Memory of the World Programme
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction. It calls for the preservation
Historic preservation
Historic preservation is an endeavor that seeks to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance...

 of valuable archival holdings, library collections and private individual compendia all over the world for posterity, the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and the increased accessibility to and dissemination of these items.

Background and the IAC

The program began in 1992 as a way to preserve and promote documentary heritage, which can be a single document, a collection, a holding or an archival fonds that is deemed to be of such significance as to transcend the boundaries of time and culture. This recorded memory reflects the diversity of languages, people, and cultures. UNESCO, the world agency responsible for the protection of the world's cultural
Cultural heritage
Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations...

 and natural heritage
Natural heritage
Natural heritage is the legacy of natural objects and intangible attributes encompassing the countryside and natural environment, including flora and fauna, scientifically known as biodiversity, and geology and landforms ....

, realized the need to protect such fragile yet important component of cultural heritage. To this end, the Memory of the World Programme was established with the aim of preserving and digitizing humanity's documentary heritage.

The program is administered by a body known as the International Advisory Committee, or IAC, whose 14 members are appointed by the UNESCO Director-General. The IAC is responsible for the formulation of major policies, including the technical, legal and financial framework for the program. Regular meetings were held by the IAC in its interim capacity beginning in 1993 to sustain the momentum gained by the program, culminating in the creation of the Memory of the World Register during its second meeting in 1995, with the inaugural batch of documents being inscribed on the Register in 1997, after the statutes that created the IAC as a standing committee took effect.
The IAC also maintains several subsidiary bodies:
  • Bureau: Maintains an overview of the Programme between IAC meetings and makes tactical decisions in liaison with the Secretariat, reviews the use of the Memory of the World logo, and liaises with national Memory of the World committees and monitors their growth and operation.
  • Technical Sub-Committee: Develops, regularly revises and promulgates information guides on the preservation of documentary heritage, and offers advice on technical and preservation matters.
  • Marketing Sub-Committee: Develops strategies for awareness raising and for increasing financial support for Memory of the World, implements a marketing plan, and compiles and reviews guidelines for the use of the Memory of the World logo.
  • Register Sub-Committee: Oversees the assessment of nominations for the Memory of the World International Register and provides recommendations, with reasons, for their inscription or rejection to each meeting of the IAC.

Memory of the World Register

The Memory of the World Register is a compendium of documents, manuscripts, oral traditions, audio-visual materials, library, and archival holdings of universal value. Inscription on the Register leads to improved conservation of the documentary heritage by calling upon the program's networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for the preservation, digitization, and dissemination of the material. The program also has the aim of using state-of-the-art technologies to enable wider accessibility and diffusion of the items inscribed on the Register.

Any organization or individual can nominate a documentary item for inscription on the Register. During its meetings, the IAC examines the full documentation of the item's description, origin, world significance, and contemporary state of conservation. The body utilizes a set of criteria in examining each of the nominations:
  1. Time: Absolute age, of itself, does not make a document significant: but every document is a creature of its time. Some documents are especially evocative of their time, which may have been one of crisis, or significant social or cultural change. A document may represent new discovery or be the "first of its kind".
  2. Place: The place of its creation is a key attribute of its importance. It may contain crucial information about a locality important in world history and culture; or the location may itself have been an important influence on the events or phenomena represented by the document. It may be descriptive of physical environments, cities or institutions since vanished.
  3. People: The social and cultural context of its creation may reflect significant aspects of human behaviour, or of social, industrial, artistic or political development. It may capture the essence of great movements, transitions, advances or regression. It may reflect the impact of key individuals or groups.
  4. Subject and Theme: The subject matter may represent particular historical or intellectual developments in natural, social and human sciences, politics, ideology, sports and the arts.
  5. Form and Style: The item may have outstanding aesthetic, stylistic or linguistic value, be a typical or key exemplar of a type of presentation, custom or medium, or of a disappeared or disappearing carrier or format.
  6. Social/Spiritual/Community Significance: This concept is another way of expressing the significance of a document or set of documents in terms of its spiritual or sacred values. It allows a specific community to demonstrate its emotional attachment to the document or documents for the way in which these contribute to that community's identity and social cohesion. Application of this criterion must reflect living significance – the documentary heritage must have an emotional hold on people who are alive today. Once those who have revered the documentary heritage for its social/spiritual/community significance no longer do so, or are no longer living, it loses this specific significance and may eventually acquire historical significance.

