Frank La Rue: The world's documentary heritage belongs to all

Interview with Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, by Yonhap News Agency

Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, was interviewed by Yonhap News Agency on the eve of the Jikji Korea festival, which stated on 1 September in the city of Cheongju, Republic of Korea. This international event is dedicated to Jikji, the world's oldest book, printed by movable metal type in 1377, which is inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.


UNESCO Jikji Memory of the World Prize

Yonhap: Since the prize was first established, it has passed over 10 years giving the prize to five laureates. How do you evaluate the Prize? Has it served its original purpose?

Frank La Rue: The objective of the Prize is very much in line with UNESCO’s policy, and is closely related to the Memory of the World Programme and its primary objective to provide universal access to information and knowledge. The Prize has achieved its objective by recognizing the work of individuals and organizations that specialize in documentary heritage preservation, offering moral and financial support and recognition of their work that ensures long-term preservation and access to documentary heritage. Since its establishment, it has gained great popularity and has become a well-known Prize that raises awareness of the importance to preserve our cultural and documentary heritage and also to inspire others to join the field.

Yonhap: What do you think about the future vision of the UNESCO Jikji Prize?

Frank La Rue: First of all, I would like to reiterate the vision of the Memory of the World Programme which is a simple but powerful one: the world's documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance. The Jikji Prize  promotes this vision in a very direct and pro-active manner. It also directly contributes to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of documentary heritage, and promotes the universal access to documentary heritage by encouraging institutions to make digitized copies and catalogues available on the Internet as well as e-publications. We should not forget that our documentary heritage is often overlooked and forgotten for lack of resources. With the Jikji Prize, we commend the influential work that has been done by individuals and organizations and we sincerely hope that the potential of the Prize to foster creativity and motivate further memory institutions as well as individual owners will continue to grow.



Yonhap: Jikji was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. What is the core value of Jikji recognized by UNESCO?

Frank La Rue: The Jikji is a unique book comprised by many values, such as time, place, people, subject, form and style, all equally important and, therefore, none can stand out.

Yonhap: Through programmes such as the Jikji Prize, Documentary Heritage Roundtable and the International Association of Printing Museums inaugurated this year through the Jikji Korea Festival, the city of Cheongju has been striving to establish an international network of archivists. Would you make a suggestion for Cheongju on how to support the international collaboration of archivists through collaboration with UNESCO?

Frank La Rue: Cheongju collaboration with UNESCO encourages more people to join the cause. This collaboration could be stimulated through the following actions:

  • formation of an online community that assists archivists in promoting their knowledge and learning new methods;
  • creation of a database where experts can upload their work and voice their concerns in forums; and
  • facilitating peoples' access to the world's documentary heritage.

Making documentary heritage accessible through interactive media can create links between each individual and each heritage item worldwide, in an effort to bring peace through the understanding of our shared history, values and ideals.

Yonhap: Cheongju is trying to promote the value of Jikji to the rest of the world. Jikji Korea International Festival, which is as an international event approved by the Korean Government, is part of its efforts. How does UNESCO evaluate such efforts?

Frank La Rue: UNESCO greatly appreciates the contribution made by the Korean Government as it is in conformity with UNESCO’s objectives and assists the safeguarding of and access to heritage. UNESCO offers support with worldwide promotion of the Jikji festival and shares its expertise on the protection of heritage.

Yonhap: We have the Presidential Archives located in Sejong city near Cheongju, which also has an agenda to share its skills and expertise through international cooperation. What would you recommend for such programmes based on spontaneous efforts to be supported by UNESCO?

Frank La Rue: UNESCO greatly values all efforts for the protection of heritage through its programmes and is open to discuss any project as long as it is global and in line with UNESCO objectives. Everyday millions of pieces of information are uploaded on the web and a new culture is formed, which requires proper documentation and preservation for the generations to come. UNESCO takes active part with the creation of new programmes and policies such as the PERSIST Initiative, which aims to foster the dialogue on digital heritage between the parties responsible for its preservation. Programmes that follow the path of the PERSIST Initiative would be greatly encouraged.


