Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage

Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form
Last update: March 8, 2022

Documentary heritage in archives, libraries and museums constitutes a major part of the memory of the peoples of the world and reflects the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures. The issue of preserving this heritage has been a source of concern to specialists and other familiar with its fragility and the ensuing risks of losing important sources of information. Professional groups have urged UNESCO to develop a standard-setting instrument to provide the basis for the protection of the world’s documentary heritage, including in digital form. Protection can be effectively achieved through strategic policies that contribute to enhanced national legislative and implementation frameworks in Member States.

At its 190th session, the Executive Board (190 EX/Decision 16) requested the Director-General to undertake and present to it the results of a preliminary study of the various elements to be taken into consideration in developing an instrument to lay the legal basis for the protection of documentary heritage.

The General Conference, at its 37th session, took note of the findings of the preliminary study and invited the Director-General to submit to it a draft "Recommendation on preservation of, and access to documentary heritage, including digital heritage" (37 C/Resolution 53). A preliminary report of the Director General, together with the initial draft of the recommendation, was sent for comments to Member States on 4 September 2014 (CL/4075); followed by a final report containing a revised version of the Recommendation on 3 April 2015 (CL/4104).

In order to finalize the draft Recommendation, and submit it to the General Conference at its 38th session, an Intergovernmental Special Committee meeting related to the Draft Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, Access to, Documentary Heritage in the Digital Era was convened  at UNESCO Headquarters on 1 and 2 July 2015. The new normative text, which was unanimously adopted (38 C/Resolutions – Annex V) and is a result of a comprehensive consultative process, covers not only heritage aspects but also legal and intellectual property related aspects.

The “Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form”, marks a milestone in UNESCO’s work towards preservation of documentary heritage.

The Recommendation aims to assist Member States both, at national level through identification of documentary heritage and policy measures ensuring preservation of and access to it, and at international scales through bilateral or multilateral research projects and publishing guidelines, policies and best practice models. This new normative instrument will also help build partnerships for identifying appropriate solutions to threats such as the ravage of time, natural disasters, human behaviour, technology obsolescence, mobilizing resources, so that valuable collections and records may never be lost.

Hence, the new instrument clearly recommends to Member States initiate appropriate steps in order to align it with their specific contexts, disseminate it widely across their national territories, facilitate its implementation through the formulation and adoption of supporting policies, strategies and legislation. It was also decided that every four years Member States will report on the action undertaken to give effect to this Recommendation.

Implementation Guidelines

Implementation Guidelines for the 2015 Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form: These Implementation Guidelines were commissioned by the MoW Secretariat in order to provide an initial reporting framework for Member States and other national memory institutions/stakeholders. They represent a work in progress and will continue being reviewed in light of new experiences as Member States pilot them for their own reporting obligations under the Recommendation. Indeed, comments are still being sought as to how this draft can be improved for more effective reporting overall.

In compliance with 38 C/Resolution 55 and 206 EX/Decision 25.VI, the Director-General submitted to the 40th session of the General conference the first consolidated report on the implementation of the 2015 Recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage, including in digital form, together with comments by the Executive Board thereon at its 206th session. The analysis was prepared on the basis of 38 national reports from Member States received by the Secretariat: Albania - Armenia - Austria - Bulgaria - Canada - China - Côte d’Ivoire - Cuba - Ecuador - Estonia - Germany - Greece - Hungary - Iceland - Iran - Jordan - Korea - Lebanon - Lithuania - Mexico - Myanmar - Netherlands - New Zealand - Oman - Peru - Poland - Russia - Serbia - Slovenia - South Africa - Sweden - Switzerland - Turkey - UK - Ukraine - Uzbekistan.

Category II Meeting

  • Provisional Agenda (EN | FR)
  • Provisional Timetable (EN | FR)
  • Provisional List of Documents (EN | FR)
  • Rules of Procedure (EN | FR)

Background Documents

Director-General’s Circular Letters to the Member States:

  • Preliminary Study and Draft text of the Recommendation (EN | FR) CL/4075 of 4 September 2014
  • Invitation to the Category II Meeting (EN | FR) CL/4087 of 22 December 2014
  • Revised Draft Recommendation (EN | FR) CL/4104 of 3 April 2015
  • Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form (EN | FR) CL/4155 of 28 April 2016