Intergovernmental meeting approves a new normative instrument by UNESCO to preserve world’s documentary heritage

More than 115 experts from some 46 Member States, met for a two-day Intergovernmental Special Committee meeting on 1 and 2 July 2015, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, to discuss and finalize a draft text of a UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, and Access to Documentary Heritage, including in Digital Form. The meeting marked a decisive step towards the elaboration of a new international standard-setting instrument on documentary heritage, taking into consideration the diverse challenges of its preservation and access in Member States.

Impelled by its responsibility to raise awareness about the need to safeguard the world’s documentary heritage, UNESCO recognized that urgent action is required to ensure that world's collective memory is protected and preserved for future generations. At its 191st session, the Executive Board of UNESCO recommended that the 37th session of the General Conference decide that the issue of preservation and access to documentary heritage be regulated at the international level by means of a normative instrument.

In his introductory remarks delivered at the opening session of the Intergovernmental Special Committee meeting, the representative of the Director-General, Mr Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, emphasized, “The collective memory of the peoples of the world is of vital importance in preserving cultural and linguistic diversity, in bridging the past and the present, and in shaping the future. But the sheer scale of the effort needed to preserve what constitutes the irreplaceable Memory of the world, requires commitment of all the stakeholders responsible for protecting and transmitting the world documentary heritage”.  Furthermore, he stressed that “together, we have today a unique opportunity to address these challenging issues and seek lasting solutions”.

This Recommendation, that will be submitted to the General Conference later this year for possible adoption, will thus become a cornerstone of public and international documentary heritage preservation policies for the decades to come. Its main focus is to promote the establishment of principles and norms for regulation at national and international levels of the specific selection, preservation, accessibility and policy issues that are not covered by the already existing normative instruments. 

The new standard-setting instrument is expected to be an essential tool in the harmonization of practice in this particular field and will also serve to enhance international cooperation for facilitating access to documentary heritage and the exchange of advanced preservation techniques. Finally, it would contribute as well to raising public awareness about the significance of documentary heritage and would meet the requirements of Member States by setting out standards and guidelines for all those responsible for the preservation of and the access to the valuable memory of humanity.

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 vision is that the world's documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance. The Programme is thus intended to protect documentary heritage, and to help networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for the preservation of, and the access to, documentary and archival collections of valuable records.