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UNESCO to hold a policy dialogue on preserving documentary heritage at risk


UNESCO aims to build an international policy agenda for digital preservation of documentary heritage through a policy dialogue on 27 October 2020.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the urgent need for universal access to documentary heritage as a knowledge resource, particularly as memory institutions seek to reopen their doors to the public on a more sustainable basis. Alongside this need is the near lack of enabling policies for preserving and giving access to documentary heritage items. This is further exacerbated by the dwindling of funds available to archives, libraries and museums, thereby increasing the risk of permanent loss of heritage.

Against this background, UNESCO is organizing an online policy dialogue among memory institutions and other stakeholders aimed at identifying policy gaps in the digital preservation of documentary heritage at risk. In so doing, the Organization is seeking to build an international policy agenda for digital preservation that will unpack the cultural, economic, technological and legal aspects around it.

The policy dialogue will take place on 27 October 2020 via ZOOM and will be split across two sessions at 8am CET and 5pm CET to accommodate an international audience across different time zones. The first session will address questions about cultural identity and sustainability, while the second will focus on technology and legal frameworks. Participants can use the same registration link for both sessions. The entire event will be livestreamed on UNESCO’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing at any time.

The event will feature documentary heritage professionals, academics, policymakers and technologists among others. Each presentation will be followed by a short dialogue among stakeholders, before opening the discussion to questions from the audience. To learn more about the dialogue, see the programme and the concept note

The meeting will address the following key policy issues:

  • Towards a framework for risk assessment and risk management in relation to obsolete analogue and digital technologies required to read and use documentary content
  • Towards an international policy on managing content protection (e.g., copyright of original and digitalized content, replication and dissemination of born digital, etc.) of the national and world’s documentary heritage that needs to be preserved for long term accessibility
  • Towards an international policy on life-cycle management and licences of legacy software that is required to access preserved digital artefacts.
  • Towards an international policy on protection and retention of online material that is of historical value and controlled use of such material.
  • Towards a framework and guidelines for assessing the significance of documentary heritage and effectiveness of practices and methods for long term preservation.
  • Towards a framework of emergency preparedness for memory institutions. This includes strategies to address appropriate digital preservation measures to prevent or to mitigate the effects of destruction of documentary and other cultural heritage as well as the preparedness to protect digital content from natural, technological, and socio-economic disasters.

The outcomes of the discussion will be presented in a report, detailing key messages and policy recommendations, which will subsequently feed into the 2nd MoW Global Policy Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management for Sustainable Preservation of Documentary Heritage, scheduled for 2021.

The event is associated with the celebration of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage and organized by UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) Programme through the Preservation Sub-Committee of the Programme’s International Advisory Committee (IAC) and in partnership with the Information for All (IFAP) Information Preservation Working Group.

For more information, please contact: