Tag Archives: Cultural Heritage

Joining the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

On 14 November every year, the International Day against Illicit  Trafficking  in  Cultural Property stands as a reminder that theft, looting and illicit trafficking threaten the ongoing preservation of and access to the world’s cultural heritage.

In the words of Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO:

On this International Day, UNESCO therefore calls upon everyone to realize that stealing, selling or buying a looted work is tantamount to participating in pillaging peoples’ heritage and robbing their memories.

Libraries are memory institutions. They preserve and provide access to the memory of the world. Our documentary heritage is a testament to the stories, knowledge, creativity, spirituality, and experiences of societies from yesterday and today. It is indelibly linked to cultural identity, and is a tool for learning about the past and about one another.

Loss of this material through theft and illicit trafficking robs people of the ability to encounter this material, learn about it, share their views, and benefit from the knowledge it transmits.

Further, the trafficking of cultural property has served to prolong armed conflict in recent years, supporting the work of criminal and terrorist groups, funding illegal activity.

Action to counter these threats therefore has an important role to play both in contributing to peacebuilding, as well as in upholding the rights of people to access and enjoy cultural heritage.

The 1970 Convention

The International Day against  Illicit  Trafficking  in  Cultural Property is also the anniversary of the signing of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970 Convention).

This international Convention urges State Parties (i.e. governments) to take measures to prohibit and prevent illicit import, export and transfer of cultural property and provides a common framework for State Parties to take action.

Included in the Convention’s definition of cultural property are objects that may well be represented in the collections of libraries:

  • property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history; to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance
  • pictures, paintings and drawings produced entirely by hand on any support and in any material
  • original engravings, prints and lithographs
  • rare manuscripts and incunabula, old books, documents and publications of special interest (historical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc.) singly or in collections
  • archives, including sound, photographic and cinematographic archives

The Convention goes on to urge State Parties to support the development of museums, libraries, and archives, as these institutions are instrumental in helping ensure the preservation and presentation of cultural property.

We urge libraries to get involved in national activities to uphold the 1970 Convention, such as through contributing to national inventories, cooperating with national services for the protection of cultural heritage, and carrying out information and education campaigns on trafficking of documentary cultural property.

The Challenges of Documentary Heritage

We need library voices to be involved in international, regional, and national efforts to counter the threats of theft and trafficking to ensure that the specific challenges associated with documentary heritage are understood and acted on.

Documentary heritage is unique among other forms of cultural property and therefore presents specific challenges. These include the fact that books and published materials are often created in multiple copies, with the intention of sale and dissemination across borders.

Libraries may not be equipped with the same level of security as other institutions, and books offer the possibility of theft of individual pages. In some parts of the world in particular, rare books and manuscripts are kept in collections within private homes.

And notably, existing standards being used to identify of objects don’t always apply to the way that documentary heritage is identified and catalogued by libraries and archives. It may be difficult for authorities to spot potentially trafficked material from among personal objects.

We must ensure the systems and tools that are already in place to protect cultural property are equipped to take on these unique challenges. For example, working to adapt or amend existing tools, guides, trainings, and protocols to address the specifics of books, manuscripts, and other written materials can help better inform and train police and customs authorities.

How is IFLA involved?

IFLA works to bring together professionals across our sector who can develop the tools and raise awareness we need to better protect our documentary heritage.

PAC Qatar

IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre hosted at Qatar National Library has been active in countering the threat of documentary heritage trafficking in their region through the Himaya Project.

Tune in on 15 November for a high-level panel discussion on efforts to counter the trafficking and illegal circulation of antiquities and documentary heritage. IFLA’s President Barbara Lison will take part in this event to speak further on the importance of library involvement in countering trafficking. Find more information and the link to register here.

Rare Books and Special Collections

IFLA, especially through our Rare Books and Special Collections Section, is working with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers to address international issues regarding provenance, theft, trafficking and restitution of cultural heritage items.

Among the plans of this joint working group are efforts to help galvanize the library and archives sector to contribute to reporting lost or presumably stolen items, empowering the potential for their discovery. This also includes work towards raising awareness and de-stigmatising the reporting of theft within the library and archives sector, as well as developing educational resources on theft and trafficking.


IFLA is further engaged with the archive sector on the International Council of Archives’ Expert Group against Theft, Trafficking and Tampering (EGATTT). Looking ahead to the coming year, this expert group seeks to further raise awareness among professionals, authorities, and the public on documentary heritage trafficking. Further, they plan to build capacity by sharing simple preventative measures to protect collections, and by developing mechanisms to identify at-risk material and report theft.


IFLA has been a long-time partner of UNESCO. Looking ahead, we seek to identify ways in which we can continue connecting the work being done by libraries and library professionals to the work of UNESCO. This can be a step towards integrating a documentary heritage perspective and amplifying the library sector’s efforts to safeguard the cultural property under the protection of our institutions.

