The Middle East and North Africa countries are home to an extraordinary cultural and documentary heritage, both secular and religious, which is of critical importance to the entire world. A contribution to the history of humanity, this rich heritage represents an enormous capacity to inspire the development of the region’s countries. Yet, due to neglect, natural decay, technological obsolescence, inadequate housing or, in some cases, deliberate destruction, valuable archival and library materials that represent the Arab region’s legacy about its history, identity and knowledge face the risk of being lost, destroyed or forgotten about. Audiovisual heritage, including sound recordings and moving images, is particularly at risk. Across the region, a number of institutions striving to preserve documentary heritage face challenges. Lack of financial resources, political instability, natural disasters, high cost of conservation software and equipment, or limited technical expertise are all factors which hinder efforts to protect the region’s most valuable manuscripts, archives, photos, and maps.
At the same time, many of the unique heritage collections, manuscripts and historically significant records, which have survived neglect and disasters, are scattered across different institutions and stakeholders, ranging from heritage libraries to private collectors and government institutions, and remain at risk of loss, inappropriate storage, pollution or decay. Strengthened coordination among these actors would enhance conservation efforts by having a clear understanding of where this heritage can be found, in which conditions and, subsequently, what are the measures that can be put in place to protect and promote it. Preserving the region’s documentary heritage also offers a timely opportunity to highlight the Arab world’s contribution to the world in the field of science, culture, communication and education. Promoting humanity’s documentary heritage as a foundation for strengthening humanity as a single community with a shared past and future is, indeed, an effort towards intercultural dialogue, respect and understanding.
The Middle East is home to extraordinary cultural heritage. The manuscripts, books, maps, videos and archives of the region are a contribution to the history of humanity, and it is therefore essential to protect and promote them to foster a dialogue between cultures; and that’s what we hope to achieve through this project.
Documentary heritage highlighting the Arab region’s rich heritage and identity is increasingly at risk. Limited technological and infrastructural capacities, destruction or lack of knowledge on preservation techniques are all factors which threaten the protection of documentary heritage.
This project aims to address these issues by understanding the needs and challenges faced by institutions and organizations working to preserve documentary heritage so as to reinforce their capacities, strengthen exchange of knowledge and best practices and raise awareness about the importance of preserving and promoting the documentary heritage of the region. Efforts concentrated therefore on capacity-building, survey, conferences and advocacy. By supporting documentary heritage libraries in the Arab region, this project contributed to the overall preservation and promotion of the valuable archival and library materials reflecting the region’s cultural heritage.
The overall purpose of this 18-month project is to understand the needs and challenges of heritage libraries in the Arab region in order to build their capacities and strengthen exchange of knowledge and information so they can further preserve and promote documentary heritage.
The target group of this project are all countries of the Arab region including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Within the framework of UNESCO’s Communication and Information Main Line of Action 2 “Building Knowledge Societies through ICTs by enabling universal access to, and preservation of, information and knowledge”, and in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11 target 11.4 which calls for strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage and Goal 16 target 10 which seeks to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”, the project focused on the following activities.
Expected results and activities
Expected Result 1: Understanding of the situation of documentary heritage in the Arab region is enhanced through mapping of heritage libraries and survey of conservation practicioners
Activity 1.1: Development of a database comprising names and contacts of documentary heritage libraries and institutions in the Arab region.
This activity aims to create a database of documentary heritage institutions across the Middle East and North Africa to map important stakeholders and potential project beneficiaries.
The target for this activity was to have at least 300 institutions listed on the database and at least 150 contacts. Out of the 478 institutions which were included in the original database obtained from Qatar National Library, 34 institutions were deleted as they did not have any documentary heritage collections. A remarkable mapping exercise was completed to include striking examples, such as Mauritania for which only 3 institutions were in the original database, while 193 institutions were added in the revised list, and Algeria with an increase of 317 institutions. The total revised number in the updated database consists of 1,537 institutions. The total number of contacts in the updated database consist of 1,832.
Activity 1.2 : Survey conducted to understand needs and challenges of documentary heritage institutions
This activity seeks to survey heritage institutions to understand the strategies put in place to preserve documentary heritage as well as the challenges and needs these institutions have.
The target for this activity was to disseminate the survey to at least 300 institutions and to receive responses from at least 100 institutions. The survey was circulated to all the institutions mentioned in the database, which included 1,525 institutions. The online survey was then accessed around 1,600 times, this number includes complete, incomplete and multiple entries. After data entry and cleaning, a total of 520 responses was considered as valid and worth analyzing.
Expected Result 2: Documentary heritage is better protected and preserved through enhanced capacities of stakeholders and beneficiaries across the region
Activity 2 - Training on collection management and documentation techniques organized for documentary heritage institutions and conservators
One documentary heritage practionner from each of the 19 countries in the region was invited to take part in a four day training on collection management and documentation techniques. The objective of the training was to ensure appropriate policies and practices are ut in place at the institutionnal level to collect and document documentary heritage materials.
The target for this activity was to have at least 12 countries participating in the training. The training was attended by 18 documentary heritage practitionners coming from 12 different countries: Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar , Sudan and Yemen. Ensuring a large reach of the project on the region.
Expected Result 3: Awareness on and importance of documentary heritage raised and disseminated through a network of institutions and platforms to exchange information
Activity 3.1: Report on needs, challenges and recommendations for documentary heritage institutions developed and shared, based on outcomes of survey
The findings of the survey conducted as part of activity 1.2 were compiled into a report released on open access license and available online. The report outlines the key outcomes of the survey including situation of documentary heritage in the region, brief review of legal frameworks protecting documentary heritage, the main obstacles and threats to documentary heritage preservation and the needs expressed by conservation practitionners in terms of capacity-building, professionnal development, infrastructure and support in additional areas such as policy or advocacy. The report also includes a list of recommendations to further support institutions working to preserve documentary heritage in the Middle East and North Africa.
Activity 3.2: Regional conference on documentary heritage preservation and conservation organized
To present the findings of the survey and strenghten collaboration between documentary heritage conservation practitionners in the region, a regional conference on "Supporting preservation of documentary heritage in the Arab region" was organized.
The two-day conference featured international experts to present best practices and representatives from each of the 19 countries targetted by the project were invited to present initiatives and strategies the have implemented at the national or regional level to preserve and promote documentary heritage. The main objectives of this project and the training to be conducted within its framework were presented during the conference. The conference was also an opportunity to build a professional network able to ensure protection, preservation and promotion of documentary heritage in the Middle East and North Africa.
Project partner : Qatar National Library
As the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Regional Center for the Arab Countries and the Middle East, Qatar National Library plays a vital role in addressing some of the issues listed above pertaining to preservation of documentary heritage. Through capacity-building with regional heritage libraries, increased access to information with Qatar Digital Library, digitization and awareness raising efforts on the importance of documentary heritage, Qatar National Library is a key international and regional actor to support the preservation and promotion of documentary heritage in the Arab region.