The Young Preservationists & the Not-Young Preservationists?

The frequency of the term “young preservationists” has increased over the past few years. On one hand, it’s great. It means more people are getting involved in preservation at a younger age and making a difference. Typically “young preservationist” refers to (a) kids in grade school, or (b) college students, or (c) those who have recently graduated college and are working in the preservation field.

There are groups across the country who call themselves the “young preservationists.” Most major cities have such a group. Even Burlington, VT has one, which was recently started by current UVM graduate students. Who can join a “young preservationist” group? It depends. Some say under 40, some say “young at heart.” So what happens when you’re over 40? You get kicked out? You cannot be a part of that group anymore?

“Young preservationist” means that more experienced professionals are giving the newbies credit. The National Trust is giving more attention to college students (and younger) than ever before. As a student attending NTHP conferences in 2004 & 2005, I always felt as though the conference didn’t make enough of an effort to be inclusive of students. That has changed, thankfully. So this attention to “young preservationists” is a good thing.

On the other hand…does there have to be such a divide? Are we really groups of “young preservationists” and by default, “not-young preservationists”? Is yet another label and division necessary? (Before we go any further, let me clarify, that this is not a getting older crisis I’m having, nor fear of getting older. I’ll still fit in the “young” category for a long while.)

Reasons for a distinction, that I’ve heard, are usually along the lines of proving that preservationists are not blue-haired ladies in tennis shoes anymore trying to save another building. Preservation is so much more! And, I agree. Preservation IS so much more. But it’s the entire field that’s changing. And it’s not because of someone’s age. People from all ages can attend college, graduate school, join an advocacy group or take on a new preservation job. Perhaps there is some confusion. Does “young preservationist” mean young in age,  young at heart, or young by professional years?

Is there an alternative to “young” branding? Do we need to bring age into this at all? Why do we keep bringing up the blue haired ladies in tennis shoes? Can we just move on? Or do we preservationists actually have to keep fighting it? Perhaps it depends on where you live and work.

I’d love a discussion about this. No matter what your age, how do you feel about “young preservationists” and then the not-young preservationists?