Find out More

Interested in learning more about what you can do to protect documentary heritage? Refer to Combatting Illicit Trafficking of Documentary Cultural Heritage: and Introduction.

Register to join the virtual event at Qatar National Library: International Day Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

Getting Involved in Cultural Heritage Advocacy: European Days of Conservation-Restoration 2021

The European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers Organisations (E.C.C.O.) sets aside a week every year to celebrate Europe’s cultural heritage and the professionals who work to preserve and provide access to it.

It is inspiring to see the preservation and digitisation of books, papers, manuscripts, photographs, and other documentary heritage materials feature during this week. IFLA especially highlights those working to preserve materials that make up the memory of the world, as libraries and library professionals are essential keepers of this cultural heritage.  We explored this further in our blog post for European Day of Conservation-Restoration 2020, which you can read here.

For this year’s European Days of Conservation-Restoration, a social media campaign highlighted good practices and the professionals and institutions involved in this work. However, it also explored other themes, such as heritage at risk, sustainability, and the importance of reaching out and building networks.

This provides a great example for cultural heritage professionals around the world of an accessible way to get involved in advocacy.

Storytelling for Advocacy

Cultural heritage provides a gateway to the vast collective knowledge of humankind; it inspires connection and fuels creativity and innovation.

Cultural heritage professionals can help promote recognition of the potential of cultural heritage for bettering society through engaging in advocacy on how their work makes a positive impact.

The importance of incorporating advocacy and storytelling into cultural heritage conservation practice was among the topics presented by IFLA in a keynote address to the Institute of Conservation (ICON) Book and Paper Group Conference 2021 titled: Inspiring and Informing Development: Advocating for culture in sustainable development.

An important theme of this address was that no one person is too small to make a difference.

The IFLA speaker urged cultural heritage professionals to act boldly – individually and within networks – as advocates, telling stories that help illustrate the value that cultural heritage has for people now and into the future.

Examples – European Days of Conservation 2021

Using online platforms to proactively reach out and tell stories can be effective means by which to connect with community members, policymakers, and fellow professionals.

Participating in celebrations like the European Days of Conservation-Restoration is an excellent opportunity to join voices with others and increase one’s reach.

The E.C.C.O. called for its community of European conservation and restoration professionals to take part in a social media campaign – highlighting stories that invite viewers into their workspaces and highlight the important role they have in safeguarding cultural heritage.

There were several fascinating posts that feature documentary cultural heritage. These posts bring conservation and restoration practice to life, and help other understand the work that goes in to ensuring these materials remain accessible.

Some examples include the Association of Conservator-Restorers in Bulgaria highlighting several institutions that specialise in conservation of works on paper; information-sharing on how documents are preserved from the Samuel Guichenon Collection, Historical University Library of Medicine, Montpellier University; and the National Archives of Malta demonstrates a treatment for paper that has been damaged by iron gall ink.

For more, visit E.C.C.O. on social media: Facebook & Twitter.

Sustainability, Cooperation, and Networking

Beyond highlighting good practice, a goal of this year’s European Days of Conservation-Restoration was also to raise awareness of key aspects of cultural heritage’s role in society, including access and sustainability.

Participants were encouraged to explore this through themes on the preservation of tangible cultural heritage in the view of climate change and the importance of reaching out beyond the sector – involving politics, education, training and research as pillars for cooperation towards sustainability and development.

The social media campaign took this opportunity to raise awareness of several initiatives that are linking cultural heritage with broader development intiatives, such as EU-funded project CLIMATE FOR CULTURE, the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change, and the Climate Heritage Network.

For example, as part of its #ClimateHeritage Mobilisation @ Climate Fridays webinar series, Climate Heritage Network delivered a webinar on the theme: Building Reuse is Climate Action. A wider audience was invited to attend this programme, which offered a compelling environmental case for building reuse and its part in the goal for zero carbon emissions.

IFLA is a founding member of the Climate Heritage Network. Follow more on IFLA’s involvement with Climate Heritage Network in the coming weeks in the lead-up to COP26.

Everyone can be an advocate

Joining networks, reaching out beyond the sector, and highlighting connections between cultural heritage practice and social issues like sustainability are all ways to get involved in advocacy.

Participating in events such as the European Days of Conservation-Restoration by taking part in social media campaigns and joining virtual events is a low/no-cost action that individuals or institutions can do to begin increasing their involvement in advocacy.

To go back to the key message in IFLA’s recent keynote address on advocating for culture in sustainable development, no one is too small to make a difference.

Library professionals around the world are encouraged to seek out opportunities to highlight their work, and to get in touch with IFLA HQ for help showcasing their own stories.

Contact: claire.mcguire@ifla.org for more.

Strengthening Relationships, Empowering Communities: Library Reflections on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

On 9 August, we mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Through the 2021 theme: Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract, the UN calls for a new approach “based on genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all”. Learn more about this year’s theme here [link].

