Major inter-regional conference on memory preservation and accessibility organized by UNESCO

In a first for the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme, UNESCO brought together 46 countries in Panama City to discuss ways of creating effective conditions for the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage.

Held from 24 to 27 October 2018, the conference brought MoW experts from Asia/Pacific, Europe and North America, Africa, Arab States, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, representing regional committees of MoW and international organizations actively engaged in preserving and promoting documentary heritage.

In her welcome remarks to the participants, Ms Lidia Brito, Director of the UNESCO Montevideo office, extolled documentary heritage as one of the key foundations for human civilization. She singled out UNESCO’s Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form as a defining normative instrument which underpinned this inter-regional conference.

Ambassador Flavio Mendez, Panamanian Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, also addressed the participants. He spoke of his Government’s commitment to preserving documentary heritage as an ethos for nation-building, evoking memories of his childhood as Panama sought self-rule over the Panama Canal. Ambassador Mendez also lauded the Regional Committee for Memory of the World (MOWLAC) for having inscribed on the MOWLAC Regional Register his country’s nomination Bulletin du Canal Interoceánique de Panamá 1879–1898 submitted by the Panama Canal Authority.

Explaining the rationale behind the agenda of the Conference, Fackson Banda, UNESCO’s Programme Specialist responsible for the MOW Programme in the Knowledge Societies Division, said that the inter-regional gathering reflected UNESCO’s strategic response to the larger context of sustainable development, particularly the Organization’s ongoing effort to apply disaster risk reduction as a strategy for preserving and guaranteeing access to documentary heritage.

Mr Banda also presented the conceptual framework for how preserving and ensuring access to documentary heritage could contribute to achieving the three-fold objective of sustainable development, namely environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Various speakers, mostly drawn from national committees of Memory of the World, shared their experiences as to their national and regional efforts to preserve documentary heritage under difficult circumstances.

Examples in this respect included:

  • Preserving documentary heritage in tsunami-hit Japan.
  • Enhancing regional approaches to disaster recovery and heritage preservation by the Caribbean Archives Association.
  • A project by the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) on Archives at Risk: Endangered Audiovisual Archives and Global Preservation Efforts.
  • Using the UNESCO SIDS Action Plan as a framework for preserving documentary heritage in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including through the MoW Programme.

Other presentations touched upon the need for building strong and effective national and regional committees for Memory of the World as institutional frameworks for cooperation in preserving and raising awareness about documentary heritage. In this regard, speakers highlighted the following key issues:

  • Using national committees as strategic frameworks for identifying successful nominations to the Regional and International MoW Registers.
  • Using communication tools, including social media platforms, for effective awareness raising about the value of Regional Committees of MoW.
  • Promoting inter-regional collaboration on project implementation.

Participants also received advice from the Register Subcommittee (RSC) of the International Advisory Committee (IAC) on identifying documentary heritage for possible inscription on the International Register.

The inter-regional conference is one of several meetings being organized by the MoW Programme Secretariat in order to galvanize support for activities aimed at preserving and creating conditions for universal access to documentary heritage. A similar meeting was held in Abuja last June and another one is scheduled in Tunis in November 2018.

UNESCO launched the MoW Programme in 1992 to guard against collective amnesia through the preservation of valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world. In so doing, the programme also ensures wider access to such heritage. 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.