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Conservation webs

Fiona Campbell
Head of Conservation Administration

The Conservation pages of the V&A website are a collaborative undertaking by members of the Conservation Department. Subjects covered include information about conservation treatments on objects from the V&A collection as well as the Department's involvement in research projects such as the conservation of the Mazarin Chest (412:1-1882) and at Houghton Hall, Norfolk. The equipment, techniques and procedures used by the Department are also covered to a degree, the purpose being to make the site a resource for fellow museum professionals as well as the public.

Figure 1. A page in the ‘list page’ style

Figure 1. A page in the ‘list page’ style (click image for larger version)

The current Conservation pages were some of the first to be designed for the new V&A website and have been live since late 2004. They are now in the process of an overhaul. Via the 'list page' webpage design, an array of possible subjects and destinations are displayed not only down the left hand side of the page (in the blue area) but also on the main section of the page (Figure 1). This provides a quick system of navigation, with the page divided by coloured bars into introductory paragraphs for each option; with links on the bars, at the end of the paragraph and also on accompanying thumbnail images. One of the advantages of this style of layout is that the number of 'clicks' from the top level pages is reduced. For example, the Mazarin Chest Project and Conservation Journal will now only be two 'clicks' away from the front page of the V&A website - even without their quick-links (which are in place on the front page).

Figure 2. A page with a ‘lightbox’ of photographs

Figure 2. A page with a ‘lightbox’ of photographs (click image for larger version)

The new layout gives more potential for photographs and videos to be published. 'Lightboxes', a display of thumbnail images that enlarge into a slideshow when clicked on (Figure 2), and videos are very popular with the public. There is also a redesign due for the Online Conservation Journal. With changes to the printed V&A Conservation Journal (now an annual publication) the online version will differ slightly in content. For instance, the biographies of new staff, students and interns will feature online only. The inclusion of more interactive and immediate content online, such as videos and more extensive cross-linking (links to other pages within the V&A website) will inevitably raise the question of archiving the content of the website. The V&A website is a dynamic publication; it is not archived or archive-able under current policy.

The V&A website Conservation pages feature the Mazarin Chest Project (Figure 3) in its 'research' section http://www.vam.ac.uk/res_cons/conservation/research/projects/index.html. This is a collaborative undertaking involving conservators, curators and scientists from the UK, Japan and Poland working on the conservation of the seventeenth-century chest, an exquisitely decorated piece of Japanese export lacquer. The pages take the visitor step-by-step through the organisation of the project itself, an example of cross-cultural cooperative success, as well as the process of the conservation of the chest and the related research. The content was written by members of the Project Team from their research so far. The pages include bibliographies and extensive links. They also include a substantial number of images, lightboxes and microscopy photographs of the object. These pages are regularly revised to include the latest progress of the research. Rupert Faulkner, Senior Curator, Asian Department, is writing additional text and the pages are being updated by Louise Egan, Conservation Administrator.

Figure 3. The Mazarin Chest Project page

Figure 3. The Mazarin Chest Project page (click image for larger version)

Louise was also recently responsible for the microsite for the conference Plastics: Looking at the Future & Learning from the Past held at the V&A, 23-25 May 2007  and with her colleague in Conservation Administration, Angela Knight, has uploaded most of the content for issues 54, 55 and 56 of the Online Conservation Journal. Conservation Administration also has a primary role in the V&A Intranet Project which is due for completion in March 2008. The V&A Intranet is being brought more in line with the website, from both management and content perspectives. One aspect of the web content that may be reflected and built on in the V&A Intranet is the use of photographs in the staff directory. The ongoing maintenance of the 'Conservation Staff' pages will allow for more cross-linking to and from web biographies and publications lists. 

Figure 4. The Conservation ‘Links’ page in development

Figure 4. The Conservation ‘Links’ page in development (click image for larger version)

The enquiry email address conweb@vam.ac.uk has already been posted on the Conservation pages with some success and will be listed on a new 'Links' page for the Department along with five of the most commonly used links (Figure 4). The Museum's original intent was to have a museum-wide links register, however, the Conservation pages were always designed with potential for a 'Conservation links page' in mind. Along with the publication of 'Caring for your object' as online 'frequently asked questions' on how to look after your objects; a 'Bugs' section; a video showing the reconstruction of a monument in a gallery; and lightboxes based on the before and after treatment photographs of objects; the Links page is now part of the scheduled development of the Conservation pages of the V&A website over the next year.