Of course, meaningful change must come at every level, including in policies. However, creating community by fostering learning and partnership can be an important driver of positive change. Libraries are spaces for such participatory processes to happen. They can be nodes for education and conversation, for ensuring that voices are heard and that the lived experiences of marginalised peoples are centred in the narrative.

Engagement with Cultural Heritage

Access to knowledge, information, and resources are central to the mission of the library and information field. Critically, access includes access to cultural-relevant materials. This includes materials in a diverse range of languages and concerning the cultural expressions and life of the community of one’s choosing.

Accessing and interacting with cultural heritage and expressions are essential for the passing-down of knowledge within a community. They also enable meaningful encounters across cultures in the spirit of fostering multiculturalism.

We saw examples when IFLA’s Cultural Heritage Programme Advisory Committee organised the virtual event, Libraries Inspire Engagement with Cultural Heritage. This webinar invited speakers working with their institutions’ collections, visitors, community groups, and the larger public to help people experience, appreciate, learn from, and share cultural heritage.

Some perspectives shared centred on an Indigenous view of cultural heritage librarianship, and highlighted examples of how memory institutions can work on engagement with collections in partnership with concerned communities.

Here is a look at highlights from these conversations.

Indigenous Worldviews in Libraries

Camille Callison, chair of the IFLA Indigenous Matters Section and Librarian at the University of the Fraser Valley, Canada spoke about steps libraries can take to create relationship with Indigenous communities, towards building a cultural hub and a heart within our institutions.

An important step is including Indigenous worldviews in libraries and acknowledging the Indigenous communities who are the traditional stewards of the land.

The land itself can be a library – telling the story of the community’s creation and linage and the origin of nations. Community elders, the keepers and tellers of stories, are themselves living libraries and archives.

Translating this knowledge into library institutions can be done through building relationships with the communities. This can include inviting elders to give story-times and making opportunities for Indigenous artists to display, share and speak about the art they create. It also includes using appropriate terminologies in classification systems and subject headings, and by respecting the ownership of knowledge by Indigenous peoples, such as by correctly citing Indigenous knowledge – including knowledge transmitted orally by Indigenous storytellers.

She stresses the importance of training – both aimed at encouraging Indigenous peoples to enter the library profession, and through cross-cultural learning to enable library and information professionals of all backgrounds to work together to create more inclusive systems. These efforts are critical to ensuring the cultural relevance of libraries for Indigenous communities.

Watch Camille’s full address online here: LINK

Community-Driven Collections Engagement

Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator and Head of the Collections Care and Access Department at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Canada, shared several examples of how the institution enables Indigenous communities to access collections in a way that values the intangible heritage of community knowledge and tradition.

An important aspect of this work are the three types of access visits that the museum has developed. The first invites community groups or individuals to interact with collections at the museum itself, offsetting the costs of their visits through a granting programme. The museum also carries out study visits, in which collections of material are brought directly to communities. She highlights that these are reciprocal learning exchanges, where museum conservation staff enhance their own understanding about the objects, their creation and their meaning, from the community members.

The third type of access she detailed is loaning for activation. In this programme, objects from the museum collection that serve, for example, as traditional evidence of important rites and privileges are brought to communities to fulfil the function for which they were created.

These loans push hard again the traditional view of museum collection standards, as the usual requirements around environmental control and handling procedures of the objects are dropped to allow meaningful engagement with the object. This is made possible by aligning institutional practices with the key principle that Indigenous peoples have the right to manage and control their own material culture and information about that material culture.

We encourage you to find out more and see examples of these access programmes in action here: LINK

Leave No One Behind

Libraries are spaces for community, education, storytelling, cultural transmission and sharing. They are spaces where the narrative of our communities can be revisited, revised, and made more inclusive. They are hubs for community activation and participatory processes that push for meaningful legislative change.

Ensuring libraries are culturally relevant for Indigenous communities, creating connections that centre Indigenous worldviews and perspectives, and empowering Indigenous librarians, community leaders, artists and storytellers are all important aspects in ensuring libraries are active champions of development that leaves no one behind.

We encourage the international library community to work in partnership with Indigenous communities to create this space together.

Follow IFLA’s Indigenous Matters Section for more information about their work towards supporting the provision of culturally responsive and effective services to Indigenous communities throughout the world.

25 Years of Cooperation for Cultural Property Protection

On 6 June 1994, the International Committee of the Blue Shield was established in a spirit of collaboration by the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council of Museums and Sites (ICOMOS), and IFLA.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blue Shield, we look back at its history and a few examples of how it has provided support and opportunities for libraries, at the international and national levels.

A Look Back

The Blue Shield is rooted in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as its First Protocol (1954) and Second Protocol (1999), which created rules to protect cultural property during armed conflicts [see IFLA’s briefing on this Convention here].

The intention was to bring the four key international organisations in their domains together to consult on matters relating to the protection of cultural heritage in the case of natural and human-caused threats and emergencies, particularly that of war.

