With the support of an International Specialized Skills Institute (ISSI) GAF Fellowship, Bronwen was able to attend the Conservation of Books and Library Materials Graduate Diploma Program at West Dean College in the United Kingdom. The fellowship specifically assisted Bronwen in completing the first year of this two-year program, from September 2015 to July 2016, which led to Bronwen successfully undertaking her second year of study and earning a Masters Degree in Book Conservation.
Before commencing her fellowship, Bronwen aimed to study high level book conservation treatments and techniques for materials analysis, while gaining insight into current theories on ethical best practice in book conservation. She also hoped to establish an international network of fellow conservation professionals whom she could call upon once she returned to Australia. Bronwen achieved all her objectives and more, as she undertook site visits and professional gatherings outside of her studies, and pursued an internship at the Notarial Archives in Malta.
In the following interview, Bronwen shared some of her experiences of the fellowship, and the ways in which it allowed her to advance her expertise in book conservation.
How did you feel when you were awarded a George Alexander Foundation fellowship?
I was very excited to receive the George Alexander Foundation fellowship prior to undertaking my studies in book conservation at West Dean College in the United Kingdom. The fact that I was awarded the fellowship showed me that others were excited and interested in what I was undertaking and made me even more certain that this would be a worthwhile endeavor. The support of industry professionals and people who are leaders in their field meant a lot.
What has it meant to you? What has it made possible?
Receiving the fellowship allowed me to undertake my first year of study in the Conservation of Books and Library Materials program at West Dean College in the United Kingdom. This has lead to my undertaking the second year of the program which will lead to my earning an MA in Conservation Studies, specifically related to book conservation. This is a field that I have been passionate about and involved in for about ten years and this qualification will help me to further my own career in Australia, and also allow me to bring back cutting edge skills and knowledge to share with my peers in the field.
Where did the fellowship enable you to travel? Who did it enable you to visit and learn from?
Through this fellowship I have been able to travel to the United Kingdom to study in this program, which is not available in Australia. As part of the program, students travel to various institutions and exhibitions around the UK to view book conservation in action. We have visited many institutions in London including the National Archives, Lambeth Palace, The British Library and others. We have also visited the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and this year will be going on a week long study tour to the Netherlands. Recently I completed six weeks of work experience at the Notarial Archives in Malta. This gave me experience working with a unique and valuable collection of documents in a setting quite different to what I am used to in Australia. Due to the climate and limited resources, conservators there use some different materials than I am used to, but there are also many similarities in their working practices. This experience broadened my knowledge base and I learned new techniques and skills that I will bring back to share with fellow students and colleagues.
What skills have you developed as a result of this Fellowship/what did you learn?
Although my learning experience is still ongoing, the first year of my studies in the UK has vastly expanded my knowledge of book conservation. The opportunity to focus solely on practice and research has allowed me to finely hone my skills and to refine my techniques both in bench work and research which will allow me a wider and more varied approach to treatment of cultural collections in Australia.
How have you shared your learnings with others?
This fellowship has allowed me to share knowledge in two directions. As I came to the UK with some experience in conservation, I have been able to share some knowledge with my fellow students here and discuss treatment options with them. It is a widely international school and I have also been able to learn from students with experience in conservation from different countries. I will also be able to share knowledge with fellow colleagues in the field when I return to Australia.
What is your end goal from having undertaken this fellowship?
Upon completion of this program I will return to my position in Collection Care at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney where I will apply my new found knowledge and skills in the conservation of that treasured collection.
For more information on Bronwen's fellowship, you can read her full report.