About the program

The world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

UNESCO seeks to facilitate the preservation, by the most appropriate techniques, of the world’s documentary heritage. Moreover to assist universal access to documentary heritage and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of documentary heritage. The world’s documentary heritage is an inspiration for everybody to share and to live in mutual understanding. It is the mutual understanding that makes peace possible.

This is why UNESCO established the Memory of the World Program in 1992. Impetus came originally from a growing awareness of the parlous state of preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. War and social upheaval, as well as severe lack of resources, have worsened problems that have existed for centuries.

The preparation of General Guidelines for the Programme was initiated through a contract with IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations), together with the compilation, by IFLA and ICA (International Council on Archives), of lists of irreparably damaged library collections and archive holdings. Through its National Commissions, UNESCO prepared a list of endangered library and archive holdings and a world list of national cinematic heritage.

Meanwhile, a range of pilot projects employing contemporary technology to reproduce original documentary heritage on other media was commenced. (These included, for example, a CD-ROM of the 13th Century Radzivill Chronicle, tracing the origins of the peoples of Europe, and Memoria de Iberoamerica, a joint newspaper microfilming project involving seven Latin American countries). These projects enhanced access to this documentary heritage and contributed to its preservation.

IAC meetings have since been held every two years. Several National Memory of the World National Committees have been established around the world.

The Memory of the World Register – in some ways the most publicly visible aspect of the Programme - was founded on the 1995 General Guidelines and has grown through accessions approved by successive IAC meetings.