Learning to care for cultural collections takes a lot more than just going to class. In the span of two years, students are required to acquire specific academic and practical skills scattered throughout many disciplines. In one breath, a conservator at University of Melbourne may have to answer questions as varied as, “What is the specific deterioration mechanism of polyurethane?”, “How were bells forged in the UK in the late 1800s?” and, “How do I put the UV filter on the camera?”.

In addition, learning about conservation is challenging as the profession is not widely advertised, and much important practical information tends to happen behind closed doors, without extensive publication. At University of Melbourne, students have the added challenges of class sizes larger than traditional conservation programmes, and limited mobility due to Australia’s geographical distance from the rest of the world as well as between cities.

SCM was created to respond to these challenges. The association’s main task is to respond to these limitations by organising activities and, more recently, an online platform that fosters a sense of community among students, staff, the conservation profession and cultural professionals more broadly. SCM looks to be an example of what a small group of students with limited financial resources can do to contribute effectively to the cultural sector.

SCM in Person

Outside the virtual world, SCM routinely organises activities for the student body, such as field trips to conservation labs in the city, social get-togethers, volunteer opportunities for students to acquire practical experience, and involvement in the local conservation institute (Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material – AICCM). The association also ensures that students play an active role in academic pursuits within the university. In 2012, for example, a project fielded through SCM sent two conservation students to East Timor as part of a larger cross-disciplinary research project. On a smaller scale, the association organised a petition that prevented a digital archiving and duplication course from being cancelled.

For 2013, SCM plans to aid AICCM in preparation of the International Council of Museums Comittee for Conservation conference, a major international conference which will be held in Melbourne in 2014. SCM’s main priority is a strong student presence at every stage of the conference. The association also aims to continue the professional relationship with art students in East Timor, with a possibility of visiting the country.

SCM online

In the last year, SCM has concentrated its efforts to create an online presence through Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. The project started as a Facebook group for students to ask questions about the course, but has expanded in the last months to become a cluster of social media interactions. Though in Australia the main method of disseminating professional conservation information continues to be by email or directly through organisations’ websites, SCM uses social media to share the latest conservation news, promote local and international events, and provide helpful resources for classwork. Members need look no further than their Facebook feed for information about upcoming opportunities for conservation internships, conferences, and jobs.

SCM created a blog for members to chronicle their conservation experiences, and a Tumblr Stream for students to share the all the disparate, hard-to-come-by pieces of information that form their research, enriching each other’s education. Through posting, liking, commenting and reblogging, students have developed a strong sense of community online. Now, most questions or concerns about assignments, class times, etc, are fielded through the Facebook group, and any interesting article about iron gall inks, mural preservation in Peru, the behaviour of quartz under heat and temperature, etc, get shared on the Tumblr Stream.

Tumblr Stream in particular has recently developed a following larger than the organisers expected. Though geared toward conservation students, the Tumblblog has acquired a considerable number of followers from many disciplines and education levels across the cultural sector. It is possible that showcasing the conservation profession from a student point of view has created an accessible entry point for others into an underreported profession. SCM hopes to continue to grow its following base, and is happy to shed some light on what it takes to become the unnamed figure in a lab coat, working away behind the exhibition walls.

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