¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 3 The source of conservation’s knowledge base is information generated from preservation and treatment activities, original research, and data interpolated from external sources in allied fields. This “information amalgam” is layered, cumulative, and requires authentication – i.e., sourcing, attribution and context – to be considered reliable and therefore usable. Large swaths of this information, such as a cumulative history of treatments, are as important to a professional as individual data points. Much of this information is captured in narrative form, making normalization and standardization difficult. The variety and profusion of information are challenging to interpret, and interpretations may differ with time as procedures and processes change. All these factors make conservation information more complex than information found elsewhere in the cultural heritage community.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This complexity makes it difficult to structure conservation information for access in a digital environment. Yet this complexity must be represented in digital structures and formats if the information is to remain valuable to the profession. Accomplishing this feat is a key issue for the field, and its failure to do so is a primary reason why conservation’s content is so difficult to find and use in digital environments.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 3 More disconcerting is that little headway is being made to tackle this problem. Conservation’s digital content is rife with problems. The field’s reliance on unstructured narrative formats is at odds with an online environment that relies on structured data for access and use. There are no data standards for conservation information, and existing standards elsewhere have not been tested to see if they might be suitable. There are problems with format compatibility, as conservation data often is generated from proprietary devices. Metadata development remains spotty, making it difficult to exploit the information in any digital environment. Increasing access to conservation’s digital content will not be possible until all the issues involved with that content are examined and assessed.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 4 Because online resources are hard to find, and difficult to incorporate into workflows, conservators tend to place the information they find (or create) into personal desktop systems where they can organize it in ways that are meaningful for them. Conservators in cultural organizations also may place portions of this content in departmental or institutional systems (such as a collection management system). Both solutions are short term and problematic. Content stored on individual desktops may only be used by a limited group of individuals, and may be structured in idiosyncratic ways that make it difficult to reuse and disseminate. Departmental and institutional systems can be accessed more widely within an institution, and the content placed in them may be more structured, but these systems are often proprietary and the amount of conservation information they store is inadequate to meet conservator’s professional needs.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 5 In both scenarios, the capacity to share information is limited, and this introduces another concern: preservation of digital content. Conservators see this issue in the larger context of their professional archives, which are increasingly digital in form. For example, they worry about the records of conservators in private practice, which face a high risk of loss because there is no parent institution to take on archival obligations by mission or default. But even within institutions, conservators worry that their archives will not be adequately preserved because they exist in idiosyncratic digital formats within disparate systems. The loss of digital archives is a grave concern and runs counter to the commitment to preservation that lies at the heart of the profession. Yet few conservators have a preservation plan for their own digital archives, and fewer still know how to go about creating one.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 “Conservation is one of the most intensive knowledge-generating activities in a museum, but very often this in-depth knowledge of the object can be held separately, not recorded or not made available to the public.”
– Nick Poole, Former CEO, Collections Trust
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It is difficult to identify a direct pathway that can address the myriad issues involved with the field’s digital content precisely because so many issues need to be addressed. The insights gleaned during this project suggest that the best course of action is to put into place resources, people, and activities that will help the field clarify these issues further, and identify strategic ways to address them. The recommendations listed below can start this process.
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Working Group of Librarians, Archivists, and Conservators (Mid-term)
The conservation community should work with librarians and archivists to address digital content issues in the field, as these professionals have experience with information organization and preservation in the digital sphere. A Working Group comprised of experts from these three fields should be established to explore the digital content issues in the conservation community. As an initial project, the Working Group might review several different access, preservation, and records management scenarios in the conservation community, highlight specific issues that emerge in these projects, and offer suggestions on how they might be resolved. Broader issues could be extrapolated from these scenarios to help identify next steps. In this way, the Working Group would delve incrementally and strategically through the field’s digital content issues.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 FAIC should establish this Working Group under the aegis of the Digital Strategies Advocate (see above), who would be responsible for bringing the group together and coordinating its work. Members of the Working Group should be drawn from the professional ranks of library and archival associations, and should include individuals from the AIC membership who have archival and library experience (e.g., preservation librarians).
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Working Group on Data Standards (Long-term)
Because the absence of data standards in the community limits access and use of the discipline’s information online, and because the process of standards adoption requires times and consensus, a Working Group on Conservation Data Standards needs to be established to begin to address this area. An international organization such as ICOM-CC might be best positioned to lead this effort on behalf of the community, and to convene an international group of participants representing key players in the cultural heritage standards community (e.g., The Getty Vocabulary Program, UK Spectrum, CIDOC, ConservationSpace, ResearchSpace, and others).
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0  Unlike other areas in the cultural heritage sector, which have produced data standards for structuring and sharing information. See LIDO http://network.icom.museum/cidoc/working-groups/lido/resources/) and CDWA (http://www.getty.edu/research/publications/electronic_publications/cdwa/) for examples.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0  While the components of preservation plans vary, some cultural institutions see sharing information as a vital part of these plans. The Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, for example, recently acquired a software program as part of its collection, and put its source code on GitHub (a web-based repository hosting service) for others to use freely, hoping that continual use of the code will keep it “alive” and therefore viable over time. Other museums (most notably London’s Tate Museum) have adopted this strategy, putting collections-based digital assets in GitHub where they can be freely shared.