The goal was to better facilitate an international response to threats and emergencies through cooperation between the key international organisations and participating national organisations. This included the objectives of facilitating professional action to prevent, control, and recover from disasters, consulting with other bodies such as UNESCO and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and encouraging higher standards of risk preparedness.

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS) were combined in 2016 to form Blue Shield International. This brought together the Founding Four organisations together with a network of National Committees made of up dedicated individuals, all working together to protect cultural property.

Today, Blue Shield International is as an official partner of NATO and cooperates with armed forces on training exercises concerning cultural property protection in armed conflict. This takes an important step towards raising awards within armed forces of their critical role in cultural property during conflict.

Blue Shield and IFLA

Libraries around the world hold irreplaceable books, manuscripts, and other materials. Together, they form a network which collectively safeguards much of the world’s historical record.

Tragically, libraries around the world – including many of our members – have seen first-hand the destruction that conflict and disaster can bring to their institutions and collections.

IFLA believes that these threats are best faced through capacity-building for prevention and preparedness, as well as through enabling a rapid and effective response if the worst happens. This can be achieved best with the help of a network. Within IFLA, our Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Network has been essential in both sharing knowledge on disaster planning and preparedness and in taking action to support response in times of crisis and subsequent recovery.

Combining these efforts with those of Blue Shield has enabled more effective response, facilitating critical information-sharing and integrating the needs of libraries on the ground into international response and recovery frameworks.

Haiti 2010

One case that sticks with us in the response to the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Days after the earthquake struck, Blue Shield established an online platform to invite volunteers from around the world to support measures necessary to rebuild libraries, archives, museums, monuments and sites. IFLA and ICA planned, funded, and sent representatives to take part in a mission to inform the establishment of a rescue centre for damaged cultural heritage, including damaged documents [report here].

This rescue centre also provided preservation workshops to members of the National Library of Haiti (NBH) and Archives of Ministry of Foreign affairs of Haiti (MEA).

More information on IFLA’s involvement in the response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake can be found here.

Beirut 2020

The response to the Beirut Blast in August 2020 gives a more recent example how this partnership has allowed joint action to help libraries following disaster. The Lebanese Library Association (LLA), working closely with Blue Shield Lebanon, took the critical first steps towards recovery of the city’s libraries.

The LLA carried out assessments to gather information on the extent of damage at libraries and archives across the city and shared this information with IFLA. This coordinated effort allowed us to provide critical information on damage and needs to Blue Shield International, as well as with other international partners, including UNESCO through participation in the Coordination Meetings for Emergency Response on Culture in Beirut.

In the months that followed, a collaborative response was carried out by Blue Shield Lebanon, Blue Shield International, Directorate-General Of Antiquities of Lebanon, IFLA, ICOM-Lebanon, ICOMOS-Lebanon, Lebanese Library Association, UNESCO Beirut Office, ICOM – University Museums and Collections, Biladi and UNIFIL, with generous financial support of the ALIPH Foundation, British Council Cultural Protection Fund and the Prince Claus Fund.

You can find videos here for a closer look at Blue Shield’s Emergency Response for Cultural Property in Beirut. 

Working for Libraries

In addition to the Founding Four organisations, Blue Shield International is also made up of a network of National Committees, through which dedicated cultural heritage professionals carry out work addressing local priorities.

A prerequisite for establishing a National Committee is gaining support from the national library association and/or national library association in the country. This helps ensure that a connection between national Blue Shield committees and the nation’s libraries has been established. IFLA members are represented on Blue Shield national committees and contribute to activities that benefit national libraries in disaster planning and preparedness.


In 2019, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), together with Blue Shield Australia, launched the 2nd Edition of the ALIA Disaster Management for Libraries Guide, Templates and Scenarios.

This tool is designed to help library staff respond quickly and effectively to disaster, minimise loss of collections and equipment, ensure staff safety and well-being of staff, continue providing services when possible, and recover quickly.

See more on the website of Blue Shield Australia.

To further build preparedness capacity, the State Library of South Australia hosted the symposium, Disaster Preparedness and Our Cultural Heritage and Collections, in late 2020.


Blue Shield Georgia carried out the project, Emergency response to mould outbreak at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University Library, in 2016-2017. This project was made possible by the Prince Claus Fund Cultural Emergency Response (CER).

The project evaluated general storage conditions affecting special collections at the  library to halt a large mould outbreak, defined a protocol for handling and cleaning damaged rare books, and corrected the storage problems causing the outbreak.

The outbreak threatened 200,000 rare books at the library. This project avoided further damage to the collection, while improving awareness among institutions holding documentary heritage collections in Tbilisi of how to manage and avoid such hazards. Read more here.


In early 2020, Blue Shield Iceland hosted the symposium: response plan of cultural institutions; what is the situation and what is the future goal? This event invited several experts in institutional disaster planning and response to share knowledge of good practices among cultural heritage professionals.

