and with library and information schools, in order to deliver programs strong in bench conservation skills and materials science, and to introduce conservation students to library and information science.  Now, after five years, the Foundation is taking the opportunity to evaluate a variety of ways in which academic institutions in the US might train highly skilled conservators who are qualified to work in the increasingly complex environment of libraries and archives.

Earlier this spring, SC and ACH staff consulted with the art conservation programs, library and information schools, conservation experts, and other funding agencies, regarding the future of this highly specialized field.  The Foundation then invited a range of institutions to respond to a Request for Statements of Interest (RFSI) in planning, and eventually developing, a new or enhanced program in the conservation of library and archival materials.  Respondents include both art conservation programs and library and information schools.  Foundation staff, in close consultation with external reviewers, are now in the process of selecting up to three of the statements and inviting detailed proposals from each lead institution for a one-year planning process.  In collaboration with our external reviewers, staff will then assess the full proposals and select one or more of them to recommend for funding to the Foundation’s board of Trustees in December of 2015.  Then, based on the results of the funded planning efforts, Mellon will invite one proposal for five years of implementation funding.

We expect that this competitive process and the six-year initiative will place training for library and archives conservators on a secure footing within an institution or consortium of institutions that is committed to this specialized and important field.