The Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation

26 to 28 September 2012
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Digital technology offers unprecedented means of knowledge creation and expression. The economic value of the resulting information can promote national and sustainable development, and support millennium goals. Whether the origins of this information derive from digitally created documents or from digital surrogates of analogue documents, enabling its continuity is the groundwork of good governance and effective policies, but these can only be assured if the major challenges are addressed. The fundamental challenges are the same for all countries, no matter their level of development, and closer collaboration and better management of digital resources will be beneficial for all.

At present, considerable quantities of information are lost due to a lack of understanding of their importance and of the means needed to ensure their preservation. Lack of capacity, legal and institutional frameworks and funding will increase over time and further acerbate the situation. In order to explore these issues in depth and obtain solutions, UNESCO’s Director-General convened an international conference: The Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation from 26 to 28 September 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The more than 500 participants from more than 100 countries discussed the key factors affecting digitization of analogue material and the long-term preservation of digital content. They agreed that:

1. As enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, each individual should be guaranteed access to information, including in digital format;

2. Digitization can support this right by access to knowledge. Large-scale digitization projects around the globe have contributed to the easy availability of multilingual and culturally diverse content. Digitization, while not in itself a major means of preservation, can protect invaluable documents from handling and further deterioration. For some types of material, it is the only means of ensuring their survival;

3. Preservation policies are not keeping pace with technological developments and social evolution. Training in managing digital records will reposition professionals to implement practices relevant to governmental and citizens needs;

4. A better understanding of the digital environment, including the need for legal rights management, is essential for the establishment of digital preservation models that close the existing gaps in institutional regulatory frameworks, and balance access with privacy and due consideration of for ownership and control of indigenous cultural heritage and traditions;

5. Lack of awareness of issues and the costs of failure will have significant impact on social and economic development. Digital preservation should be a development priority, therefore investments in infrastructure are important but they need to be supported by similar investments for the preservation of records for their long-term accessibility;

6. There is a pressing necessity to establish a roadmap proposing solutions, agreements and policies for implementation by all stakeholders and corresponding to national and international priorities which include the right to information, open government, open data and electronic government;

Taking current and envisaged challenges into consideration, the participants propose the following recommendations to UNESCO’s Director-General:

Recommendations to UNESCO

a. play an active advocacy role in making digital preservation frameworks and practices a reality, by promoting digital preservation in all appropriate forms, including working together with other UN agencies, funds and programmes;

b. actively support the work of the international library, archive and museum community to secure an international legal framework of copyright exceptions and limitations to ensure preservation of and access to digitized cultural heritage, and collection and access to that heritage in a culturally appropriate manner;

c. collaborate with international professional associations and other international bodies to develop academic curricula on digital preservation and implement training programmes and global educational approaches that enhance the capabilities of library, archive and museum personnel to manage digital information;

d. produce basic guidelines and compile best practices intended to assist developing countries in particular to manage digital content taking present national circumstances, and resources into consideration along with future projections and developments;

e. develop and implement a “digital agenda” under the auspices of the Memory of the World Programme to ensure that governments, major research and donor agencies invest in better management of trustworthy digital information as fundamental to sustainable development;

f. explore the possibility of establishing a multi-stakeholder platform for the discussion of standardization, digitization practices and digital preservation involving all relevant stakeholders;

g. consider creating an emergency digitization programme aiming at preservation of documentary collections endangered by natural disasters or armed conflicts, as well as an emergency forensic programme for digital heritage that has become inaccessible;

h. update the implementation guidelines of the 2003 UNESCO Charter on preservation of digital heritage and give consideration to the inclusion of preservation of and access to digitized cultural heritage in the proposed recommendation on documentary heritage being examined by the 190th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board;

i. endorse the Digitization guidelines as suggested in the Annex to this Declaration;

j. develop and maintain database on main actors and initiatives of digitization and digital preservation;

Recommendations to Member States

a. develop public policies enabling preservation of digital heritage in a rapidly changing technological environment;

b. cooperate with library, archive, museum and other relevant organizations in the elaboration of legal frameworks that support preservation of and access to digitized cultural heritage;

c. develop strategies for open government to create and maintain the basis of trust and reliance in governmental records;

Recommendations to professional organizations

a. cooperate with other professional associations, international and regional organizations and commercial enterprises to ensure that all born-digital materials are preserved by promoting and advocating for electronic legal deposit laws;

b. assist in the development of a cohesive and practical vision of the way forward in addressing the management and preservation of recorded information in all its forms in the digital environment;

c. encourage members to take into consideration the origin, authenticity, ownership and future use of recorded information, as well as appropriate and accessible use policies when managing digital information;

d. work with industry for the development of requirements of systems that embed preservation concerns;

Recommendations to industry

a. ensure long-term accessibility to digital information;

b. adhere to descriptive standards and recognized metadata standards to enable the creation of trusted digital repositories.