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A brief history of this list

Last summer the Conservation Unit of the UK Museums and Galleries
Commission arranged a course about the care of musical
instruments. The faculty consisted of Bob Barclay, Friedemann
Hellwig, Scott Odell and myself. Our initial preparation for the
course was conducted via e-mail and, when we noted that many of
the students also had access to that medium, we set up an
automatic e-mail distribution list for all participants who
wished to be included.
During the week that we spent together in London we discussed
expanding the scope of that distribution list and establishing a
less ephemeral place for it among the many thousands of special
interest lists on the Internet. One consideration which is
invariably necessary when planning something of this sort is
formulating a clear statement of the list's intended scope of
We were fully aware that a list dedicated to musical instrument
conservation from a museum perspective would most likely be too
limited to be viable. Since the list was going to be hosted by
a museum which was a part of an academic network, it was
necessary for whatever we decided upon to have a chartered
connection to the museum community and for the majority of its
contents to have a clear scholarly thrust.
We were also fully aware that the most substantial interest in
any list dealing with musical instrument technology would most
likely be forthcoming from within the community of musical
instrument makers. Unfortunately, a musical instrument makers'
list lacked the requisite primary anchorage in the museum and
academic sectors.
Since the four of us were (and are) no less interested in musical
instrument making than we were in objects conservation we decided
to set the scope of micat-l to include the common interests of
the fields of objects conservation and musical instrument
technology. We envisioned there being adequate latitude in this
to include many concerns which strictly speaking might be of
almost exclusive interest to instrument makers. We drew the line
at issues which would only be of interest to instrumentalists.
Another standard consideration when planning a distribution list
is determining the means by which the material which it transmits
is to be kept "on topic".  The easiest solution is always to hope
that a list will be self-regulating. If there is any reason to
suspect that a list might gravitate away from its chartered
purpose the process of moderation is the alternative of choice.
If this option is to be exercised it must, however, be elected at
the outset. It is always possible to open a moderated list if it
seems that the moderator's task is unnecessary. It is virtually
impossible (and egregiously presumptive) to attempt to wrest
control of an open list from its membership.
Since it was necessary to maintain the list's footing within the
museum sector and we had reason to assume that the list would
attract a good deal of interest from people with no museum
connection, micat-l was chartered to be moderated. If anyone
would like to refresh their memory about this charter please send
a message to listserv@nrm.se containing the command:
Moderated lists are by no means a rare occurrence on the
Internet. Anyone who considers joining such a list has to decide
if he or she feels that the moderator is capable of exercising
the judgment necessary to maintain a worthwhile service. If that
faith is lacking, the proper course of action is obvious. It
makes little sense to join a moderated list on the assumption
that it is subject to massive censorship and then expect to be
able to demand that all contributions should be subject to review
by the entire list membership.
I can only speak for myself at this point but hope that the other
micat-l moderators will contribute their similar experiences:
I have never rejected a contribution on the grounds that it
advocates anything which I feel to be in any way at odds with
current mainstream museum, or any other, conservation practice.
I have referred something like a half-dozen contributions back to
their authors because I felt that they were too far off-topic, if
at all possible providing suggestions about what would be
necessary to render the contributions suitable for general
posting. All other contributions have been forwarded to the list
as soon as I could manage and I have always explained the reasons
for any inordinate delay.
There has only been one attempt at "flaming" the list (an ad
hominem attack on a contributor). I neither transmitted it to the
list nor commented upon my reasons for doing so to the author.
Most, if not all, irrelevant "spamming" has also been filtered
out without comment. Commands which are intended for the LISTSERV
but are addressed to me are ignored.
List members are provided with the ability to place contributions
which are longer than is appropriate for general e-mail
distribution on document repositories which are accessible via
the full compliment of the Internet's retrieval tools. This is by
no means a standard service in a distribution list context.
Walter Henry's marvelous Conservation OnLine provides indexed
access to all material produced by micat-l.
Only one contributor who I referred to the alternative platform
felt this to be an unacceptable solution.
So, friends, if you share my curiousity about the paucity of
material being distributed on our list, things would be easier for
all of us if you'd stop assuming that the explanation lies in any
massive exercise of the moderators' ability to control what you see.
Moderating a list is a major pain and I can assure you that we'd
be delighted to be quit the task. Once the general tenor of
discussion seems to be reasonably and stably in keeping with the
list's charter we'll open things up with the greatest pleasure.
We will, however, not be calling for a vote on the subject.
It might be argued that the lack of any particular need for active
moderation suggests that the requisite stability has already been
achieved. It has, however, been made amply manifest that the mere
presence of the moderators has inhibited the active participancy of
many list members. Much recent communication also indicates a
seething distrust of the motives and opinions of us museum folks
and we have, as yet, little reason to assume that micat-l would
stay on track if left entirely to its own devices.
I can't help but wonder if there would be any cause for concern
if the same energy that is currently being spent writing about
the list could be harnessed in writing for the list.

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