Friday, July 25, 2008

Certification and You

With AIC's new survey it seems emerging conservators everywhere are thinking about, talking about, and coming up with new questions about certification. What do you want to know about certification? What are your concerns and ideas?

We'd like to give the emerging conservator community the opportunity to have these questions answered by a member of the certification committee. Please email your questions and comments to Amber Kerr-Allison at by August 1st. Please note if you would rather have your questions remain anonymous. We will try to have all your questions answered and post them on the AIC Emerging Leaders blog as soon as possible. Although we will probably not have everything answered before Tuesday's survey deadline, we will certainly get the information to you before the official Certification vote this fall.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some questions we've commonly heard to get you thinking:

· Seven years of prior experience is required before a conservator can take the certification exam. What will count towards that experience? Why have an experience requirement at all?

· What exactly does the test certify a conservator for?

· Why take expensive classes and workshops for recertification credit rather than simply taking the certification exam again?

· How will becoming certified differ from obtaining a degree in conservation?

In addition, we are aware that there are discussions happening on various conservation email listserves. Since not everyone is a part of each of the specialty group conversations, if you are interested in summarizing the discussions that you are privy to, it might benefit the group as a whole. Please email Amber ( if you would like to summarize recent specialty group or other listserv discussions.

This is an exciting time to be part of the field of conservation and a great opportunity to get involved.

Time for change?

Time for change?

There are some important issues that the conservation field need to deal with, and perhaps this new network is a forum in which this could be achieved. I just want to pick up on one that hasn’t really been mentioned, but is a serious issue.

Pay for newly qualified conservators and Interns (pre and post graduate)

Why is the pay so low?

I think a lot of the issues have been discussed already in an excellent article entitled “the salary conundrum” it is also worth reading many of the comments as well:

However, one additional reason that I can think of is the use of unpaid pre-program interns throughout the museum world, including conservation. Unpaid interns are a means of museums getting the work they need doing for free (based on the need of interns to get experience to get into school). If this free labor was not available the museums alternatives would be two fold, firstly to not do the work (but this would of course lessen their chance of receiving the all important donor’s money) or two to pay for the work to be done…. Our preferred option of course, as it would give museum professionals a job and also look after our collective heritage. This situation is of course not the fault of the interns, but, it is the fault of the museums, and the university courses that demand experience. So I question whether this issue could be resolved as well, paying interns would be a start, and lessening the amount of time conservators need to be interns would also help as this would in theory lessen the amount of interns a museum would have freeing up work for newly qualified professionals.

What to do?

I would suggest that AIC as the body that represents the profession in the US, needs to follow the lead of professional bodies the world over and demand for its members acceptable pay and conditions. For example, the Institute for Conservation (ICON) in the UK has the following to say: (for dollar amounts essentially double the figure)

“Icon seeks to foster recognition of the responsibility held by conservators in protecting and preserving the world's cultural heritage. The high-level skills required for this vital role should be recognised in status and salary levels. We recommend that the minimum salary for conservators should be £20,895 and conservation technicians should be £17,000. We also recommend that the stipend (not salary) for interns undertaking workbased learning be £14,000.”

They go on to say:

"Starting salaries and career progression for conservators employed in institutions should be no lower or more restricted than for those alongside whom they work. Icon supports the principle of parity across the heritage professions”

It is important to note that these figures aren’t just pie in the sky dreams; they have translated into actual practice:

“For the guidance of employers seeking to determine appropriate salaries for conservators, we provide the following average figures based on a study of all conservation jobs advertised with Icon in 2007:

  • Newly qualified conservator - average - £21,115
  • Qualification and some experience required - average - £23,443
  • Professional Accreditation (PACR) or considerable experience required - average £27,351
  • Senior/management roles - average - £36,971”

It seems to me that these bracketed suggested pay grades could quite easily be a part of AIC policy, and I see no reason that the Emerging network could not lobby for such a situation. There would need to be research undertaken to establish exactly what those grade boundaries should/could be.

I personally think these are much more serious issues than whether AIC introduces a certification procedure. There are already little financial rewards for qualifying as a conservator, without solving this issue first I would question whether certification might simply be adding a new barrier to emerging professionals?

I would hope to see the network take a lead on this issue, and to develop a strategy to take to AIC to come up with a means of solving these issues. We as professionals should also consider how we can work together outside of AIC to improve our conditions, and also to improve the public and institutional face of conservation, for if people don’t know what it is we do, and why, how can we expect anyone to care if we are underpaid for our training and skills. AIC needs to take on some of these “Union” issues, or alternatively conservators need to form a union. Perhaps both would be ideal!

I’d like to suggest that this network work with the other emerging museum professional organizations that have already begun to work on these issues (both in the US and abroad), and to research and strategize an approach for the conservation profession. Is anyone else tired of expending our time for pocket change; I believe it is clearly time for a change!

These are just some of my initial thoughts on this issue; I’d love to hear the thoughts of others….

Si Se Puede,

Daniel Cull.