In my capacity as President of the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO, it is my privilege to express the first words of welcome to all participants at this 1st International Memory of the World Conference.
It is a UNESCO conference, firmly grounded in UNESCO's 50 years of work to make humanity realise the value of our cultural heritage, and our joint responsibility to preserve it - and to share the excitement of discovering, and rediscovering our long and interdependent histories.
Norway has been an active memberstate of UNESCO throughout these 50 years, and a UNESCO conference in Norway is a manifestation of our continued commitment to UNESCO's ideals, and to the practical as well as creative work required to bridge these ideals to the realities of life on our planet.
UNESCO's concerns transcend all borders. It is a memberstate organisation, but it is also a major forum for the world's professionals, intellectuals, artists and citizens active in its fields of competence. We - people like all of us here, are the real UNESCO, our conferences, networks, programmes and projects make UNESCO a reality; the Memory of the World Programme is a case in point.
Memory of the World is a timely programme in more than one sense. Awareness of - and access to the memory of the world can help counteract the arrogance of our time, the sense that all happens now, that the world is new, that action as well as experience are better when instant. Memory of the World stands up for different time perspectives, in the act of creation as well as in activities to preserve.
On the other hand, Memory of the World with its dual emphasis on preservation and access, corresponds to present day debates on sustainable development - or conservation of the planet with access to development - for this generation, and generations to come.
Last week I visited the rock-carvings in Alta, they are on UNESCO's World Heritage List; they are said to be 6000-4000 years old, and document the life, hunting, herding and fishing of these peoples of our past. One cannot help thinking that their messages have remained and reach us now because they were - indeed - carved in stone. Will our vastly improved information technologies convey, as clearly, our messages - say 6000 years from now?
Memory of the World is opening - not only this conference, but a new world of opportunities for preservation and access. But our basic concern is timeless, universal - and human: to communicate.
I wish you three good working days, in the
service of the Memory of the World.
As human beings, one of our most characteristic features is our ability to develop and use a language. With our language as a tool, we can communicate with other human beings. We can also collect contemporary and past knowledge and bring this with us into the future. Based on language, and in particular on the written language, we have been able to increase the amount of human knowledge and wisdom through the centuries and millenias.
Through the ages the types of information-carriers used have changed. From clay tablets in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, to bones and turtle shells in China, through pottery, various types of metal, papyrus, parchment and paper, until we today at the end of the century and at the beginning of a new millenium, have developed a new communications device. More powerful than the world has ever seen is the computer and the electronic networks. Although the forms of the information carriers have changed considerably, the basic process of bringing information from one generation to the next, still remains.
Western civilisation has for the last 500 years been dominated by Johan Gutenberg's invention of the movable types and the enormous increase of print on paper as a consequence of this. But, as this conference will show us, man has been collecting knowledge long before the print on paper era, and at the end of the 20th century, we have developed a wide variety of new media, like films, videograms, sound recordings, radio and television broadcasting. And the most powerful instrument of all - the computer, and the possibility of digital storage and dissemination of information through a global net, also named 'the information super highway'.
Together, these collections of human knowledge and expressions represent the collective memory of the peoples of the world. They are of vital importance in order to preserve cultural identities and build bridges between the past and the present as well as in shaping the future. The documentary heritage, as we find it in libraries, archives and museums all over the world, is a major part of this collective memory, and it reflects the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures. But, as this conference will clearly show, these memories are very fragile. The reasons are many and varied. A substantial portion of the world's documentary heritage is constantly under attack from enemies such as acid paper that slowly burns itself to destruction, and attacks from light, heat, humidity or pollution on leather bindings, parchment, film and magnetic tape.
But what is worse, is that aggression and wars to an increasing degree are based on cultural conflicts. Thus destruction of cultural heritage becomes a terrible weapon which is used without considering that he who destroys the cultural manifestations of a people in fact reduces the common cultural heritage of mankind.
It is deeply depressing to consider the fact that behind the destructions we find human minds and human beings. How many treasures known and unknown, have vanished in Alexandria, Bucharest, Iraq and, of late in Sarajevo? Whole sections of the memory of the world have been effaced. But, ironically, the fires of war preserved the clay tablets from the temple library in Assyria so that the scriptures on clay have survived through 5000 years until today. The words of Akiba ben Joseph come to my mind, his last words at the stake when the Torah was being burned: 'The paper burns, but the words fly away.' We may safely say that war, intolerance and the suppression of the free word have by far caused the most serious damages to the memory of mankind. But nature has also taken its toll - through floods in Venice and Florence, earthquakes in California and South-East Asia, the catastrophe that covered Pompei in ashes, as well as temperature, climate, bugs and worms in tropical areas. And last, but not least, the human beings themselves, not paying enough attention and not taking enough care when using valuable and unique collections, and in doing so, destroying the originals for later preservation and use.