The International Council on Archives (ICA) Seoul Congress

Yonhap: What is the main reason for you to visit the ICA Congress in Seoul?

Frank La Rue: Archives are essential components of any strategy aimed at improving information access, both for the public at large and for specialized groups. Since its creation, UNESCO has actively contributed to the reinforcement of these types of services. The International Council on Archives is a long-standing and valued partner of UNESCO with whom we have initiated and implemented a number of important projects. The ICA Congress takes place every four years. Four years is a long period of time that impacts the ever changing context in which the archives sector is operating. In this context, and particularly in the context of the newly adopted UNESCO's normative instrument in November 2015, the Recommendation Concerning Preservation of, and Accessibility to Documentary Heritage, including in Digital Form, the National Archives’ commitment to the archives sector in light of their new leadership role, and actions to be undertaken over the next four years, is of crucial importance. Archive services have to be re-designed to demonstrate how their activities are aligned with the new requirements of the digital age and with the needs of a more mobile and versatile groups of users.

Yonhap: What is going to be the message to be delivered through your congratulatory speech at the opening of the Jikji award ceremony?

Frank La Rue: There is an important leadership work to be carried out by national archives and the whole archival sector to strengthen and develop a highly responsive and skilled workforce. This is particularly important in order to have a coordinated response to the growing challenges of managing digital information so that it is accessible now and remains discoverable and accessible in the future – working towards increased sustainability within the sector. This means for the archival services to be able to ensure a comprehensive online access for archive discovery through catalogues and digitized archive content. Here I would like to stress the need of active participation of archives in cultural and learning partnerships promoting a sense of identity, harmony, cohesion, relevance and place within all groups and communities.

Yonhap: You are expected to meet the Prime Minister at the ICA Congress. What if you would have a conversation on the Jikji Korea International Festival and the ICA Congress?

Frank La Rue: Ever since its creation, UNESCO has had a strong and very successful partnership, which spans over several decades with the Republic of Korea (Korea became a member of UNESCO in June 1950).

During her last visit at UNESCO Headquarters in December 2015, President Park announced that the Republic of Korea will partner with UNESCO in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The President announced plans to expand the partnership with UNESCO for global citizenship education through UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding in Seoul to develop school curricula and disseminate best practices.

Other areas in which the Republic of Korea will work in closer concert with UNESCO include the “Better Life for Girls” Initiative to improve access to education and healthcare services in developing countries; and activities to deepen cooperation in the realm of culture and through cultural industries, as well as the Memory of the World Programme.

The development of information technologies, and in particular the Internet, has created a completely new environment in which the role of traditional information services must be thoroughly revised. The potential of networking, cooperation and digitization modify substantially the functions of acquiring, storing and disseminating information and knowledge. In the area of archives, and particularly in the framework of the Memory of the World Programme and its newly adopted normative instrument of preservation and accessibility to documentary heritage, UNESCO would aim to make general public and decision-makers aware of the importance of records and archives for safeguarding the national heritage. UNESCO also assists Member States in the establishment of efficient records and archives management systems through standardization, archival legislation, training and the promotion of international debates on main issues related to the role of archives and their function in the digital era. And in all these efforts, Korea has a lot to contribute and to offer. Korea’s success story is often referred to as a miracle (“the Miracle of the Han River”). What is remarkable, however, about Korea’s growth experience is not only its speed but its inclusiveness. Equally important is how Korean people have managed to preserve their dignity, humility and cultural values despite the harsh past of the country’s history. This is a remarkable achievement that other countries could potentially learn from.

I would also express to the Prime Minister UNESCO’s profound appreciation for the Republic of Korea’s commitment to support UNESCO, which is essential to bring forward the 2030 Agenda and lay the foundation of a more inclusive society for sustainable development and a healthy planet.