Tag Archives: Cultural Heritage

Restitution with a Catch? The Copyright Perspective on the Sarr-Savoy Report

The Sarr-Savoy report on the restitution of African cultural heritage, published in November 2018, proposes to recontextualise the presence of African artefacts in French heritage collections.

The objective of this report is to develop, in view of the role of the French state in colonisation, recommendations to update relevant laws around restitutions, as well as to encourage bilateral agreements with countries following requests for restitution.

Among its recommendations, the report suggests that collections which are returned should be subject to digitisation beforehand, with the digitised files then made available for use under free and open access to everyone.

This recommendation is easy to miss in the report, as the paragraphs which concern it are discreet. Nonetheless, it raises questions on two essential questions:

Who owns the physical and digital collections and who has the right to choose the policy of digitisation and openness of these artefacts?

This blog looks at the report’s approach, and presents some of the concerns expressed by this, in particular through a letter drafted by Mathilde Parvis and Andrea Wallace.

First of all, the suggestion to digitise and make collections accessible may seem an interesting initiative in the context of outreach by heritage institutions. For a number of years now, it has been clear that giving access to digital collections is a key mission for cultural institutions, as the report mentions briefly.

However, there are questions about whether this should be subject to the decision of the French state, or be a pre-condition for restitution. The term ‘restitution’, as defined in the report, is strongly connected to the question of legitimate ownership of the object. This cannot be brushed aside when it comes to digital collections.

Arguably, the legitimate ownership by African governments of returned items should give them the right to take decisions regarding the appropriate policy to be put in place on digital collections. Can it be appropriate for the government of a former colonial power to set out such demands in a restitution agreement when talking about heritage that arguably should never have been in its possession in the first place?

Indeed, as Mathilde Parvis and Andrea Wallace’s response perfectly underlines: it should rather be up to the communities to make decisions concerning the artefacts of their heritage. Indeed, suggesting or imposing in bilateral agreements a policy of digitisation and open access to collections appears to be at odds with the principle of recognition of spoliation.

Moreover, the report’s proposals concerning free and open access to and use of images does not seem to match the policy around images in French collections. Indeed, French policy on openGLAM is not based on a centralized ministerial incentive but on the will of cities and organisations independently of each other (whereas German GLAM institutions are far more organised and supported).

The request made to African governments regarding the opening of access to digital collections of collections seems, therefore, to be antithetical with the policy it applies to the digital collections of France’s own institutions.

Clearly, openness is to be welcomed in general as the best way of giving the biggest number of people possible the opportunity to engage with heritage, where other concerns (privacy or indigenous rights for example) do not stand in the way. Nonetheless, in these conditions, it risks being seen as an imposition, not a virtue.

Therefore, Parvis and Wallace’s reply defines several ways to reframe the recommendations of the Sarr-Savoy report, such as:

– Clearly define the scope of Open Access – commercial, non-commercial, public domain, possibility of reuse.
– Clearly define who owns the digital image reproductions.
– Carry out research on the conformity of these recommendations concerning the laws of African countries.
– Do not separate digital reproductions from returned objects because the reproductions are also subject to cultural appropriation.

With plans now underway to reform France’s Heritage Code, we will follow closely how this debate is reflected in any proposed amendments.

Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres in Acton: Highlights from 2019-2020

Hosted in libraries around the world, IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres are hubs of knowledge on the preservation and conservation of library and archive materials.

Throughout the year, these Centres carry out work both internationally and within their regions to advance professional practice, facilitate knowledge-sharing, and provide training opportunities. Through their work, the global library field is better equipped to preserve its collections and help ensure documentary heritage remains accessible for future generation.

Despite the challenges of 2020, the PAC Centres have been actively involved in a wide variety of projects. Here is a look at some of the PAC Centres’ activities from the past year. You can read the full Annual Reports from each PAC Centre here.

International Cooperation

One of the major assets of the PAC Centre network is their ability to facilitate international cooperation. Here’s a look at several different approaches to strengthening cooperation across boarders:

Equipment Sharing

  • PAC North America brought a portable multispectral imaging system to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, Ireland to image historic medieval Irish manuscripts, dating from the 6th – 16th centuries. In an ongoing collaboration with the University College Cork, the PAC Centre will be using this data to render faded and obscured text that has been unreadable for centuries, to look at how the books were originally made and written, and to combine this information with scholarly historical context to provide a deeper understanding of these significant materials.