This was the challenge that made UNESCO launch the 'Memory of the World' Programme in 1992 which has four specific objectives:
The UNESCO programme is primarily concerned with documentary heritage of worldwide significance, but the guidelines for the programme and the framework for the practical and technical development are also well suited for the encouragement of this kind of work on the national and regional levels.
Norwegian authorities are highly concerned about safeguarding collections in museums, archives and libraries. Our endeavours in this respect must be coordinated with a view to achieving the best basis for collecting, organising, preserving and ensuring access to this particular knowledge for coming generations. Our approach in this connection must be user friendly as well as economically viable.
To Norway with its strongly decentralised cultural infrastructure the information technology is a blessing indeed. Ultimately our national cultural institutions will be institutions for the whole nation.
Archives, libraries, and museums look after bodies of material which both overlap and complement each other. In developing new information technology, it will be important to strengthen the cooperation between these institutions. Jointly they represent the collective memory of the nation.
In light of this, there are grounds for questioning the tendency to specialise, with institutions appearing which cover ever narrowing themes. We need institutions that regard it as their duty to point out inter-relationships in time and space, that can show that change and continuity are built into all forms of cultural development. Libraries should play an important role here, and be able to renew and develop the positive aspects of the encyclopaedic tradition.
In his latest book 'The good society - the humane agenda', the well known economist and author, John Kenneth Galbraith, presents what he calls a 'blueprint for a society that is compassionate to the less fortunate and economically feasible for all'. Here he strongly underlines that 'No single country can act effectively and alone. The good society must be committed to international coordination, for it is not only the best, but the only answer.' And here, at this conference, we are talking about problems where the memory of mankind is at stake.
What could be more appropriate for coordinated, international action than the preservation and access of this memory? This memory carries in it the elements of culture and education so important for the enlargement and the enjoyment of life. These are the forces that open the window for the individual to enjoy the pleasures of language, literature, art and music as well as the diversities and idiosyncrasies of the world scene. UNESCO'S 'Memory of the World' programme has been created to fight and remedy the attacks from all the destructive elements that could lead to a collective amnesia.
The efforts of UNESCO are being assisted worldwide by thousands of specialists in the fields of libraries, archives and museums, organised in NGOs (non-governmental organisations) like IFLA, ICA and ICOM. The new digital world is bringing these fields closer together in the tremendous task as is the 'Memory of the World' programme.
'My task, which I am trying to achieve, is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel, it is, before all, to make you see.' Thus wrote Joseph Conrad a hundred years ago, and in the same spirit, authors, scientists and others have been writing though the centuries to contribute to human knowledge and understanding. All this we find in the collections that we are now joining in a world effort to preserve and also to make more accessible. This is also what UNESCO is trying to do in launching its ambitious 'Memory of the World' programme.
On behalf of the Norwegian government I would like to say how pleased I am to see so many representatives from the developing countries here in Oslo. You represent nations with strong ancient cultures, but in your daily work you often face a serious lack of practical and financial means that make our challenges seem like luxury problems. Cultural diversity plays a decisive role in a sustainable global development. We are all responsible for the preservation of our own culture, not because it is more valuable than that of others, but because it is our own. Acknowledging this, the industrialised countries should take on the responsibility of contributing by economic as well as practical means, to the cultural efforts of developing countries.
As a small nation, Norway has traditions as well as ambitions as far as international cooperation is concerned. We need you, your competence and your friendship, and that is why we are so happy to see you all here in Oslo.
I hope that this conference will prove to be a suitable forum for the exchange of knowledge and opinions, a forum for establishing contacts and networks for cooperation across national and continental boundaries.
If is for me both an honour and a pleasure to represent the Director-General of UNESCO who regrest very much indeed he is unable to be with us today.
He has asked me most particulary to congratulate you, Madam Minister and you Madam President of the Norwegian National Commision for UNESCO, for organising the first International Conference on the 'Memory of the World' Programme. This event will most certainly underline the commitment of the international community to the safeguarding of the world's endangered documentary heritage and also, which is perhaps just as important, increase awareness of its significance for each and every one of us.