Within the programme, Blue Shield Iceland invited Nelly Cauliez, Director of the City Library of Geneva, to share information on the response plan and preservation of cultural heritage in Switzerland, with an emphasis on disaster response planning in a library context. Read more here.

Looking Ahead

The spirit of collaboration for the sake of cultural property protection which brought the founding four organisations together in 1996 continues to be at the heart of Blue Shield International.

Disaster and conflict are always complicated and multifaceted, and the cooperation of our international organisations, together with the dedication, expertise, connections, and local knowledge of National Committees of the Blue Shield engaging library associations and other professionals, helps enable an effective response.

Through the continuation of this collaborative effort, we can work towards a holistic safeguarding of the world’s diverse cultural heritage, enable international exchanges, and promote good practice.

IFLA is committed to ensuring that the cultural heritage protected by institutions and sites around the world continues to be available for future generations to access, learn from, and enjoy.

We encourage you to check if there is a Blue Shield National Committee in your country, and to get involved in their work.

For more on IFLA and the Blue Shield, see our Get into the Blue Shield Guide.

World Heritage Day: Libraries, Access, and Engagement

The International Council on Museum and Sites (ICOMOS) is a global non-government organisation working for the conservation and protection of cultural places. As libraries are important features of cultural places and contributions to knowledge on cultural heritage, ICOMOS and IFLA are partners on many joint initiatives – see our work on the report, Culture in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda, for an example.

We are therefore excited to take this opportunity to reflect on the contributions of libraries to heritage discourse on ICOMOS’s annual World Heritage Day (18 April).

The theme of World Heritage Day 2021 is Complex Pasts: Diverse Futures.

Within this theme, “ICOMOS wishes to engage in promoting new discourses, different and nuanced approaches to existing historical narratives, to support inclusive and diverse points of view”.

Libraries are keepers of stories. We are also living spaces where everyone and anyone can meet, diverse points of view can be shared, and these stories can be told.

Libraries therefore have an important role in enabling complex pasts to be better understood, and diverse futures to be shaped.

UNESCO World Heritage

Visiting a World Heritage Site can be an awe-inspiring experience. Sites chosen for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List are deemed to be of outstanding universal value – meaning they offer a truly irreplaceable contribution to the shared heritage of humankind.

Visit the website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to learn more about the 1972 World Heritage Convention and the List.

As impressive as a monument or site on the World Heritage list can be, there is often much more significance to be found beyond its façade.

Documentary Heritage and Historical Narratives

For World Heritage Day 2020, we explored how documentary heritage, namely materials on the Memory of the World register, can provide a deeper understanding of a related world heritage site.

An example that is equally relevant for this year’s theme is the World Heritage Site Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados), looked at in parallel with the Memory of the World document An African Song or Chant from Barbados.

When one examines this site together with the testament of a life of enslavement, offered through the African work song, it is possible to get a far more complete picture of the human cost of colonialism.

See our blog article: Shared Stories: How documentary heritage enriches monuments and sites for more.

However, on this year’s theme, it is worth also examining how libraries as community spaces can help enable these discoveries and inspire conversations around them.

Inclusive Spaces for Diverse Futures

Cultural heritage is for everyone, but in order to support diverse points of view in cultural heritage discourse, cultural heritage spaces must be understood as being accessible to all.

In setting this year’s theme, ICOMOS acknowledges the role that the cultural heritage sector has in the critical examination of the past. The omission and erasure of points of view through the privileging of some narratives over others is a legacy that memory institutions must strive to reconcile.

For example, in recognition of this responsibility, International Museum Day 2020 was centred on Museums for Diversity and Inclusion. Within this theme, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) acknowledged that “there remains much to do to overcome conscious and subconscious power dynamics that can create disparities within museums, and between museums and their visitors.”

As champions of access for all, libraries too have a role to play in making cultural heritage not only accessible, but something in which anyone and everyone is invited to actively participate.

One way this can start is by engaging new audiences and emphasising inclusive and participatory ways to experience World Heritage sites.

Libraries as Accessible Spaces

As memory institutions, libraries are keepers of heritage through the materials they collect and make available. However, libraries are also living spaces – open to the public with a mission that centres on providing learning opportunities to all.

When present at a World Heritage Site, libraries help integrate the site with the greater social fabric of the community and reach new audiences through the services and programmes they offer.

For example, the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek is part of the “Classical Weimar” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Germany) and receives some 100,000 visitors each year. As a portion of the site’s value lies in its legacy of literary and scholarly achievement, it is appropriate that the library offers a publicly assessable, free-of-charge space for learning, research, and study.  Specifically, the library provides access to over one million pieces of media, including over 170,000 items on open-access shelving at the Study Centre which users are free to peruse or borrow.

Further cooperation with the World Heritage Site’s education and inclusion and diversity programmes invites learners of all ages and backgrounds to use the library while also enjoying the historically significant space.

