By Luke Gilliland-Swetland
Conservation professionals have long recognized the important role played by the publication Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts (AATA), not only in the development of conservation as a field of study but also in the overall effort to preserve the world's material cultural heritage.
Now this major reference work for the conservation field—managed and published by the Getty Conservation Institute since 1983—is freely available to conservators around the globe. After almost 50 years, AATA is increasing its accessibility to the conservation profession by becoming a free online service of the GCI, in association with the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC).
"The successful launch of AATA Online is a remarkable achievement," says David Bomford, secretary-general of the IIC. "This brilliant resource is now available on computer screens across the world entirely free of charge. We urge conservation professionals not only to use it and to benefit from the extraordinary riches it contains but also to contribute to its future excellence by participating as abstractors and editors."
Publicly launched on June 8, 2002, AATA Online: Abstracts of International Conservation Literature (aata.getty.edu) offers all 36 volumes of AATA and its predecessor, IIC Abstracts, published between 1955 and the present. By year-end, abstracts from the 20 special AATA supplements and the almost 2,000 abstracts published between 1932 and 1955 by the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, and the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, will be included as well. New abstracts will be added quarterly as AATA staff work with subject editors and volunteer abstractors to expand the breadth, depth, and currency of coverage of the literature related to preservation and conservation.
After registering for this free service, users can set a variety of preferences to tailor the system to their research interests and needs. The interface provides a number of features, including several simple but powerful search capabilities, the ability to save user-created search strategies for use in future sessions, and an on-screen notice of the newest abstracts added during the last quarter in the user's selected areas of interest. Users can download or print out their search results. The classification scheme and subject category descriptions from the print version of AATA can also be displayed.
AATA Online was introduced in Miami in June at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works annual meeting. The service's introduction to the international community will occur at the IIC Baltimore Congress 2002 in early September and at the ICOM-CC Triennial Meeting in Rio de Janeiro later that month.
The evolution of AATA into a free online service reflects the GCI's mission of service to the field. For decades, researchers and conservators have relied on the abstracts published in AATA to locate important information. As the field has grown increasingly international—generating an expanded body of multidisciplinary information—and as conservators and heritage management professionals have come to expect easy accessibility to authoritative information via the Internet, the logic of presenting AATA in an online format became apparent. AATA Online provides enhanced support for conservators in private practice and conservators working in small institutions with limited access to reference tools. It complements the recent conversion to a free online service of the Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network (BCIN), managed by the Canadian Heritage Information Network on behalf of the Conservation Information Network.
"AATA plays an important role in making informed decisions about the treatment of an object by listing tens of thousands of references—not just in the conservation literature but in the literature of related fields as well," observes Catherine Sease, senior conservator at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. "I always begin a new project by consulting AATA and find that I save a great deal of time by zeroing in on relevant and important references quickly. I remain amazed at how comprehensive, and therefore how helpful, AATA is."
Beyond the tangible value of providing 70 years' worth of abstracts of the world's conservation literature to conservation professionals, AATA Online serves to nurture the international conservation community as a whole. Small, geographically dispersed, and incorporating many disciplinary and cultural perspectives, this community relies upon the exchange of reliable and timely information.
AATA has always been a collaborative endeavor that is "by the field and for the field." Volunteer editors and abstractors select and abstract literature, ensuring that the abstracts produced are of high quality and relevant to the needs of the profession. The value added by volunteer editors and abstractors is augmented through the additional editorial and indexing work undertaken by the AATA staff—which includes Linda Kincheloe, Barbara Friedenberg, Kari Johnson, and Jackie Zak. Their efforts shape a collection of information into a valuable body of professional knowledge. Through the production of AATA, the field shares its knowledge and best practices, drawing upon the literature of many allied disciplines and collecting it together in one easy-to-use venue.
In 1958, Rutherford John Gettens—a charter member of the IIC and then editor of IIC Abstracts—wrote: "The success of Abstracts will continue to rest upon the unselfish efforts and diligence of the numerous volunteer contributors of abstracts who search out information in published sources all over the world. They can be repaid only by their own satisfaction in sharing in a worthy joint effort and in the appreciation that will be accorded them by scholars in art and archaeology in the years to come."
Today this tradition of service remains at the heart of AATA Online. Contributing to AATA as an abstractor gives conservators an opportunity to serve the Weld. Since AATA's inception, many abstractors have reported that contributing to AATA has fostered their own professional development and participation in their field. By submitting abstracts to AATA Online, contributors can now share their knowledge in a more timely manner in a free resource with international distribution. Contributing abstracts is now easier: updated guidelines for abstractors, in English, are posted on the Web site—guidelines in several other languages are being prepared—and the site includes a submission form.
In developing AATA Online, GCI staff listened to the recommendations of colleagues in the field, convened focus groups, evaluated the technology, and conducted user testing. Continuing feedback will be solicited. New abstracts will be added regularly, and the interface will continue to be refined in response to user comments. Most important, the GCI will work with subject editors to increase the coverage of literature. For example, subject areas such as conservation management and cultural tourism will be expanded to reflect the growing scope of conservation-related literature. In addition to broadening coverage and adding subject editors, the goal is to extend the network of abstractors and to engage diverse institutions, professional associations, and publishers in contributing abstracts.
It is hoped that the expanding editorial scope of AATA Online will better serve conservators, not only by augmenting their professional knowledge base but also by being relevant to a larger circle of allied professions—while also increasing awareness of the conservation profession and its work.
Luke Gilliland-Swetland is the head of Information Resources for the GCI.
A Brief History of AATA
Between 1932 and 1942, abstracts of conservation literature appeared in Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, published by the Fogg Art Museum. The Freer Gallery of Art undertook a similar effort between 1943 and 1952, which led to the publication of about 1,400 abstracts in Abstracts of Technical Studies in Art and Archaeology.
This practice was reestablished by the IIC in 1955, and five volumes appeared under the title IIC Abstracts. In 1966, the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, undertook publication on behalf of the IIC, and with volume 6, the title became Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts (AATA).
In April 1983, the J. Paul Getty Trust assumed responsibility for AATA on behalf of IIC, and in 1985, AATA became a project of the GCI. In 1987, AATA was offered online as part of the Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network (BCIN). BCIN, accessed by paid subscribers, was managed by the GCI with technical support from the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) until 1992, when it was transferred to CHIN.
In June 2002, AATA became AATA Online: Abstracts of International Conservation Literature, a free, Web-based resource.