By Tevvy Ball and Dinah Berland
Do research and new ways of thinking change the world?
"Not by themselves," says James Druzik, GCI senior scientist. "The world is changed by spreading this information—by putting new knowledge in the hands of people who can put that knowledge to work."
The dissemination of information is a core activity of the Getty Conservation Institute. This emphasis was established to ensure that the information produced, developed, and collected by the Institute's staff reaches those who need it.
"We combine a clearly defined approach to our core audience—the conservation field—with a broader strategy that presents a variety of material, from highly specialized technical and scientific studies to more general information for the interested public," explains Neville Agnew, group director of Information and Communications.
The Institute provides this range of information to its audiences in a number of forms and media. In the print realm, these include the Institute's book publications, the journal Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts (AATA), and the GCI newsletter. Staff also collect, edit, and disseminate information in electronic form through AATA, visual and graphic information derived from field and research projects, and the GCI Web site, as well as databases of bibliographic information. Plans are being developed for integrating all of this information, with particular emphasis on compatibility among databases and ease of electronic access.
"Using a systems analysis approach, a staff team will first examine the types of information now being produced by the Institute and then draft a structure or plan for how to use that information in a unified way," says Julie Howell, manager of the GCI Information Center. Staff members involved in producing, collecting, and managing information at the GCI will contribute to an overall plan for reducing duplication of effort, as well as for establishing consistent methods of collection and recording for future projects and publications.
Certainly a highly visible aspect of the GCI's effort to disseminate information is its book publications program. Since the Institute's inception in 1985, GCI Publications has brought out nearly 70 books, with 20 new titles appearing since the beginning of 1997 and several more scheduled for the next few months.
At the heart of the Institute's publishing enterprise are six distinct yet related series of books, each of which addresses the conservation of cultural heritage from a slightly different perspective (see sidebar). In addition, one-of-a-kind monographs and other works are published to serve specific needs of the conservation community.
The Institute's publications are integrated with its research and field projects. Conferences sponsored by the GCI are, for example, important vehicles for disseminating and sharing information in the field. The GCI Proceedings series provides a record of these events in print.
"The international symposium on panel paintings conservation at the Getty Museum in 1995 was the first such event for panel paintings conservators in 20 years," notes Andrea Rothe, senior conservator of paintings at the Getty Museum and coeditor of The Structural Conservation of Panel Paintings. "It really was an event of considerable importance for the profession. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Proceedings volume of that conference fills a major void in the professional literature."
A number of titles serve more than one purpose. Several university conservation programs, for example, are adopting The Conservation of Archaeological Sites in the Mediterranean Region. "Few books deal in such detail with both archaeological site conservation and site management," says Pamela Jerome, adjunct assistant professor of historic preservation in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University in New York. "This volume proves particularly useful, because it introduces students to just how these issues are played out at specific major heritage sites."
Books recently published or forthcoming this year cover a wide range of subjects. Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of 20th-Century Art, edited by Miguel Angel Corzo and based on a conference held at the Getty Center in March 1998, presents the diverse views of artists, curators, collectors, a philosopher, and a lawyer concerning the nature and conservation of contemporary art. Biodeterioration of Stone in Tropical Environments, by Rakesh Kumar and Anuradha V. Kumar, analyzes the kinds and causes of stone biodeterioration in hot and humid climates.
Forthcoming this summer are Building an Emergency Plan: A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions, compiled by Valerie Dorge and Sharon Jones, a practical manual to help museum professionals develop emergency planning and response strategies to protect staff, visitors, and collections. In the fall, Infrared Spectroscopy in Conservation Science, by Michele Derrick, will appear in the Scientific Tools for Conservation series. The fall season will also bring Palace Sculpture of Abomey: History Told on Walls in the Conservation and Cultural Heritage series, published by the GCI along with the J. Paul Getty Museum. This book, designed for the museum-going audience, recounts the story of the powerful West African kingdom of Dahomey, with its female Amazon warriors and its colorful palace bas-reliefs, this oral culture's only "written" history; the bas-reliefs were conserved as part of a four-year GCI field project.
A number of other book manuscripts are in development. Future volumes will include a review of the literature by GCI senior scientist David Scott, examining copper both in paint pigments and in corrosion products. A forthcoming volume in the Research in Conservation series, Color Science in the Examination of Museum Objects: Nondestructive Procedures, will encapsulate the life work of Ruth Johnston-Feller, one of the country's leading authorities on color analysis. Upcoming in the Conservation and Cultural Heritage series is a book on the Mogao grottoes in China, the site of another long-term GCI field project; this new book tells the story of Buddhist cave art along China's Silk Road.
Work has also begun on the second volume in the Readings in Conservation series. The first volume, Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, provided a broad overview of the field through selected readings, some never before translated into English or published only in hard-to-find journals. Volume Two will focus on aesthetics and paintings conservation. "The Readings series is exceptionally significant in the establishment of the scholarly historiography of the profession of conservation," notes Joyce Hill Stoner, professor and former chair in the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. "Such disciplines as art history, anthropology, and science have their own body of scholarly writings, and these books, by tracing the development of the discourse of conservation, promise to be a key to the future growth of our profession."
Abstracts of the Literature
Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts has been published by the GCI since 1985. Originally titled IIC Abstracts and published by the International Institute for Conservation, this periodical has served as a compendium of literature in the field since 1955.
