Book Conservators


Education and Training Requirements

High School

You should plan on taking a college preparatory course load while in high school. Classes such as history, literature, art, foreign languages, chemistry, and mathematics will all help you build a strong background for book conservation. By studying history, you can learn the social and historical contexts of books and knowledge. Understanding the history of an item can give you a better perspective on approaching the material as a conservator. Strong knowledge of literature can help you appraise the potential value of a book. A comprehension of foreign languages allows you to deal with a wider variety of books from around the globe. Chemistry and math will begin to teach you about the composition and measurement of the materials you will be using. Art will teach you how to use your hands to create beautiful works that last.

Postsecondary Training

In the past, book conservators gained their training by participating in an apprenticeship or internship. Today, graduate programs in book conservation have become the primary method of training to enter this field, although some students still enter this field after earning a bachelor's degree and completing an apprenticeship or internship to round out their training. A bachelor's degree in art, art history, or one of the fine arts may help you gain entry into a book conservation apprenticeship or internship program. Your school may offer courses, or even an undergraduate degree, in the book or paper arts, which often include classes in preservation and conservation. You will also need to take courses that help you learn how to select items for conservation, how to purchase and best utilize your conservation materials, and how to prepare documentation on your conservation methods and treatments.

Upon earning a bachelor's degree, you should attend a graduate school that offers training in book conservation. These programs are commonly offered by the art conservation departments of academic institutions. Some students may wish to attend library school to earn a master's degree in library science with a concentration in book and document conservation. Again, advanced degrees may not be necessary for some positions, but they can always help you gain more prominent positions—particularly in administration—and perhaps command a higher salary. Additionally, any special skills you gain through advanced education will make you more attractive to potential employers and private clients.

Other Education or Training

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works offers courses, seminars, and study tours that are scheduled throughout the country and online for conservators. Recent sessions included "The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings," "The Use of Gels for Stain Reduction in Paper Based Objects," and "The Conservation of Japanese Hanging Scrolls." Contact the institute for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Some book conservators gain certification from their library school or from professional organizations such as the Academy of Certified Archivists. The certification process generally requires a mix of formal study of theory and practice, as well as a certain amount of actual experience in the field. Certification is not officially required by any federal, state, or local agencies, but some employers may request, or require, a certified book conservationist for particular positions or projects. Also, certifying organizations compile a list of all their certified conservators. If someone contacts an organization looking for a conservator, the agency will refer the client to member book conservators in the area.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring book conservators should try to obtain experience by participating in an internship, apprenticeship, or assistantship in book conservation or a related field.

Book conservators need to be able to think creatively. Conservation projects require the conservator to visualize the end product before beginning work. Conservators should enjoy problem solving and be able to decide the best way to conserve the materials. Having a knack for hands-on work is key as well, since book conservators spend a majority of their time inspecting materials and making repairs by hand.

Since book conservators routinely work with musty, moldy, and mildewed books, they should not be overly sensitive to odors. They also deal with sharp instruments, such as awls, knives, and paper cutters, so for safety reasons they should have a certain amount of facility with their hands. Book conservators also work with adhesives and chemicals, so they must take care not to spill materials.

Although much of their day is spent working with books, many conservators deal with the public as well. Book conservators, therefore, should be able to communicate well, and with a certain measure of tact, with many types of people. They should be able to explain conservation options to clients and to best determine what procedures will meet the needs of the material and the owner.