Isabel Allende is a writer who fled Chile in 1973 following a coup that claimed the life of her Uncle, Chilean President Salvador Allende. At a recent conference of the American Library Association she said: 'I write to preserve memory. I write what should not be forgotten. I suppose all writers share this purpose. We want to keep a record of events, beliefs and relationships that shape us as individuals and ultimately as a society.'
UNESCO echoes those thoughts in its 'Memory of the World' Programme which is a concept including not only books, manuscripts and archival documents, but also audio-visual materials, oral traditions and computerised data. Preserving all these elements of our heritage is vitally important to the safeguarding of the cultural heritage and cultural identity of all the peoples of the world, for this heritage constitutes the collective memories which have shaped our being and which define us as human and social entities.
The 'Memory of the World' Programme had its origins in the growing realisation that much of our documentary heritage is in an alarming state of preservation and that, in addition, access to it is extremely difficult in many parts of the world. It was primarily in order to prevent the irrevocable loss of large swathes of our collective memory that UNESCO set up the Programme. It should not, however, be forgotten that access to the documentary heritage, its wide dessemination and increasing public awareness of its significance and the need to preserve it are also considered to be important objectives.
It is, I think, generally agreed that the Programme, which is of exceptional interest, is probably not sufficiently well-known. There are some efforst being made to raise its profile and to involve as large a number of people and groups as possible, whether they be project designers, professional associations or companies helping to fund projects or to make derivative products and in some cases to market them. In this same context of visibility, I should like to draw your attention to the presentation of the 'Memory of the World' on UNESCO's web site on the Internet.
'Memory of the World' already has its own history which began in 1991. During UNESCO's General Conference, that year, the Member States, and especially the new ones, expressed their anxiety about the documentary heritage because, as they rightly stated, nations which do not care about the past do not have a future.
So it was that the Director-General, Mr Federico Mayor, decided to launch the programme 'Memory of the World'.
An expert committee, appointed by him, held its first meeting in September 1993 in Pultusk, Poland, and defined the Programme as a new approach to preserving the recorded memory of humanity, to facilitating access to this documentary heritage and to assuring its widest possible dissemination. Special emphasis was put on the contribution which the use of the most appropriate new technologies might make to the Programme. The meeting also recommended that UNESCO assume the role of co-ordinator and catalyst for the Programme and draw it to the attention of governments, international organisations and public and private foundations. The creation of a sub-committee for technology and one for marketing was recommended, as was the establishment of lists of endangered and destroyed documentary heritage and a list of activities underway to safeguard the documentary heritage. But let's be frank, there are meetings, appeals, more meetings, more appeals - even sub-committees! - and in spite of all this activity the Memory of the World aircraft is still cruising on the runway and something further is required if it is to become airborne.
In April 1994 all Member States were invited to set up a 'Memory of the World' National Committee, to identify and select projects, to follow them up and to raise all or part of the necessary funds for their implementation. The membership of a National Committee may include, among others, librarians, archivists as well as users and those responsible for the related library collections and archival holdings. The initial result was disappointing. To date, only about 20 Member States have replied to this letter. We must conclude that neither UNESCO nor the committees are using all the possibilities available to them to provide the programme with the impetus and momentum which it clearly deserves.
In a further move to do just this, at its second meeting in Paris in May 1995, the Committee recommended the creation of a World Register of Endangered Documentary Heritage. This list was to include documents, manuscripts, oral traditions, audio-visual materials, library and archival holdings that are both endangered and of universal value and is thus similar in some way to UNESCO's World Heritgae List. In February 1996, a nomination form for the inscription of documentary heritage was sent to all National Commissions, together with selection criteria governing documentary heritage to be considered for entry on the World Register. These criteria may also be used as a model for the selection of documentary heritage to be entered on National or Regional Registers.
Technical guidelines to safeguard documentary heritage have been prepared for UNESCO by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), in close co-operation with the International Council on Archives (ICA) and other NGOs. These Guidelines have been published and are being widely distributed in six languages.
A world survey on archives and library collections damaged beyond repair this century, has just been carried out for UNESCO by ICA and IFLA. Although the title 'Lost Memory - Libraries and Archives destroyed in the Twentieth Century' sounds somewhat despondent, the positive intent is to sound the alarm about the disappearance of archival and library treasures of inestimable value. Despite the efforts of librarians and archivists and all those concerned, it is the sad truth that as the end of the 20th century approaches, much of the documentary heritage housed in the world's libraries and archives remains at risk.
