16.01.2013 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO releases Vancouver Declaration on Digitization and Preservation

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The introduction and implementation of measures for greater protection of digital assets is the focus of the UNESCO/UBC Vancouver Declaration, The Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation. Adopted by the participants of the international conference held last September in Vancouver (Canada), the Declaration has now been released in its final format in English and French.

In cooperation with the University of British Columbia and with the financial support of several public and private sponsors, UNESCO organized an international conference The Memory of the World in the Digital age: Digitization and Preservation to explore the key issues affecting the preservation and long-term accessibility of digital documentary heritage.

The major sponsors and partners include Google, Microsoft, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, the Internet Society, the Canadian National Commission for UNESCO and the Government of Quebec, as well as a number of Canadian institutions and universities. This reflects the concerns of a range of bodies over the future of digital information.

While the opportunities presented by digital technology enhance the capability to create and share ideas, information, and knowledge, and thereby contribute to education, science, and culture in support of national and sustainable development, the challenge of ensuring its continuity has to be addressed so that policies for long-term authentic preservation can be implemented. Governments and institutions often attempt to digitize and produce information in digital form for wider dissemination without understanding the challenges of preserving the integrity and authenticity of the information they have created. Many digital records have already become inaccessible, and the situation will deteriorate as the volume of records in digital format increases.

The major findings of the Conference were that a better understanding of the digital environment was essential so that digital preservation models can be established that respect fundamental legal principles enshrined in institutional regulatory frameworks, and balance concerns about access with privacy; acquisition of knowledge with economic rights; and respect ownership of heritage in digital format.

Unless digital preservation becomes a development priority with investments in infrastructure made to ensure long-term accessibility and usability, the risk of digital records not surviving for an appreciable length of time will increase.

Information professionals must acquire the skills that enable them to implement digitization and preservation practices that respond to the needs of governments and the community they serve.

More than 500 participants who included heritage professionals, representatives from academia, government and the information field, legal specialists and others debated strategies that can contribute to the introduction or implementation of measures for greater protection of digital assets.

After a thorough exploration of issues, participants adopted the UNESCO/UBC Vancouver Declaration. Its recommendations to UNESCO, its Member States, professional stewardship associations and the private sector include the preparation of a roadmap proposing solutions, agreements and policies for implementation by all stakeholders.

Among its recommendations are:

  • a cohesive, conceptual and practical digital strategy to address the management and preservation of recorded information in all its forms in the digital environment;
  • digital preservation frameworks and practices for management and preservation;
  • an international legal framework of copyright exceptions and limitations to ensure preservation of and access to cultural heritage in digital format;
  • closer collaboration among international professional associations and other international bodies to develop academic curricula for digitization and digital preservation, and implement training programmes for management and preservation of digital information;
  • multi-stakeholder forum for the discussion of standardization in digitization and digital preservation practices, including the establishment of digital format registries;
  • strategies for open government and open data that address the need to create and maintain trust and reliance in digital government records;
  • cooperation with the private sector for the development of products that facilitate the  long term retention and preservation of information recorded in a digital format.
  • Through this conference, UNESCO has shown its leadership in the area of long-term preservation. The challenge will now be to follow up and ensure continued political and intellectual leadership in this field.



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