Other matters that will also be taken into account for each nomination are:
  • Rarity: Does its content or physical nature make it a rare surviving example of its type or time?
  • Integrity: Within the natural physical limitations of carrier survival, is it complete or partial? Has it been altered or damaged?
  • Threat: Is its survival in danger? If it is secure, must vigilance be applied to maintain that security?
  • Management Plan: Is there a plan which reflects the significance of the documentary heritage, with appropriate strategies to preserve and provide access to it?

To date, the IAC has placed 193 documentary items of significance on the Register. Items are inscribed onto the Register during the IAC's biennial meetings, which take place every odd year:
IAC Session Year Site Date IAC chairperson Number of nominations evaluated Number of inscriptions to the Register References
1st 1993 Pułtusk, Poland September 12–14 Jean-Pierre Wallot
Jean-Pierre Wallot
Jean-Pierre Wallot, OC, FRSC, was a Canadian historian, educator, civil servant and former National Archivist of Canada....

none none
2nd 1995 Paris, France May 3–5 Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada) none none
3rd 1997 Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and of the Tashkent Province. The officially registered population of the city in 2008 was about 2.2 million. Unofficial sources estimate the actual population may be as much as 4.45 million.-Early Islamic History:...

, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

September 29–October 1 Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada) 69 38
Bureau Meeting 1998 London, United Kingdom September 4–5 Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada) none none
4th 1999 Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, Austria
June 10–12 Bendik Rugaas
Bendik Rugaas
Bendik Jørgen Rugaas is a Norwegian librarian and former politician for the Norwegian Labor Party. In the government Thorbjørn Jagland Rugaas was Minister of Planning from 1996 to 1997.-References:...

20 9
5th 2001 Cheongju
Cheongju is the capital city of Chungcheongbuk-do , South Korea. The city is divided into two wards , Heungdeok-gu and Sangdang-gu .-History:...

, South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

June 27–29 Bendik Rugaas (Norway) 42 21
6th 2003 Gdańsk
Gdańsk is a Polish city on the Baltic coast, at the centre of the country's fourth-largest metropolitan area.The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay , in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the...

, Poland
August 28–30 Ekaterina U. Genieva (Russian Federation) 41 23
7th 2005 Lijiang, China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

June 13–18 Deanna Marcum (USA) 53 29
8th 2007 Pretoria
Pretoria is a city located in the northern part of Gauteng Province, South Africa. It is one of the country's three capital cities, serving as the executive and de facto national capital; the others are Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.Pretoria is...

, South Africa
June 11–15 Alissandra Cummins (Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

53 38
9th 2009 Bridgetown
The city of Bridgetown , metropolitan pop 96,578 , is the capital and largest city of the nation of Barbados. Formerly, the Town of Saint Michael, the Greater Bridgetown area is located within the parish of Saint Michael...

, Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

July 27–31 Roslyn Russell (Australia) 55 35

Of the 193 documentary heritage items listed on the Register, 94, or nearly half, is accounted for by the region encompassing Europe and North America, which includes 33 countries and/or territories.
Region Number of inscriptions to the Register Number of countries/organizations
Africa 12 9
Arab States 6 3
Asia and the Pacific 42 18
Europe and North America 97 33
Latin America and the Caribbean 33 21
International Organizations 3 3
Total 193 87

In response to the worldwide scale of the Register, some countries or groups of countries have also established national (i.e. national registers) and regional counterparts, resulting in a three-tiered Register that has been supported by the Memory of the World Programme. This allows for the better administration of documentary items.

Jikji Prize

The Jikji Prize was established in 2004 in cooperation with the South Korean government to further promote the objectives of the Memory of the World Programme, and to commemorate the 2001 inscription of the country's Jikji
Jikji is the abbreviated title of a Korean Buddhist document, whose title can be translated "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings". Printed during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1377, it is the world's oldest extant movable metal print book...

 on the Register. The award, which includes a cash prize of $30,000 from the Korean government, recognizes institutions that have contributed to the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage.

The prize has been awarded biennially since 2005 during the meeting of the IAC.


  • 2005: Czech National Library (Prague
    Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

  • 2007: Austrian Phonogrammarchiv (Vienna
    Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

  • 2009: National Archives of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur
    Kuala Lumpur
    Kuala Lumpur is the capital and the second largest city in Malaysia by population. The city proper, making up an area of , has a population of 1.4 million as of 2010. Greater Kuala Lumpur, also known as the Klang Valley, is an urban agglomeration of 7.2 million...


External links

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