Network Resources for the Conservation Professional

This document represents a talk given at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, June 9, 1994, in Nashville. Text in non-proportional type describes the slides (L & R indicate left and right projector

Introduction

    L=[
                        Network Resources for
                                 The
                      Conservation Professional

                                   Valid: June 9, 1994
                                   Expires: June 10, 1994

       Walter Henry <whenry@lindy.stanford.edu>
    ]
    R=[
                         What is the Internet?
        The Internet is a global network of networks enabling
        computers of all kinds to directly and transparently
        communicate and share services throughout much of the
        world.
        -- Internet Society
    ]

My topic today is the Internet and what it offers for the conservation professional. A year ago I would have begun with an involved explanation of what the Internet is and perhaps discussed ways to get hooked up. Today, there are scores of popular books on these subjects so I think we can bypass all that. I've brought a list of 63 books with me so if anyone wants a copy, catch me afterwards. The important point is that today it's easy and cheap--well cheap enough--for most people to get themselves connected to the Internet. For those in remote locations, it's a bit tougher, but getting easier every day.

   R=[
                        What is the Internet?
       If we consider the entire Internet as a single resource, as a
       machine whose purpose is to provide information, then the
       Internet is the most complex machine ever created, by several
       orders of magnitude, by any concevable metric of complexity.
       -- Michael O'Brien, SunExpert, Sept 1993
    ]

So why should you care about the Net? To start, let's get some statistics out of the way. They're dull but important because they begin to give a sense of why you need to pay attention to this phenomenon. The Internet, as of about two months ago, comprised 30,000 networks, with more than two million computers in 146 countries. Now any of these networks--say a university with several thousand people--is a pretty big group of people (when we talk about networks there's a tendency to talk about machines, but it's important to remember that we're really talking about people, people with whom we may have some common ground, some significant reason for there to be commerce between us), so when we speak of 30,000 networks, what we really mean is that there are something on the order of 20 million people with whom we can communicate.

For some time now the Internet has been growing at the rate of 10 percent each month and is expected to continue to grow at this rate for quite a while. Yes, I said "10 percent a month". At this rate of growth, the number of users internationally doubles about every 7 months. If it kept growing at this rate (though of course I'm not suggesting that it could) in just 2 years, we'd reach more than a billion people. It's this aggregation of people, people with information to share, people who need information that you can provide, people needing and offering services, that make the Internet a vital resource; the machines--which sometimes get all the attention--just let it happen.

Somewhere in this mass of electronic humanity are

EMAIL & lists

For most of us, when we hear the word Internet, our first thought is electronic mail, and indeed this is probably the facet of the net the will have the most profound impact on your professional lives. I won't dwell on the subject, because it's covered in the abstract, but I'd like to make just a few points. The net, and especially email, will radically change the way museums, and museum professionals, carry on their business. Unless museums follow a very different path than other groups, you can expect to see more and more of your professional communications carried out via email. Just a couple of examples:

In other professions, it is common for a committee--an AIC task force for example--to conduct virtually all of its business through email. Because email allows rapid exchanges of views but also permits you to sit back and compose a carefully considered response before you jump into the discussion, it's not uncommon that the committee gets its work done more quickly and with more satisfying results than through conventional face-to-face meetings

    L=[
        Some Internet resources
             Discussion groups
                Conservation DistList
                MUSEUM-l
                VRA-L
                ARLIS-l
                ARTCRIT
                Rock-Art
                Discipline-specific lists
    ]
    R=Cons DistList--Example--94-04-07.dst (includes entry for
       silver polish)

The other area that I think you'll need to pay attention to is online discussion groups. The slide on the left shows a number of groups you'll probably want to check out. The Conservation DistList is, of course, devoted entirely to discussions concerning the conservation of museum, library and archives materials, so I hope and expect to see all of you as active participants. I know that the DistList has seemed to focus on library issues and may seem irrelevant to museum professionals, but this is one of those chicken-and-egg things. Because historically library folks found themselves on the net first, they got to talk about what interested them, but as more and more museum people get connected, the discussions are shifting. Recent topics, for example have included things like the ethical implications of moving site-specific artworks, consolidating gouache, and most recently reassembling EMU eggs.

One list didn't make it onto these slides. CIPP has recently established a list, the Conservation Business Information Exchange, moderated by John Scott's and I'm sure many of you will want to get involved with this one.

