Representatives from libraries and cultural institutions from across the Middle East and North Africa joined international experts to discuss key issues relating to heritage preservation in the region at a high-level conference, jointly organised by Qatar National Library and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recently.
The two-day conference was hosted by the library in its role as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Regional Preservation and Conservation Centre for Arab Countries and the Middle East and was part of a joint Qatar National Library-Unesco project, “Supporting Documentary Heritage Preservation in the Arab Region.”
One of the highlights of the conference was the agreement of the participants to a “Declaration to Support Preservation of Documentary Heritage in the Arab region,” calling for action on all levels to raise the standards of conservation and care of documentary heritage based on regional and global best practices.
Delegates from institutions in Qatar, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen agreed to seize the opportunities presented by digital technologies to support access, use and preservation of the region’s rich heritage. The declaration also highlighted the need to advance an international legal instrument on preservation and access at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, setting minimum standards in a digital age and enabling cross-border collaboration and exchange.
The conference presented best practices in preservation and conservation, and highlighted initiatives and strategies implemented at the national and regional levels to preserve and promote documentary heritage throughout the region. Unesco representative Danilo Padilla, on behalf of Anna Paolini, Unesco, director of the office for the Gulf States and Yemen, said, “In a region marked by protracted conflicts, we need to step up efforts to ensure that our common heritage and our common memory are not erased.”
Christine Mackenzie, president of IFLA, noted, “Culture is a basic need and a community thrives through its cultural heritage; it dies without it. This conference has been so important, and we heard so many stories of really terrible things that are happening to documentary heritage. It is extremely important for us to hold such events to help preserve our cultural heritage.”
“Preservation has developed into a critically important part of managing a library’s most precious assets—its collection. Documentary heritage in our region is at risk for a variety of reasons, ranging from war and natural disasters to climate conditions and the age and quality of the heritage items. It is our job as memory institutions to protect our shared human heritage for future generations,” stated, Dr Sohair Wastawy, executive director, Qatar National Library.
“Documentary heritage preservation is part of a broader set of cultural processes that are crucial in working toward achieving these goals. Together, we can improve access to information and help break down barriers that restrict knowledge sharing and preservation. The Qatar Digital Library is a good example, which exemplifies an open access world. Anyone with an Internet connection can easily access the information on the portal,”Hazem Jamjoum, added, Gulf Audio curator and Cataloguer at the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership Project.