Dynamic, living libraries can combine historically significant buildings and collections with services that meet the needs of modern users. In doing so, they invite people into spaces with which they may not have otherwise engaged.

Libraries are spaces for people to come together to discuss and learn, and this is a value that can contribute to the democratisation of heritage sites. How libraries can support inclusive and diverse points of view within heritage spaces is a question that certainly must be explored further.

There is more to do!

IFLA has explored how libraries of all kinds are promoters of cultural diversity through their role as multicultural hubs.

The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto upholds libraries as gateways to a cultural diverse society. This Manifesto states that “libraries of all types should reflect, support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels, and thus work for cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.”

To this end, cultural heritage sites – World Heritage or otherwise – are encouraged to view libraries in their communities or within their boundaries as learning, cultural, and information centres, and as vectors to further the educational ambitions of the site, communicate its value, and engage new audiences.

However, in doing this, institutions must reflect the diverse perspectives of the communities they serve. This includes making an active effort to centre, value, record, share, and make space for diverse voices and narratives.

Libraries within heritage sites of all kinds are encouraged to be proactive in developing the relationship they have with their wider communities and enable inclusive conversations on the site’s significance.

Has your library made space for diverse voices to contribute to cultural heritage discourse? We would love to hear about it in the comments.

Preservation and Conservation Across Borders: 2021 Look-ahead

Despite the challenges the world faced in 2020, IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres continued to carry out their mission of preserving and providing access to library and archive materials – all with an emphasis on international cooperation. Click here for highlights from the past year.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and its related hardships continue into 2021, the PAC Centres continue to adapt to new challenges and work environments. In uncertain times, the need to build capacity to improve preservation and conservation conditions and practice is more important than ever.

Here is a look at how some of the PAC Centres are planning to have an impact in their regions and beyond in 2021.

Local/Regional Cooperation

One aspect of the PAC Centres’ work is creating a strong network of documentary heritage and library professionals in their region, helping to create tools and trainings to improve their networks’ conservation and preservation practice, and address regionally specific issues relating to documentary cultural heritage.

PAC Kazakhstan, hosted at the National Library of Kazakhstan, is active in the Central Asia region, making connections with librarians in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Russia. In the coming year, they are planning to conduct master classes on document restoration with colleagues from Uzbekistan and Turkey on the topic, “Technology of production of oriental lacquer binding with ornaments”.

PAC Kazakhstan and PAC Russia have established a close relationship, and the Centres will continue to carry out joint work in the coming year, focussing on experience-sharing in book restoration.

PAC Trinidad and Tobago, hosted at the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), will continue providing technical assistance and advice on preservation and conservation issues to almost 150 librarians and other heritage keepers in the Caribbean region. These consultations usually include a site visit with assessment, documentation and measurements, followed by reports and recommendations for collection care and preservation.

PAC Trinidad and Tobago also continues in their role engaging with UNESCO as a member of the Regional and National committees of UNESCO Memory of the World. This year, their work will also include developing a Preservation Training Programme for staff at the National Public Library, Archive and Documentation Services (NPLDS) of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Further, the centre will continue developing their collaborative work with the Caribbean Heritage Emergency Network (CHEN), created by CARBICA, the Caribbean Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives at the invitation of the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago.

This is an exciting collaboration that will work to strengthen disaster risk reduction and response efforts for libraries in the Caribbean region.

PAC Qatar, hosted at the National Library of Qatar, carries out a wide range of activities every year that work to share knowledge, provide training, and safeguard the region’s documentary heritage.

The Centre will continue developing the Himaya project (حماية): Countering the trafficking and illegal circulation of the documentary heritage in the MENA region and neighboring countries. Qatar National Library and the PAC Center will cooperate and partner with various organizations such as the World Customs Organization (WCO), INTERPOL, UNIDROIT, UNESCO-Lebanon and others to combat the trafficking of manuscripts, books and archives in the MENA region.

For those interested in learning about anti-trafficking work, keep an eye on IFLA’s news and events for more on this project.

Beyond this, the Centre will continue supporting preservation in memory institutions in the MENA region through training on documentary heritage preservation and library preparedness in case of conflicts, observing documentary heritage at risk in the Arab region and emergency response, and exploring sustainable building construction for libraries and archives.

All upcoming PAC Qatar events are shared on IFLA’s website, so stay tuned for opportunities to join training sessions in 2021.

PAC Japan, hosted at the National Diet Library, plans to continue in their role on the Preservation Committee of the Japan Library Association (JLA), which works to ensure preservation of Japanese materials and collections.

The Centre also cooperates closely with the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the National Archives of Japan and provides training programmes on preservation and conservation through these organisations.

International Cooperation

Beyond working in their specific regions, one important aspect of the PAC Programme is the ability to share knowledge on an international scale. Although many of our host libraries continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a look at some international activities planned for 2021.

