The increasingly common use of “archive” as a verb

This issue comes up pretty regularly, and it’s on fire this morning on Twitter as a result of this post on ReadWriteWeb (which certainly has other issues too). As I said on Twitter, I hate the use of “archive” as a verb. It makes my flesh crawl. It has been my experience that people who talk about “archiving” frequently have no idea what constitutes actual preservation in an archives. I have seen it used often by IT people referring to creating a backup copy of digital information. I question whether this usage is ever uttered or written by someone who actually has training as an archivist.

I think there are two important points to consider in this discussion. First, the ship has sailed. People are using “archive” as a verb, and that’s all there is to it. They use it as a synonym for “keep” or “preserve.” Maybe they understand what it means to keep or preserve something in an archives, maybe they don’t. Most archivists hate this, and will never use “archive” as a verb, but the world doesn’t care about what archivists like. I imagine there are/were similar conversations among museum people about the word “curate” new being fashionable to describe a cornucopia of selection activities.

Second, and much more importantly, the common use of the word can be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to question and if necessary educate. What do you mean when you say you are going to “archive” something? It’s an opportunity to talk about what’s really involved with preservation. And, as the wise Tom Scheinfeldt pointed out on Twitter: “I wouldn’t trust that people who use ‘preserve’ know any better than people who use ‘archive.'”

Isn’t this just coming back to one of our long-standing issues–that archivists need to do a better job making people aware of the work we are trained to do?

What do you think? Is this a nitpicky archivist thing and we should just “get over it” and/or is this symptomatic of a larger trend? If “citizen archivists” and IT people can “archive” things, then what is the role of the professional archivist? Do you agree that this is “teachable moment,” or is the ship that has sailed named the Titanic, and there’s no hope for education?

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