Helen K. Bailey

Master of Science in Information Studies
Certificate of Advanced Study in Library and Archives Conservation
University of Texas at Austin, School of Information

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2010 ALA-ALCTS Preservation Week Speech Competition

This speech was selected as one of the winning entries for ALA's 2010 preservation awareness speech competition. The contest required entrants to create a two-minute speech pursuading listeners to support preservation and take preservation action.

Three target audiences were selected for the speeches, and contestants could enter with any of the three audience categories. My speech was chosen as the winning entry for the category targeting the general public as the speech audience.

A revised version of this speech, edited by the competition review panel, was published on the Preservation Week website.

Preservation: It's Your History Too

Preservation is not just an act performed by politicians, making decisions about where our tax dollars go. Preservation is not just a craft handled by stone-masons and bookbinders. It is not just a science or an art. It is not just about politics and money. Preservation is the backbone of our culture, the essence of our humanity.

It is a daily activity performed by millions of people across the world. Every time you print a photograph of a special memory and hang it on your wall, that is preservation. When you film your daughter’s first ballet recital, buy a t-shirt commemorating your first visit to the Grand Canyon, or make an album out of your wedding photos, you are preserving your own history. This is not an abstract principle, something removed from our day-to-day lives. Preservation is a part of nearly everything we do, from cooking with old family recipes to performing scientific research based on previously developed theories. The question is not why should we care about preservation, the question is how could we not?

But preservation is a discouraging pursuit. No matter how much effort, how much money we pour into preservation activities, we cannot preserve everything. Photographs fade, pages turn brittle, buildings collapse, and hard drives crash. The effects are devastating, no matter how large or small the scope. Whether it’s the crumbling of your family Bible due to unsafe storage, or the loss of a Revolutionary war hero’s journal in an uncontrolled fire, a lack of preservation awareness and action can have a heartbreaking and far-reaching impact.

This is why our preservation experts are so important to our personal heritage and our society’s culture. We can’t preserve it all, no matter how hard we try. But we can support the efforts of those who are valiantly saving our cultural heritage from ruin. We can encourage educators to train more people in the art and science of preservation. We can demand that our politicians make preservation a national priority by creating jobs for preservation professionals within libraries and museums, our culture’s historical repositories. We can request that our country’s preservation professionals teach us more about what they do, and show us how to preserve our personal histories.

We, as citizens of this country, have the power to ensure that our history is not lost. All it takes is a phone call, an email, a letter to your government representatives. All it takes is a chat with your local library or museum about how you can help support their preservation efforts. All it takes is a workshop with a local conservator to show your friends and neighbors how to keep their family memorabilia safe.

All it takes, in short, is awareness of the fact that preservation is a necessary and valuable facet of our lives. As Winston Churchill said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” We must work together to promote the importance of preservation, to ensure that our children’s children have a long and unimpeded line of sight from the past into the future.

© 2008, Helen Kuncicky Bailey. Creative Commons License Updated April 25 , 2010.