    R=[
        Some Internet resources
            Medieval studies lists
                ANSAX-L     England to 1100
                EMEDCH-L    Early Medieval China
                MEDIEV-L    Medieval studies
                MEDSCI-l    Medieval Science
                MEDTEXTL    Philology, Codicology, etc.
    ]

Other lists, like those of the Visual Resources Association, and Art Libraries Society are a bit farther afield. Conservation professionals are by nature, people of an interdisciplinary bent and these fora provide an excellent way to keep in touch with developments in fields related to your work. If you work with, say, Medieval materials, you would probably do well to frequent such lists as those in the slide on the right. Lists like these provide an opportunity to keep current on developments within your "client" fields, and to disseminate to a wider audience information about developments in our own fields. There are several thousand discussion groups, about 1800 of which are considered serious scholarly endeavors.

Client-Server

Beyond email and mailing lists, we find a wealth of resources I like to think of as online libraries, databases providing both textual and graphical information, usually in the form of complete articles.

    L=Chemical Physics Preprint Database--Home Page
    R=Chemical Physics Preprint Database--Sample preprint

The slides show some typical materials.

What has made possible most of the interesting new services on the network is the dramatic increase in recent years in the power of the computers that sit on our desktops. Earlier, large centralized computers had to take on all the computing work, from storing and retrieving data to figuring out how to format and display that data on your terminal.

Because we're now able to take advantage of the capabilities of your personal computers and workstations, we're able to divide the computing work between the centralized machine--called a server, which does little more than sit on the network politely waiting for requests for data and shipping it out in a standardized package, and clients, that is software running on your pc or workstation that knows how to negotiate the network, talk with the server, and process the data when it reaches your desktop.

    L=Archeological Survey--Home Page
    R=Archeological Survey--Table of Contents

There are two important consequence of employing this work-sharing method, known as the client-server model. First, because the client program is written specially for your local computing environment, it can present a familiar user interface. Mac or Windows clients, for example present everything to the user in the way that Mac and Windows users expect, so these programs are comfortable to use and very easy to learn. Second, since the server has less to do, it can be done cheaper, using less expensive hardware and simple software.

    L=Commission on Preservation and Access--Science Initiative
    R=Commission on Preservation and Access--
       Science Initiative--Preservation Science Projects

This has made it practical for organizations that couldn't have absorbed the expense of maintaining an old-style centralized information service on a mainframe, to think of the Net as an inexpensive way to get information to a lot of people. In fact, in many cases it has made it possible for individuals within an organization to take the lead and set up information servers on their own, without major funding commitments by the administration.

Conservation OnLine

    L=CoOL--Gopher main menu
    R=[
        Conservation OnLine
        CoOL
            Full text conservation information from a wide variety of sources
            A service of Stanford University Libraries
            Access via WWW, Gopher and WAIS
            A site to share your information
    ]

Conservation OnLine, or CoOL, is a family of full text databases related to the conservation of museum, archive, and library materials. It's the only Internet service developed specifically for our community. An extension of activities on the Conservation DistList, it provides a wide variety of conservation information by means of Gopher, WAIS and the World Wide Web--I'll explain these in a moment--to provide what one user called "one-stop info-shopping". Most of the material presented on the screen today is accessible via CoOL, though some items are a few hops distant.

    L=CoOL--Gopher--ByTopic menu, Disaster preparedness selected
    R=CoOL--Gopher--Disaster manuals an primer simultaneously

The range of materials that CoOL offers is quite broad. Much of it is "Gray literature", informal documents not intended for conventional publication, such as inhouse reports, workshop and conference handout materials, made available to a wider audience, and policy and procedure manuals such as disaster manuals.

Much of this material is "recyclable", that is it's useful as boilerplate text; when you are writing an RFP or a policy for your own institution, it's wonderfully useful to pick up someone else's text and steal shamelessly.

    L=CoOL--Browse through
    R=Biodeterioration Newsletter

There is also print-based literature seeking alternative distribution channels. According to a recent publication of the Association for Research Libraries, there are about "440 electronic journals, newsletters, and related titles such as newsletter-digests" a 70% increase since this time last year. These serials include peer-reviewed journals--none I'm sorry to say from our own field, although there many in the hard sciences--, and newsletters such as those of WAAC and ICOM's Biodeterioration Working Group, both of which are represented in Conservation OnLine. With the cost of delivering hard copy publications putting terrible strains on publication budgets, more and more organizations are looking to the Internet as a means of delivering information quickly and affordably.

    L=ConsDir search--"conservators for wooden objects"
    R=ConsDir results--"Scott O'Dell"

Among the CoOL resources are directories of people, including the ConsDir, a searchable email directory of people involved with conservation.

