The distinction between the terms "preservation" and "conservation" is somewhat unclear, as the use of these terms (along with "restoration") has varied over time, depending in part on the context of their use.
Since the 1980s, the library and archival communities have used "preservation" as an umbrella term for activities that reduce or prevent damage to extend the life expectancy of collections, while "conservation" refers more specifically to the physical treatment of individual damaged items. The term "restoration" is used mostly in the context of museum objects or motion picture films. It generally refers to the process of returning an object to its original state, or what is thought to have been its original state.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) Definitions of Conservation defines these three terms as follows:
In the widest sense, preservation encompasses
Preservation involves keeping a balance between collection-level activities such as environmental control, which can be difficult and/or costly to manage but provide the greatest long-term benefit for the most materials, and item-level activities such as conservation treatment, which are often more easily understood and managed but can have limited effect, especially if the items are returned to a damaging environment.