21.06.2016 - Communication and Information Sector

The world’s documentary heritage

An invaluable asset and a responsibility for all

Faced with the growing danger of loss of valuable archival and library collections and material, that determine the world’s legacy of knowledge, identity and history of humankind, UNESCO’s Member States have unanimously adopted at the 38th session of the General Conference, in November 2015, a first-ever standard-setting instrument on the protection of the world’s documentary heritage - the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form.

This new normative instrument, available in the 6 official languages, marks a milestone in UNESCO’s work towards promoting the wealth of human knowledge and expression as a shared resource. Its overall aim is to raise the awareness of governments about the importance and urgency of safeguarding and making more accessible this common good as well as helping the relevant authorities of its Member States to implement most of the recommendations contained therein.

Nebra Sky Disc. Recto. © State Museum of Prehistory Halle

For instance, Member States are invited to take into account that the existence of possibly legitimate access restrictions on any part of the documentary heritage should not inhibit or limit the ability of memory institutions to take preservation action. They are further invited to encourage memory institutions to link with the appropriate professional associations to both enhance and share their technical knowledge, and contribute to the ongoing development of international standards. Furthermore, Member States are invited to enhance the visibility and accessibility of their documentary heritage through the outreach activities and publications of the Memory of the World Programme as appropriate. The document also stipulates that Member States are urged to consider their documentary heritage as an invaluable asset and to apply this perspective in national legislation, development policies and agendas.

The adopted Recommendation represents a considerable step towards guaranteeing preservation of, and wider accessibility to, documentary heritage. It also emphasizes the utmost importance of the preservation of the world’s documentary heritage as a fundamental expression of the richness and the diversity of peoples and cultures, and underlines the importance of sharing this heritage for promoting peace and greater understanding and dialogue among nations.

Kanjur written with 9 precious stones. © National Library of Mongolia

With this Recommendation, UNESCO aims to place documentary heritage higher in the priorities of national and international agendas and to help strengthening policy cooperation and measures available at different levels, as well as to encourage development of projects to support new models of documentary heritage management. Documentary heritage is a cornerstone of all democratic societies and is as such is an essential resource for supporting economic, social and cultural domains, as well as for fostering innovation.  In this context, the Recommendation is expected to enact innovative programmes and schemes which would positively impact on the access to documentary heritage in Member States.

UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 to guard against collective amnesia calling upon the preservation of the valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world ensuring their wide dissemination. The Programme is intended to protect documentary heritage, and helps networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for preservation of, and access to, documentary material.

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