Each issue is compiled by approximately 120 volunteer abstractors, most of them conservators in private practice or at cultural institutions in more than 40 countries. Abstractors are located in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, China, and South America. They collect material from journals and newsletters published locally in any language, write the abstracts in English, and send them in for review and editing. "New abstractors are always welcome," says Linda Kincheloe, GCI research associate, who works primarily on AATA. The greatest needs at present, she notes, are for abstracts from French and South American literature, as well as coverage of eastern Europe, Africa, and the Near East.
Each abstractor receives a selection of journals to read and sends in abstracts as new issues appear. "Conservators generally abstract work in their fields of expertise," Kincheloe explains, "and most contributions are accepted by the journal's review board as long as the material falls within the areas covered." Literature is gathered from a wide range of disciplines, including chemistry, physics, geology, materials science, biology, information science, computer science, history, and archaeology. Consideration is being given to expanding AATA's coverage to include such areas as economics of culture and site conservation and management.
The current subscriber base includes 282 individuals, 304 university and government libraries, 199 museums, 43 distributors and bookstores, and 36 university conservation departments. Given the relatively small size of the professional field, the journal appears to have found its niche. "We couldn't do our research without it," Julie Howell comments.
Under evaluation for the past year, AATA is now poised to begin a new chapter in its history as an electronic as well as print publication. AATA is currently available online through BCIN, the bibliographic database of the Conservation Information Network, a joint project of the GCI, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and the Restoration of Cultural Property, the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Canadian Heritage Information Network. GCI staff are looking at a variety of other forms of access for the future. "We are considering producing AATA in a number of versions," Howell explained, "including print, CD-ROM, and a Web version."
The GCI Web site is becoming an increasingly important vehicle for delivering information. When the Web site was launched in August 1996 as part of an overall information and communications strategy, the objective was to enhance the Institute's ability to provide timely, accurate, and up-to-date information to the professional community. The site contains the complete text of all the issues of the GCI newsletter in English and Spanish since 1991, abstracts of the scientific research undertaken at the Institute, and links to other cultural- heritage-related sites. Because transmitting information over the Web is so effective, the GCI plans in the future to use the site to provide more content, including the full texts of Getty-sponsored conservation-related publications and in-depth GCI project information.
Reporting Results of Research
Writing up the results of research and submitting them for publication in professional journals is part of the work of every scientist. "An important way to prove that what you're doing has some value is to publish in peer-reviewed journals," Druzik observes. "You can be assured when your work appears in these journals that they have passed a tough review."
The work of GCI staff scientists appears regularly in such journals as Studies in Conservation, Journal of the AIC, and Restaurator. In addition to publishing in the conservation literature, GCI scientists also contribute articles to specialized journals and conference proceedings that represent a wide range of scientific disciplines. For example, William S. Ginell, a GCI senior scientist, has published in the Journal of the American Ceramics Society, as well as in the seismological literature, while senior scientist David Scott has published on metallography in Chemistry in Britain, The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, and elsewhere.
As the Institute expands its horizons into the electronic environment while at the same time adding to its list of books in print, it seeks to amplify its role as an information resource to help the conservation community do what it does best—bring the cultural heritage of the past safely into the future.
Tevvy Ball and Dinah Berland are publications coordinators at the Getty Conservation Institute.
Book Series of the GCI
Research in Conservation
Scientific references that present the findings of research conducted by the GCI and its individual and institutional research partners, as well as state-of-the-art reviews of conservation literature.
Scientific Tools for Conservation
Volumes that provide guidance in the use of specific conservation methods for the practicing conservation professional.
GCI Scientific Program Reports
Publications that summarize the results of recent research conducted under the auspices of the GCI.
Multi-author books based on professional conferences sponsored by the GCI and its institutional partners.
Readings in Conservation
Anthologies of seminal texts, many originally written in languages other than English, tracing the development of the discourse of conservation.
Conservation and Cultural Heritage
Richly illustrated volumes produced in collaboration with the Getty Museum, relating to GCI projects at important cultural sites, for the museum-going audience.
The GCI Information Center & Collections
The GCI Information Center, located on the Plaza Level of the Getty Center's East Building, was established in 1985 to serve the needs of the local and international conservation community and the Getty staff.
The Information Center's collection of approximately 25,000 volumes offers a comprehensive selection of information in the areas of conservation and preservation, applied science and technology, pure sciences, and general works. Periodicals include current journals, studies, and newsletters. The reference section contains periodical indexes, topical encyclopedias, foreign-language dictionaries, biographical sources, research directories, and a variety of specialized materials, all specifically organized to support conservation research. The conservation collections are complemented by the extensive collections of the Getty Research Institute which support advanced research in the visual arts and the humanities and whose library encompasses antiquity and all major periods of European art history, with significant holdings in 19th and 20th century materials.
Supporting the collection are more than five hundred online databases and 70 CD-ROMs providing access to international literature covering areas such as current events, conservation science, general reference, nonprofit funding, and cultural heritage preservation. Via the World Wide Web, the Information Center also provides access to library and university collections worldwide. It also acts as a central repository for GCI project and visual archives.
The Center staff supports the research and development needs of the conservation community by providing a full range of services, including document delivery, acquisitions, reference, research support, visual resource management, and training. Work tables with electrical and network connections are available for those who wish to use portable computers in the reading area.
Visitors are welcome, by appointment, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during workdays. To make an appointment, call (310) 440-6713.