Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is there a past tense to preserve?

I saw a tweet yesterday which got those rusty wheel in my brain spinning. It was from Kara Van Malssen @kvanmalssen who describes herself on Twitter as “Senior consultant for all things digital preservation & access @AVPreserve and Adjunct Professor for @NYUMIAP teaching digital preservation.” The intriguing tweet is below.

So it got me thinking, does the idea of a past tense for the word preserve legitimately exist? In a follow-up tweet she acknowledged that her context in writing this was the digital world, and I would broaden it out to the larger world of cultural heritage, but I’m not sure the question isn’t askable beyond those contexts of preservation.

Take as a comparison the act of painting a picture. During the activity or painting, a picture is being painted. Once the scene is done (with the cabin and the happy trees) the picture has been painted. The act of painting ceased because the goal was achieved and the picture is painted.

Does the act of preservation ever achieve its goal and therefore become a completed, past-tense activity, i.e. preserved? I have troubles imaging a context in which that could be the case. The only way it might make sense is with an unspoken qualifier of “preserved” (until we no longer need it, or resume preserving it).

I find it intriguing to think that we have all these preservation and conservation departments and professionals who work very hard at preserving things, but despite all that work, we have no preserved things.

(I acknowledge that this post is just a passing whim based on a tweet. I haven't spent a lot of time pondering it and it could very well fall apart under any critical review, but its been an interesting thought to have bounce around in my head for a little while.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughts, and I'm glad my tweet resonated with you. I do agree that this applies beyond digital, but is especially relevant to digital. Preservation of digital assets requires ongoing, and very active management. There is no starting and stopping point. So it's never done. Therefore, I don't think the past tense makes any sense. I suggest we find a replacement.

    One more word to add to my list: "archive" :)