Now on a more optimistic note let me mention our successful CD-ROM pilot projects. These include: Manuscripts of Prague, Radzivill Chronicle, Manuscripts of Saint Sophia, Sana'a Manuscripts, Memoria de Iberoamerica, Manuscripts of Kandilli Observatory and Memoria of Russia. This afternoon you will have the opportunity to view parts of these and to appreciate the reality and the relevance of our work here.
May I conclude by wishing you all a very successful
conference and a pleasant stay in this beautiful city. Once again
I wish to reiterate our sincere thanks to the organisers, in particular
to Mr Bendik Rugaas, the initiator of this Conference and Mrs
Ingunn Kvisteroy from the Norwegian National Commission. My colleague
Mr Abid told me how dedicated and meticulous she was in preparing
this Conference. Our sincere thanks go also to the sponsors of
the Conference. Their generosity made it possible for many colleagues
to be here with us. So let us today renew our commitment to safeguard
the 'Memory - and our Memory - of the World' for generations to
It is a distinct pleasure for me to participate in the Opening of this Ist World Conference on the 'Memory of the World' and to bring you greetings and best wishes from the members of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) located in more than 130 countries around the world.
Perhaps the most important task each generation performs for the next is the transmittal of its culture. It is a fundamental aspect of family and societal life. Libraries happen to be one of the institutions created in order to assist in accomplishing this task. In varying proportions and under varying conditions libraries preserve culture and make it available for current and future generations. It is a fundamental mission of this institution and a basic commitment of its professionals. In my brief remarks in this regard we applaud the UNESCO 'Memory of the World' initiative, pledge our active cooperation and propose a specific expansion of its work program.
Preservation and Access
Through its Core Program on Preservation and Conservation, based at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, IFLA has made a significant contribution toward the methods for preserving the world's documentary heritage. Indeed, several of the model projects selected by UNESCO are based in important national libraries. IFLA and ICA jointly explored the scientific methods most appropriate for the preservation of library and archival materials in a seminar held in 1991. However, the increased significance of digitisation for both preservation and access and the scale of the 'Memory of the World' registers suggest that we invest more effort in designing ways to ensure worldwide access to the collections identified and preserved.
Libraries have extensive experience in the development of standards for databases for the identification and retrieval of descriptions of documents. As we begin to discuss the preservation and access issues related to the full text of documents including illustrations, and as we begin to add sound, still and motion pictures plus art objects to the items being preserved we inevitably raise questions as to the adequacy of current methods for precisely identifying and providing access to such collections.
Some recent research at my own institution may illustrate the problem I call to your attention more precisely than I can describe it in words alone. Some of you may know the University of Illinois as the birthplace of MOSAIC and the stimulus for NETSCAPE, the best known software programs for browsing the Internet. Our University Library is considered the largest public university library, with more than 15 million items in its collections, including almost 9 million books. So you can see we have some familiarity with the problems of scale.
Content-based Image Retrieval
Integrating digital imaging and multimedia information retrieval and delivery into existing operations of libraries poses the most significant challenge to libraries in this last decade of the 20th century. We have been largely successful in developing standards for describing documents and sharing those descriptions routinely among libraries widely scattered around the world. Using international standards for the bibliographic description of documents the library community hosts databases representing millions of documents held by the world's libraries. Computerised networks, including the INTERNET, transfer these descriptions among libraries 24 hours a day across all time zones.
Currently there are no recognised international standards for recording the description of full text files or multimedia files. These are not trivial considerations given the scale of the UNESCO 'Memory of the World' pilot projects alone. As these collections take a prominent place among the millions of collections of materials documenting the world's cultural heritage, the problems of identification and access multiply. These illustrations may help to visualise this problem:
Science in Full Text
The first illustration shows a fragment of a scientific journal article full of mathematical expressions. The second shows the same fragment marked up for transmittal on the INTERNET. The mark up process is labor intensive. There is also wide variation in the process used by publishers which has a negative effect on computer retrieval time.
This is a map of North America drawn around 1650. It is a beautiful image but not very useful without some explanatory material. Maps require full indexing using helpful descriptors like 'river' or 'mountain' to be useful.
Shakespeare in Design
Images from a collection of Shakespearean set and costume designs use not only names but also color, texture, types of material and furnishings as descriptive information. The rich detail of each design forming the visual effect is represented in the indexing.
