Structured Conservation Data for the Next Information Age
This slide presentation was given at the American Institute for Conservation's Annual Conference on May 16, 2022.
Conservators’ records provide crucial updates to the physical descriptions of tangible heritage after modification by conservation treatment, providing detailed accounts of materials and structures not otherwise described by registrars and catalogers. The 2016 FAIC project report Charting the Digital Landscape of the Conservation Profession summarized how heavy reliance on unstructured narrative reporting and the conservation field’s failure to migrate data to the digital landscape have siloed the cumulative object histories that conservation documentation offers. Five years after the Digital Landscape report; twelve years after publication of the previous Mellon survey project report, David Green and Rachel Mustalish’s Digital Technologies and the Management of Conservation Documentation; and after several calls to share and compare documentation form templates, the profession is no closer to the normalization and standardization necessary for findable and usable data in the digital era. Structured conservation data is essential for the construction of reliable object histories, viability analysis of treatment materials and techniques over time, and trustworthy records retrieval.
After evaluating existing preservation data models against the AIC guidelines for conservation documentation, the author conducted an internal survey in the Stanford Libraries Conservation Services unit to gather the staff’s reasons for consulting past treatment records and their documentation search criteria. The author then developed a database for conservation and assessment that employs a new conservation data model with the AIC guidelines as a broad framework complemented by findings from the internal staff survey. The new database application creates searchable, structured conservation data that is suited to analysis and advanced computing, while the front end leverages common contemporary web browser technologies to create modular and responsive forms that adjust to the reporting conservator’s needs. The project utilized technology that is standard and accessible, but developing the extensible data model required much discussion between conservators and metadata specialists.
To make any headway in modernizing conservation documentation, the field must pick up on Diane Zorich's Charting the Digital Landscape recommendations from 2016. Conservators should establish partnerships with archivists, librarians, registrars, and other adjacent allies already working with structured data and form working groups to update practices and create standards. Working groups should examine how conservators and colleagues access and use conservation data and reconsider the broad and vague definitions of treatment documentation in existing guidelines and literature. To further the development of standards, participants across the field could compare existing database back end structures similar to how past efforts have gathered treatment and assessment form templates for comparison. The profession might also benefit from a new technology forum where practitioners could share resources and discuss evolving needs at all levels of specialization. In efforts regarding data and computing where change is constant and always gaining momentum, the conservation field must keep pace through open community dialogue to supplement the periodic grant-funded projects and recommendations for change or risk being further excluded from technology discussions and left behind as colleagues move on and beyond the Information Age.
|Type of resource
|May 10, 2023
|May 10, 2023; May 16, 2022
|Conservation and restoration
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