PAC Japan is involved in a UNDP-funded project involving the training of cultural heritage experts in Syria. However, 2020’s programme in Japan had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the global situation improves, the PAC Centre looks forward to continuing with this work.

The Centre is interested in inviting preservation specialists from other national libraries worldwide for experience-sharing and training opportunities. If the situation permits, this will be a goal for 2021.

Beyond their work with PAC Kazhakstan and libraries in Central Asia, PAC Russia, hosted at the Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, is planning activities with international libraries on topics relating to preservation and conservation of books. This includes inviting specialists from the Library of Catalonia and the Library of Congress to facilitate workshops on bookbinding.

The Centre is planning professional exchange programmes and workshops on the preservation and conservation of books with the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts and the National Library of the Czech Republic.

PAC Qatar continues their ongoing effort to ssafeguard the Arab world’s sound and audio-visual heritage through a programme implemented in the framework of the cooperation project between University College London-Qatar, the British Library and the Qatar National Library. This programme includes online and on-site trainings and cooperation and an agreement with the International Association of Sound and Audio-visual Archives (IASA) to translate and distribute publications.


An important aspect of PAC Centre’s work that IFLA members can often engage with directly are the training sessions carried out by the Centres. While some are on-site, an increasing number are offered online.

For those upcoming events that invite an international audience, be sure to check IFLA’s online events page and subscribe to the PAC mailing list.

Here’s a look at the training projects the PAC Centres are planning for 2021:

Trinidad and Tobago are developing preservation training sessions to include:

  • Dealing With Mould
  • Caring For Your Family Heirlooms
  • Introduction to the Care of Photographs

PAC Qatar has a full programme of training throughout the year that invites libraries in the region and beyond to attend. Watch IFLA’s events page for upcoming invitations to participate.

PAC Japan has delivered their annual Preservation Forum in an online format for the first time, with a focus on protective enclosures. Upcoming workshops and events will depend on the COVID-19 situation. Opportunities to connect with the Centre, especially for other libraries in the Asia-Oceania region, will be shared as they arise.

Engaging with the Centres

Beyond joining training sessions, you are invited to access materials developed by the PAC Centres that may help you in your own preservation and conservation efforts.

This includes a wide range of materials available online, from videos on the history and preservation of various audio-visual materials from PAC Chile [available here], to IFLA’s Risk Register resources for reducing risk [available here].

Start here: The PAC Frequently Asked Questions share tips for common questions relating to material preservation, storage, risk reduction, and more. This is a great resource to directly access the knowledge of the PAC Centres and apply it to your collections.

Join the Preservation and Conservation mailing list for regular updates, opportunities, and more.

Do you have questions about the PAC Centres and their work? Get in touch: Claire.mcguire@ifla.org


Libraries as Resilience-Builders: Advocating for Libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction

The theme for International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction 2020 is straight-forward: it’s all about governance.

Risk, in this context, is defined by the combination of hazard, exposure and vulnerability. These risks can range from fires and armed conflict to natural hazards like flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Of course, the urgency to prepare for these hazards is ever-increasing in the face of climate change.

Governance in terms of disaster risk reduction refers to methods by which public authorities, civil servants, media, private sector, and civil society work together at different levels – community, national and regional –  with the goal of managing and reducing disaster risks.

The UN’s call to action for International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction 2020 is in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015). When UN Member States adopted this framework, they agreed on the importance of developing national and local strategies to reduce risk, both addressing multi-hazard, systemic risk, and recognizing the importance of the human and cultural aspects of disasters and disaster response.

As the UN states, “You can measure good disaster risk governance in lives saved, reduced numbers of disaster-affected people and reduced economic losses.” For at least the first two of these values, a human-centered approach to disaster risk reduction is required.

In turn, understanding people’s needs in advance, providing avenues to connect critical information to communities, and the long-term building of knowledge on health and hazards can all have an impact on building community resilience and reducing disaster risk.

As institutions focused on human development through providing access to information, libraries are therefore not just potential victims of disasters, but also important potential partners in any strategy for disaster risk reduction. The question then is what libraries can do to reduce risk, and how can this fit into a larger, multi-sectoral strategy? How can they help deliver on the emphasis in the Sendai Framework on both the protection of cultural heritage and the strengthening of cultural resilience?

The potential is there. As welcoming, all-inclusive, free-to-access public spaces and champions of information for all, libraries can to provide anchors for their communities, building preparedness before an emergency and equipping recovery. Beyond this, collection-holding libraries play a key role in the preservation of cultural heritage, safeguarding it for the future and contributing to a shared cultural identity.

In the spirit of this year’s theme of governance, let’s therefore discuss in more depth some of the ways library professionals can advocate for the value that libraries have within an inclusive, people-focussed disaster risk reduction and recovery strategy.

Be an Advocate! Key Messages on Libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction

We’ve identified several key messages you can use in your advocacy for the role of libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction Policy.

