When the use of the internet for communication is exploding exponentially, I’m shocked that the economics of California and Stanford University has brought an end to the Conservation Online DistList and Archives (CoOL). The critical component of this system is Walter Henry, the person who conceived and implemented CoOL. His vision insured that we had more than a chat room or social network. He insured that all thread discussions were properly archived – a feat for any electronic media! He also saw to it that a plethora of information was available to everyone. In the new electronic arena there may be ways to communicate electronically that have more bells and whistles or appeal to a younger generation, but one key to CoOL’s success was the ease with which you could share information or ask a question. CoOL was cross-generational. If you had e-mail you could participate. Moreover, it was a moderated listserv. Because Henry devoted half his work week (and often more) the users could be assured that the participants were knowledgeable and thoughtful.
CoOL has been part of my professional experience from my first job as a conservation scientist. During my early days of participating with the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), CoOL offered me a way to communicate with conservators and scientists around the globe. It was the first place I turned to for learning about conferences, job opportunities, training, and more. It was a place where U.S. conservators could educate themselves about the issues associated with certification and vent their opinions. CoOL was the first place I would post intern opportunities or new workshop announcements for National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). Only last week I turned to CoOL’s archived resources in preparation for NCPTT’s course on basics of ornamental iron conservation.
The void that CoOL leaves came quickly and will be hard to fill. I understand these are harsh economic times for all organizations, including Stanford University. They must at their resources and function, making adjustments as necessary. These changes may be justified, but they still cause pain. The international conservation community came to rely on this free electronic resource without the understanding that it was based on a fragile partnership. It is only a shame that Stanford University decision makers did not value the partnership with conservation professionals more.
NCPTT recently funded an AIC conservation wiki through a preservation technology and training grant which should be completed by the end of September. The wiki will disseminate information from the AIC preservation catalogs, a compendium of working knowledge on materials and techniques used to preserve and treat works of art and historic artifacts. This wiki will allow easy and timely collaborative editing and also provide much broader access to these resources, ensuring that innovative methods and materials are documented and widely disseminated to practicing conservators and conservation scientists. But the wiki does not replace the day to day conversations created and supported by CoOL.
CoOL was in many ways the conservation clearinghouse of information. Now it is gone. The question becomes whether an organization like the AIC or NCPTT, or others can step up to the plate to fill this void.