    L=Code of Ethics
    R=Code of Ethics--Document List

A particularly important facet of CoOL is that it offers documents whose value extends beyond our own particular user community. For example the recent discourse on the revision of the AIC Code of Ethics is of significance not only to the AIC membership but to curators, collectors, administrators, funding agencies, etc., but the printed information is unlikely to reach much of this secondary audience.

    R=Code of Ethics--Most recent draft

By providing this documentation to the broader constituency, we make it possible for the allied professions to see the Code in its historical and evolutionary context, and perhaps better to understand our commitment to it.

Resources such as CoOL exist for the purpose not only of distributing information from a central "supplier" but for facilitating the exchange of information within a community of interest. That is, it's just as much a place for you to provide information as acquire it. Access tools

    R=[
       Some Internet resources
       Access and Navigation Tools
           Gopher
           World Wide Web
           WAIS
    ]

There are three access tools that have come to prominence in the last three years and have made it a great deal easier for people to find and retrieve information relevant to their work. All are client-server applications, meaning that you run a program on your own machine that takes care of a great deal of the nuts and bolts of navigating the network and interacting with services. You're free to concentrate on your research without having to worry about the mechanics.

Conservation OnLine uses all three methods to provide access to its materials and most of the examples here are lifted from CoOL.

Gopher

Currently the most popular of these services is Gopher, developed at the University of Minnesota. There are about 7000 Gopher servers at the moment, CoOL being one. A simple and powerful browsing tool, Gopher lets you access information stored anywhere on the Internet, but makes it look as though it were stored in your own hard disk, and navigation through the network appears as a series of simple menus. You don't have to pay a lot of attention to where something is and can instead focus on what you're after. To a Mac user, for example, using Gopher appears to be identical to familiar operation of opening folders within folders until you find a document you want. When you locate an item that interests you, the complete text (or image) is available and can be saved, printed, etc.

     L=CoOL--Gopher--ByOrganization menu

An important aspect of Gopher is the notion of Links. A Gopher menu on a machine in California--say Conservation OnLine, can have a link to an item on a Gopher server in Canada--say the Gopher of ICOMOS, which offers a variety of ICOMOS documents and international treaties on cultural property, or the Center for Safety in the Arts which provides a substantial body of information on matters of health and safety in arts practice. [The Center doesn't appear in this slide because it was added to CoOL after this slide was shot]. From the user's perspective, the jump to Canada or New York is virtually invisible; it all appears to be part of your hard disk.

WWW

    L=CoOL--Home Page

The World Wide Web, known as WWW or W3, is an extension of this idea. I think of it as gopher on steroids. On the Web, the concept of links is exploited in order to allow the creation of complex hypertext documents, that is documents that involve jumps from one fragment of text to another, even fragments on machines halfway around the globe. The document--or Web--become, in essence, a set of interconnections between documents, connections you are free to follow by whatever path serves your needs. There are currently about 4000 public Web servers--Conservation OnLine is one, as you see here on the left--. Web traffic is the most rapidly expanding facet of network activity. Much of its popularity stems from its emphasis on multimedia; it's really easy to handle images, sound, and even moving images via the Web. R=Dictionary--Title Page Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Descriptive Terminology, by Don Etherington and Matt Roberts is a good example of a network-based hypertext, found in CoOL.

    L=Dictionary--Guard
    R=Dictionary--Compensation guard

A wonderfully browsable book, it contains a rich set of cross-references between definitions and--as with any really fine dictionary--you find yourself skipping around from section to section following these cross-references and looking into areas you never planned to explore. In the electronic version, a cross-referenced entry is just a mouse-click away.

On the left, a typical entry with a number of cross-references to other entries, on the right a the entry that pops up when you click on "Compensation Guard"

    L=Dictionary--Lacing In
    R=Dictionary--Lacing In--Illustration

The same kind of hyperlinking is used for illustrations, footnotes, marginal notes, etc.

On the left, the entry for Lacing In, and on the right, the illustration that pops up when you click on "See illustration"

    L=Dictionary--Lacing In--Page 2 (showing link to Holing Out)
    R=Dictionary--Holing out

And a link onward to another definition.

I should point out that the creation of a network version of a printed document like this dictionary, a 300 page book with 3800 definitions, 60 illustrations and thousands of cross-references involves quite a bit of labour. Scanning, markup, proofing, correction, and creation of hypertext links for this work took more than a hundred hours, and such efforts are not at all uncommon on the Net. Much of this work is done pro bono, but the time will come when funding sources will be need to be found.

    L=Periodic Table
    R=Periodic Table--Copper

A slightly simpler hypertext, but one I use all the time is this periodic table of the elements on the Web Server at the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry. It was created from information provided by Mark Winter of the University of Sheffield.

