Conservation is a fascinating but highly technical discipline; if you would like to get involved, find out more about the field and volunteering opportunities.
Interesting in volunteering with us?
Volunteers can get involved in many aspects of our work in Special Collections. All of our volunteers are from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS), an organisation which helps individuals and groups with an interest in conservation work and other hands-on aspects of the arts. Unfortunately, while joining NADFAS may provide you with many exciting opportunities, we cannot guarantee that you will get to work with us. For more information please contact NADFAS.
Interested in finding out more about a career in conservation?
Archive conservators need to have a unique combination of skills. A high level of manual dexterity is obviously necessary, as is an understanding of chemistry and a lot of patience and concentration. Conservators also need to be:
forward thinking: conservators need to assess new treatment options and the physical demands of new technologies on archives
capable of compromise: in choosing an appropriate treatment, conservators must resolve the often conflicting needs of the document and the user
good communicators and negotiators: conservators act as advocates for the welfare of archives in their care, and must be capable of gently winning their case
analytical: conservators need to investigate the history and make up of documents, what techniques and materials are available for treatment and how these behave in given circumstances
committed to professional development: conservators need to be prepared to continue their development after qualification, acquiring management skills which enable them to play a full part in the development of the heritage sector
comfortable with a variety of technology: conservators may be required to care for archives in a variety of formats: records are increasingly created electronically, often in combination with digital imaging
The work place opportunities
Many archive conservators work in local authority archives, library and university archives, local history centres and museums. Employment possibilities don't just end in this country, as many UK trained conservators have found work all over the world, particularly in Europe, America and Australasia.
Some conservators choose to work on a freelance basis, working for organisations or private individuals. As freelance work can be particularly challenging, it is advisable to gain some experience before considering the pressures of working independently.
Most local authority and university jobs are advertised through the Society of Archivists recruitment publication, which is sent to all members of the Society and available slightly later through the Society's website. They are also advertised by the Institute of Conservation (ICON) which is an essential resource for Conservators. ICON also have specific pages relating to training.
Jobs are also advertised through the Conservation On-line (CoOL) discussion list, and the archives-nra email discussion list, and the national and local press.
How to take things further
Many conservators take a general course in conservation and specialise in books and archives. Colleges that offer such courses are:
Training posts are occasionally offered by record offices wherein the trainee undertakes the Society of Archivists Conservation Training Scheme. The scheme provides a three-year block release course giving practical and theoretical training by certified instructors. There are also S/NVQs available in Collections Care and Conservation at Levels 3-5.
Entrance requirements naturally vary from course to course and you must make enquiries to each institution. As far as the Society's scheme is concerned candidates should have at least 5 'O' Levels/GCSEs, including English Language. It would be useful to demonstrate craft skills and to have an appreciation of the intrinsic value of historical material.
The Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers scheme (PACR) accredits the continuing competence and skills of those who are suitably experienced. It entitles them to use the letters ACR (Accredited Conservator-Restorer) after their name. For further information see ICON's guidance on the PACR process.