This image of an Albrecht Durer painting conveys little to the untutored eye. The second image includes a complete file of the associated descriptive information. In a project involving about 7,000 images from seven museums, a data dictionary had to be constructed to normalise the use of twenty five types of data elements. Since museum collections vary so widely and no international code exists to normalise the descriptive information used to describe objects the impact of a sizable group of museum-type collection on an information retrieval system could be significant.
Users of multimedia information will require greater use of content-based
methods for identification of items they want and need than was
necessary for text. Full text information retrieval will require
greater harmonisation of standards than bibliographic records.
In order to fully exploit the results of the enormous effort represented by the Memory of the World project, my recommendation representing the interests of IFLA is that we place a greater emphasis on standards for multimedia descriptive files than has appeared to be necessary to date. The specific need is to address the issues related to access to heterogeneous, multimedia repositories of items representing the world's cultural heritage. Perhaps a new subcommittee will need to recommend the development of appropriate international standards to guide this work and will advise the projects on such matters pending the formulation and adoption of international standards.
Many decades ago, Khalil Gibran clearly grasped and expressed the link between archives and history: 'Today embraces the past with remembrance and the future with hope', he wrote. This statement evokes the Latin god Janus, the symbol of archives, which presents itself as the two faces of the same reality: one looking backward, the other, forward. Every generation owes it to itself to re-examine the recent and more distant past, in order to develop a stronger sense of its own identity, come to terms with its individual and collective character, and identify the knowledge, symbols and values necessary for conscious and enlightened action. This analysis is carried out for the sake of culture, and the desire, implicit or explicit, to preserve and transcend it.
People need to know where they come from, not only as individuals, but also as organised groups that have evolved gradually, over centuries, with a particular 'architecture' of institutions, habits, customs and cultural traits. Archives are at the root of this awareness. They provide evidence, information and testimony that enable citizens to document their rights and obligations, obtain an accounting from their governments and organisations, understand the milestones in their historical journey, and embrace the complexity of the forces and factors at play in their society. Without these traces, they do not exist. Without records, there is no memory; without memory, there is no idenity, thus no conscious present nor planned future. There is only ignorance, short-sightedness, prejudice, fear, narrow-mindedness, hatred even.
This is why we are all grateful to UNESCO for having launched its 'Memory of the World' Program, to make authorities aware of the importance of their archival and library heritage, to ensure proper preservation and diffusion of the treasures they contain so that they become better known nationally and internationally. It is also a pleasant duty, in the name of ICA which I represent here, to thank the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO for having organised such a Conference where the fundamental questions are going to be addressed, from preservation and access to legislation, technology and priorities.
Like IFLA for library material, ICA prepared for UNSECO a list of important archives that were destroyed or severely damaged in the 20th century. It makes for a very sad reading indeed to realise how many nationally and internationally significant fonds and collections have been destroyed and damaged and continue to suffer this fate as the result of accidental fires, floods, shelling during wars, wilfull destruction of enemies' memory by belligerents, ethnic cleansing, and perhaps worse, as the result of sheer neglect, non-existent or weak legislation, poor storage facilities, mould, termites, careless use and so on.
This list is also a call for urgent action in the present and in the future. What has been destroyed cannot be reconstituted, except in rare cases where originals or copies exist in another repository. But this ICA list amply supports UNESCO's decision to raise awareness across the world and help peoples to preserve their memory. One concrete example of these efforts, in the Canadian context, has been a national effort to create a consortium of stakeholders to save the most precious part of what remains of our audio-visual heritage. Suffice it to say, for instance, that of the first twenty feature lengths movies made in Canada, only one remains to this day. And now, through the help of a private television diffuser, Moviepix, the National Archives has been able to start reconstituting some of our oldest movies from the paper copies of images stored in the Library of Congress for copyright reasons. These films date back to the pre-1910 years!
But there are other ways to save the world archival heritage. Of course, the respect of existing Conventions and legislations. Beyond these fundamental rules of civilisation, the label 'Memory of the World' should raise the profile of threatened treasures, bringing States, private philanthropists and the international community to act quickly to preserve them and diffuse them through appropriate means, whether in digitised or microfilm or any other format.
Pilot projects have already demonstrated the possibilities of the Program. Let's hope together that the message is heard and implemented by the international community, by the public and private sectors, so that gradually, over time, this big 'village' of ours, as our planet has been sometimes called, can document its evolutions, its differences, its similarities and instances where cooperation has proven more fruitful than inhuman conflicts.