Valuing Preservation

Preservation has value to society over and above the value of the content that is preserved. It is important to articulate this value in order to argue compellingly for the creation of public policies and economic models that adequately support preservation of culturally significant content. This article explores the societal value of preservation, discussing why questions about societal value arise in the context of the explosive growth of digital information and why they are qualitatively different questions from the ones that arose when the world knew only analog communication technologies. It assesses various ways to think about the value that inheres in content, particularly the distinctive attributes of cultural content that have societal value. It identifies benefits that preservation as such brings to society, over and above the sum of the value of the content preserved. It also examines the range of public policy issues that arise in light of the social values identified, virtually none of which are currently protected by law or regulation. In light of these societal values, it argues that the preservation community needs to collaborate with other sectors crucially dependent on long-term access to significant content to develop strategies that: make it easier and cheaper to preserve content; provide incentives and rewards for individuals and organizations to preserve; and protect the public interest in privately held content.