On the left, the table itself, on the right one of the pages you'll see if you click on Copper. The information in this table is quite detailed; the copper entry is 9 pages long.

WAIS

    L=WAIS--query--"Tell me about removing polish from silver"
    R=WAIS--results, with mouse cursor

Wide Area Information Servers, or WAIS, is a full-text searching facility. It permits you to ask questions in a natural way, without needing to learn the special query languages of traditional databases, and to retrieve documents relevant to your query.

For example to search the Archives of the Conservation DistList, a question phrased as casually as "Tell me about removing polish from silver", returns a group of messages from DistList discussions on that subject. If all goes well, they will be presented to you in order of relevance. That is, items toward the top of the list are most likely to contain an answer to your question. This doesn't always work perfectly, but the tech folks are working hard on improving the relevance ranking strategies.

    R=Cons DistList via WAIS--Barger on Removing
      old polish residue

In any case, it's all dead easy, and soon you end up with the text you're looking for. This query could just as well been "Hey, buddy, you know how to get old polish off silver?".

    L=CoOL--Search WAAC vapour barriers
    R=CoOL--Results--Tech exchange selected

In the same way, consider this search of the WAAC Newsletter--thanks to the hard work and tenacity of Liz Welsh we have every article from day one right up to the current issue. CoOL doesn't mind the english spelling of "vapour" and returns the right articles whether spelled in the English or American fashion.

    R=CoOL--Results--Tech exchange article on MarvelSeal
        vapor barrier bags

Similar translations are done for some synonyms, especially for words which in common usage are often improperly exchanged--such as as "vellum" and "parchment". This kind of synonym lookup is still in an experimental stage, but we expect to expand it in the future.

My point is simply that more and more, we're trying to adapt the technology to the user, rather than the other way around. As a result, it's getting easier and easier to find what you need.

With all of these access methods, what you end up with is the complete text of a document (and where applicable, any related graphic material). This emphasis on full-text marks a significant change from the network environment of just a few years ago, when what was offered was mainly pointers to information, bibliographical citations for example; today we provide the complete article.

Museum-oriented Network Resources

    L=[
        Museums with online exhibits or info services
        General information

            Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
            Exploratorium, San Francisco
            National Air and Space Museum, Washington
            Bishop Museum, Honolulu
    ]

    R=[
        Museums with online exhibits or info services
        Exhibits or "Samplers"

            Astronomical Museum, Bologna
            California Museum of Photography
            Dallas Museum of Art
            Krannert Art Museum, Univ. Illinois
            La Trobe University Art Museum, Melbourne
            UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology
            Weisman Art Museum, Univ. Minnessota
    ]

Historically, network resources have been created first for computer folks, then the sciences, and then as people in the humanities move in, the focus is on computing applications in the discipline, then finally on the discipline itself. The museum community, still relatively new to the network, doesn't yet have depth or breadth of online material that's available to the physicist or biologist.

Nevertheless, there's an awful lot of valuable information, even today, and more becoming available everyday--and I mean that quite literally. I'm pleased to report that Martin Raish of Binghamton University is writing a book on electronic resources for the study of art history, to be published by Learned Information later this year and a substantial portion of this work will describe Network resources.

A few words on how museums are using the Net:

To this date, museums have seen the Network primarily as an outreach opportunity, as a means to extend their pedagogical and exhibition roles to a wider audience. These efforts have been aimed both at potential museum visitors, by providing general museum information, visiting hours, and information about exhibits, and at people who may never visit the museum in person, by presenting online exhibitions--typically an online version of a conventional exhibition held in parallel--and online catalogs of conventional exhibits. Several present "samplers", digital images of selected items from the collection.

For the most part museums have chosen not to exploit its potential as a site for professional interchange and are not offering technical documents, museological material, or other documents aimed at the museum professions.

    L=Australian Botanical Natural Gardens--Home Page

There are exceptions: a number of institutions associated with natural history (such as the National Museum of Natural History and the Australian National Botanical Gardens) have presented both patron-centered material and information for professionals. The Whitney runs a Gopher server, which offers exhibition schedules and museum staff lists, at first glance typical fare, but unusual in that they go all the way back to 1931, making it an interesting historical resource.

     L=LC Vatican exhibit--Felici Illuminated Ms.--
       Thumbnail and text
     R=LC Vatican exhibit--Felici Illuminated Ms.--
       Full view

Probably the most well known--and extremely well-received--online exhibitions have been 4 created by the Library of Congress in parallel with with major conventional exhibitions.

from which these slides are taken

     L=LC Vatican exhibit--Felici Illuminated Ms.--Detail

These exhibits have provided detailed textual material, including catalog text and captions, as well as high-quality images, which can be saved and manipulated with image processing software.

