Use is preservation

Last Friday, Neel Smith gave a presentation about 'Digital infrastructure and the Homer Multitext' at the Digital Classicist seminar in London. Among other things, he told us about his experience digitising material at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. This lead to a couple of more general comments on digitisation. In this context, Neel quoted a librarian who told him:

Use is preservation.

What might sound paradoxical at first glance, especially coming from a librarian or archivist, actually makes a lot of sense. If we look at the tradition of documents from a historical perspective, materials that have been in heavy use, were copied and talked about, had a better chance of surviving the centuries. Neel used this example to stress that digitisation is actually about preserving if not the object itself, then at least the content and, if well done, also a graphical representation of it.
While we should not forget that ink and paper had an amazing success in preserving ideas over centuries, a wide digital distribution might be able to achieve the same: as long as there is someone out there with an interest in and access to a digital copy, there is a chance that an effort will be made to keep it accessible.

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