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Editorial - A New Look For The Conservation Journal

Victoria Button
Production & Managing Editor

The phrase 'evolution rather than revolution' has been heard frequently within the V&A over the last months with regards to changes in the structure of the Museum management and staff alignment.  Such terminology implies a slow transition, a less than radical change in procedures. What it actually means is potentially radical change but over a longer period of time. 'Evolution' seems a more apt term applied to the likes of the changes in the Journal, from its beginnings in the 1970s as the Conservation Newsletter to the Bulletin some years later and finally the Journal as we have known it since 1991. This editorial will describe the changes for this and future issues, not exactly revolutionary, but a change from what has gone before.

In Jonathan Ashley-Smith's first editorial in October 1991, he outlined the origins of the Journal from its beginnings as an in-house Conservation Newsletter and subsequent Bulletin to what it is now - a departmental journal that continues to meet its main aims: communicating to an internal and external audience what is going on within the V&A Conservation sections and their collaboration with Collections within the Museum. The growing national and international distribution broadens the circle by informing other members of the profession of our activities. The purpose of the Journal has not changed - the layout remains basically the same, but there are some stylistic changes.

It was timely to introduce the changes with this, our Spring issue, since 2000 not only marks the beginning of a new year, but a new century. We have agreed a 'seasonal' approach in that we will be producing three issues: Spring, Summer and Autumn. These proposed three issues will fit neatly within both the Department's and the RCA/VA Conservation calendar, in terms of work demands on the staff who produce and contribute to the Journal and the students' time-table. Three per year takes some strain off authors meeting deadlines and gives the editorial board more time for commissioning and chasing articles and for all the hard work they put in amongst their other commitments. It is also seen as an acknowledgement of the increasing pressure on every department's budget and our attempt to be seen to be taking notice by cutting production costs as our readership increases.

Such monetary issues brings me on to the other change that readers would have immediately noticed: the arrival of a nominal price tag on the front cover. Whilst we are still mailing the Journal to those who wish to receive it, for free, it is a reiteration from previous editorials that it may not be free forever; that we may not be able to sustain the Journal through dwindling budgets and progressing digital formats.  It is also because we are hoping to be able to sell it through selected outlets sometime in the future.  These two factors - reduction in issues per year and the threat of a charge - may be seen by some as  backward steps but we have been at pains to point out that it is not. We are hoping to incorporate some longer articles by occasionally increasing the total page numbers in particular issues.

Our aim is to produce to higher standards: less can indeed be more. An example of this is that the Department is at present in negotiations regarding launching the Journal on the internet which will give greater access, and flexibility in terms of access, to the information so far within the thirty four editions of the Journal. The most obvious change has been to the cover itself which has long been a  monochrome format, albeit with a different colour each issue. We have taken this opportunity in this themed Journal on the 'contemporary' to update the design. Elements from the contents rather than a list of contents themselves, now adorn the front cover as well as the contents page and staff chart. The changes to the interior, although more subtle, also speak for themselves. This will be the last appearance of the Science Surgery for a while owing to commitments to major projects. The main body of text and lay-out remains basically the same with the odd tweak here and there  to graphics.

I cannot write about the changes without writing about the people who have been and continue to be involved with the Journal's production. The Journal is proof of the talent within the department. The redesign, instigated by the Editorial Board, was carried through by Danny Norman of Conservation Mounting with the collaboration of Keith Hartnell of the V&A Print Unit.  Keith Hartnell is responsible for typesetting, layout and liaison with the external printers, which often means adapting formats as we go along to fit everything in. 

Many members of staff have been involved with the Journal over the years whether on the editorial board or through contributions. Without contributions from staff and students we would not have a Journal. Very few of us are natural born writers, but we all have something to write about at some stage of our professional careers and the Journal has proved to be a good vehicle for publishing first-time authors. It has been increasingly important that the Journal contain contributions from other V&A departments to reflect the links made with Collections and stress the importance of good communication as well as understanding the roles of other colleagues.

Reading through the past thirty three editorials, in the main written by our Head of Conservation, with the odd guest appearance in times of absence, it became apparent that the Journal editorials represent an interesting overview on the state not only of the Conservation Department but the Museum in general, often reflecting through internal policies the workings of external forces such as those set up by governments. The editorials also form a catalogue of the Conservation Department's history both within the Museum and as part of a wider profession. The Journal has proved to be a suitable recorder for the changes in conservation within an institution, but making the connection with the outside world by discussing many relevant themes from the world of conservation. Change can be threatening and intimidating but it can also be inspiring and beneficial.