Advancing excellence in the archives profession in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) National Archives, in collaboration with the International Council on Archives (ICA), convened a two-day expert meeting, on 15 and 16 September 2014, in Abu Dhabi, to advise on the establishment of an International Archives Centre of Excellence in the UAE. Leading experts from UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, ICA, the International Records Management Trust, ARMA International, the Director-General of National Archives of Australia, the President of Portail International des Archives Francophone participated in the consultation.

The host of the meeting, Dr Abddulla El Reyes, Director General of the National Archives of the UAE, introduced the initiative in the context of the numerous challenges archives and archivists around the world are facing today, while addressing the complex issues inherent in the transition to a digital society.

The main objective of the future Centre is to advance the development of archival institutions and to contribute to the preservation of the world’s documentary heritage through research, education and training, public engagement and strategic international collaboration. 

The initiative has been inspired by several UNESCO documents, namely, the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage (2003), the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Archives (2011), and the UNESCO/UBC Vancouver Declaration on Digitization and Preservation (2012).

Experts in the meeting unanimously emphasized the sense of urgency for the archival institutions, both government and private, to be better equipped to keep pace with modern electronic records and their rapidly evolving hardware and software, while addressing public demands for online access. In this regard, the growing need for well-trained archivists was stressed, as well as the need for access to best practices and learning opportunities in many developing nations. The necessity of preserving existing fragile paper, photographic, film, and other printed resources of enduring value, ensuring a long-term accessibility and usability was also raised during the debates.   

Further, experts discussed in detail, the mandate, the possible strategic priorities, the outreach, the governance and cooperation perspectives of the future Centre of Excellence.

The UNESCO representative, Ms Iskra Panevska, spoke of UNESCO’s flagship programme Memory of the World as an international collaborative effort, aimed at safeguarding, protecting and facilitating access to and use of documentary heritage, especially heritage that is unique and endangered. She evoked UNESCO’s standard-setting capacity and action in the implementation of international standards and highlighted the broader implications of violations of such standards on stability, recovery and development. In this context, Ms Panevska, referred to the most recent UNESCO programme of assistance to rebuild Mali’s cultural heritage and to safeguard its documentary heritage. She argued that enabling continuity of documentary heritage will support good governance and transparency, protect rights and contribute to building inclusive Knowledge Societies. In this sense, the proposed Centre of Excellence was deemed to be a very timely and useful initiative.

UNESCO established the Memory of the World Programme  in 1992, in response to a growing concern about the alarming state of the preservation of, and access to documentary heritage in the world.