Key message 1: Library resources can enhance health knowledge and disaster preparedness in local communities.

Example: The role of libraries in educating their communities and providing critical information for public health and safety has been seen recently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see many examples on IFLA’s Libraries and the COVID-19 Pandemic page.

Health libraries are leaders in making reliable information on public health readily available to researchers, government officials, and educators. For example, Public Health England (PHE) Knowledge and Library Services has produced the resource Finding the Evidence: Coronavirus to help professionals working on the pandemic identify and access emerging evidence as it is published. The PHE Library and Knowledge Services have also produced materials for libraries to share with their communities, including information created for children and young people, older people, and people with special needs.

Further demonstrating the role libraries can have in providing essential information for first-responders and humanitarian workers in times of crisis is the guide: Finding the Evidence for Global and Disaster Health, created by Public Health England for the IFLA Evidence for Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group. 

Key Message 2: Memory institutions like libraries promote the ‘cultural resilience’ of people, communities, and countries – a priority underlined in the Sendai Framework

Example: Following the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam when it struck Vanuatu in 2015, UNESCO led the assessment of damage to cultural sites, including the National Library and Archive. These institutions are repositories for special collections relating to Vanuatu, including anthropological and archaeological materials, art and arts references, historic and culture records, many works on the languages of Vanuatu, information on oral traditions, and more, encompassing the traditional knowledge of the country.

The assessment highlights the role of this traditional knowledge as an element of resilience. One example is knowledge of traditional building techniques. Assessors found that structures built using local materials and traditional building skills were less affected than those using other materials and techniques. This stresses the value of the knowledge preserved in memory institutions, community facilities, and historical records – they are part of living heritage and culture.

Key Message 3: Libraries have a mission and unique expertise when it comes to preserving their community’s cultural heritage and make it accessible to the public, in order to inform and inspire future generations.

This role should be taken into serious consideration in national and regional risk reduction strategies.

Example:  In the recent report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on cultural rights and climate change, Special Rapporteur Ms. Karima Bennoune visited the island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific. The country’s only library sits 20 metres from the shore and is threatened by sea level rise.

The collection contains irreplaceable historical documents as well as meteorological and tide records that are critical tools for climate research. The librarian is determined to save this collection, as its loss would impact Tuvaluans as well as the collective knowledge of mankind.

According to the report, a Tuvaluan official asked: “If we are not here anymore, what will happen to our culture?”

The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights this critical intersection between climate change related risk, cultural heritage protected within memory institutions, and community identity. 

Key Message 4: Libraries have an important role as places of refuge and secondary emergency service providers.

Example: The Librarian’s Disaster Planning and Community Resiliency Guidebook, published by New Jersey State Library (2017) described libraries as an “untapped community resource” in the immediate aftermath of disasters. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey in 2012, local libraries provided gathering spaces, essential services, and community support.

The day after the storm passed New Jersey libraries rallied, and were the places residents flocked to as they began to put their lives back together. Libraries, even those without power, were pressed into service as ad hoc community recovery centers, providing a respite from the storm for shattered communities.

Libraries played a similar role as community gathering places and regional assistance centers during California’s devastating 2018 wildfire season.

What Can You Do?

IFLA’s briefing on Libraries and the Sendai Framework recommends several steps for library advocates to get more involved in disaster risk reduction on the national and local level. These include:

  • Find out if your country has a disaster risk reduction strategy. If it does, does the strategy include cultural heritage, or the role of libraries in sharing health information or supporting communities?
  • If the strategy does not mention the work of libraries, use advocacy tools like this article and IFLA’s brief on the Sendai Framework, along with your own experience, to argue for them to be included.
  • If there is no strategy, are there plans to create one, in line with the Sendai Framework? Can you ensure that libraries and their work is included?
  • Get involved in your national Blue Shield Committee or contact your local UNESCO office to find out what they are doing.

Enhancing Disaster Risk Reduction in Libraries

One thing that libraries at all levels can do to enhance their role in Disaster Risk Reduction is to develop workable, realistic plans for their own disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and recovery.

The following tools are a good place to begin:

  1. IFLA Principles of Engagement in library-related activities in times of conflict, crisis or disaster

The principles of engagement advise IFLA and its members on how to monitor areas at risk, advocate for and raise awareness about disaster prevention. When disaster strikes, the Principles guide recovery activities, and advise members if and how to engage.

  1. Disaster Preparedness and Planning: A Brief Manual

This manual takes the user through each step of the disaster planning process: risk assessment, prevention and protection, preparedness to cope with possible disasters, response when disaster strikes, and recovery.


In the words of the UN: “It’s time to raise our game if we want to leave a more resilient planet to future generations”. Libraries and librarians have a key role to play in effective, inclusive, and human-centred governance for disaster risk reduction.

Do you have an example of a library assisting its community before, during, or after a disaster? Let us know! We’d love to hear your stories.