     R=LC Vatican exhibit--Sample Ms.--Two details zoomed with
       JPEGView

The quality of the digital images is actually greater than these slides suggest; the limiting agent here is the hardware at the users end, in my case a low-end Mac. Fortunately, the cost of hardware adequate to make serious scholarly use of these images is dropping quickly. And of course shooting off a computer screen doesn't help much.

    L=Weisman Art Museum--Home Page
    R=Weisman Art Museum--Thumbnails

A simpler and more typical approach is that of the Weisman Art Museum, at the University of Minnesota, which presents some general patron-oriented information and a "Sampler" of images from the collection, such as this Hartley still life.

    L=Weisman Art Museum--Still Life, Marsden Hartley

Not so much an exhibit as an online slide library,

    R=ANU ArtServe--Home Page

the Australian National University's ArtServe,

    L=ANU ArtServe--Menu

offers a systematic view of its image collection, by subject and artist

    L ANU ArtServe--Prints by Subject--Thumbnails--Genre
    R=ANU ArtServe--Petitot 1727-1801, engraving 1771, Mascarade
      a la greque (genre)

Library catalogs

     L=[
         Some Internet resources
             Museum servers
             Library catalogs
             Commercial services
             Software repositories
     ]

Finally we come to library catalogs. The last time I counted, earlier this year, there were about 700 library catalogs available via the Internet, most in the Americas, about 200 in Europe, and 2 in Africa. These allow searching the library holdings by Subject, Author, Title, and sometimes other points, and constitute an enormously powerful aid to research, the ability to discover what has been published and collected on a given subject. This is especially valuable to people isolated from major library centers. For most of us the Library of Congress Information System, LOCIS, is probably more than adequate, containing 26 million records describing books, serials, and other materials, in over 400 languages. The libraries and archives of the Smithsonian are not yet available via the Internet, but they will be making their catalogs, including the catalogs of the Archives of American Art and the Art Inventories Catalog available sometime this Fall.

Museum Catalogs

While there are 700 library catalogs accessible via the Internet, there are currently no museum catalogs, although there is a prototype of sorts at the National Gallery, which has mounted records on a selection of 1600 items from its collection.

Text Omitted from Talk

The following section was not included in the talk, for lack of time

This is not surprising as museums have not embraced consortial, or shared, cataloging, which forms the basis for networked catalogs. The reasons for this hesitation--and I do hope that it is merely hesitation and not a permanent rejection--are several. First, traditional reticence of museums concerning holdings information, because of concerns about security and increased loan activity is a significant hurdle. Second, disagreement over standards, especially concerning terminology. Third, and this is speculation on my part, is that the benefits of consortial cataloging may not be as apparent, the payback not as quick and obvious as it is in libraries, because museum holdings--at least art museum holdings--intrinsically have less information in common with eachother because of the nature of the collection materials.

However, there are a number of factors that may serve to overcome this otherwise depressing stasis. First the general move to online systems within museums establishes a base of information for information sharing, even if that sharing is deferred. Second, and perhaps more critical, there has been significant process toward the development of standards, both of terminology and information content. The work of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus and other such efforts to make manageable the complexity of Art terminology serves provides a practical basis for information interchange. The C I M I Consortium, an extension of the work begun by the Museum Computer Network's committee on Computer Interchange of Museum Information to develop standards for encoding and interchange of museum information, is a first and necessary step toward networked sharing of information

The implications for art-historical research of the development of a network-accessible virtual museum catalog, one that dissolves institutional and even national boundaries are obvious and dramatic. Consider for example the impact both on scholarship and conservation practice that would derive from the ability to examine, say, exhibition history and provenance information, to locate works of related authorship, or particular historical or physical features from museums world-wide without leaving one's office or lab.

Conclusion

    L=[
        "It is the law as in art, so in politics, that
        improvements ever prevail; and though fixed usages may
        be best for undisturbed communities, constant
        necessities of action must be accompanied by the
        constant improvement of methods."
        --  Thucydides
    ]

    R=Blank

During the course of this week's AIC Meeting between 75 and 100 new Gopher sites and 60 World Wide Web servers will pop up on the Net. During the course of this talk, 4 networks somewhere on the planet have connected to the Internet. By this time next year, I hope to have had the pleasure of greeting each of you as you find your way--inexorably--into the virtual world.


[Search all CoOL documents]


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