  • PAC Korea  implemented a Material Preservation training program for foreign librarians visiting the National Library of Korea, including participating librarians from Bhutan, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Cambodia.
  • PAC Russia hosted an Interdisciplinary scientific and practical conference on the study of rare book collections of Russia and Austria, discussion problems of preservation and conservation of rare books and sheet music, documents, photographs. More than 100 specialists from Russia, Austria, Switzerland, and Qatar, attended the conference, which was also webcasted and received more than 220,000 views.
  • PAC Qatar and University College London, working through the British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership, organised a seminar: Before It Is Too Late: Protecting and Preserving Arab Audiovisual Heritage on World Day for Audiovisual Heritage on 27 October 2019. The seminar emphasized the urgency of efforts to preserve the unique audiovisual heritage of Qatar and the Middle East on a large scale by finding collaborative solutions and sharing expertise.
  • Although PAC North America could not host the tours and public events that are usually scheduled for Preservation Week this year, the Library held an online series of webinars in its Topics in Preservation series aimed at a professional audience — librarians, archivists and museum staff. Each webinar drew more than 500 attendees from across every U.S. time zone in the U.S. as well as international participants.

Digitisation of Cultural Heritage

  • PAC Poland, together with international experts, contributed to the blog of POLONA/<labs>, a web-based resource created by the National Library of Poland dedicated to the use of new technologies in digitisation and promotion of cultural heritage. PAC Poland addresses various technical issues in digitisation and digital preservation with nine blog entries published in English and in Polish.
  • The PAC Centre for Oceania, hosted at the National Library of Australia, together with the Australian Government and the National Library of New Zealand, are working with colleagues across the Pacific to develop the Pacific Virtual Museum. This online portal will provide a single access point to digitised Pacific cultural heritage items held across museums, galleries and library collections across the world and will allow people from the Pacific to access their digitised cultural heritage, much of which is stored in offshore institutions.

Cooperation with other PAC Centres

The PAC Centres are uniquely positioned to cooperate with one another, exchanging experiences and sharing knowledge across their network.

For example, a framework of professional exchange between specialists has been established between the PAC Centres for Arabic Countries and Middle East (Qatar) and for the CIS and Eastern Europe (Russia).

Over the past year, specialists from QNL visited their Russian colleagues to share experience in risk management. The presentation introduced different types of damage on library collections, resulting from various disaster hazards, and the measures to prevent such damage, with the aim to preserve the library resources and the authenticity of library materials.

The PAC Regional Center for Central Asia, hosted at the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which includes countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, also has established an agreement to cooperate closely with the Russia PAC Centre on exchanging knowledge and expertise.

Local/Regional Cooperation

Another important aspect of the PAC Centres is their local connections and familiarity with local context. This allows them to initiate or take part in programmes that address specific challenges or issues in their countries and regions. Here are some examples for PAC work in their regions over the past year:

Disaster Response and Recovery

  • PAC Japan, hosted at the National Diet Library in Tokyo, dispatched staff to assist in the rescue of library materials and museum collections damaged by a typhoon that hit Eastern Japan in October 2019.
  • In December 2019, staff from PAC North America travelled to San Juan, Puerto Rico and conducted assessments at La Casa del Libro, a museum dedicated to the history and artistry of the printed word. They examined and wrote condition reports on nearly 90 objects, mostly books and bound manuscripts, from the 15th through the 17th centuries as well as several artists books from the 20th century printed and bound by Puerto Rican artists. The materials were all held in the museum during hurricane Maria in 2017, which suffered damage in the storm.

Training and Support

  • PAC Korea provided various forms of preservation treatment support for valuable materials held in multiple domestic libraries. The Centre also organised a Preservation and Conservation of Library Materials learning course for librarians covering multiple subjects, from traditional preservation of library materials to audio-visual heritage and more. As part of this programme, they filmed training videos on conservation treatment of library materials, to provide instruction on basic conservation techniques without the need for face-to-face learning.
  • PAC Poland has also provided support to libraries across the country and beyond, mostly related requests for support on digitisation. In December 2019, the Centre arranged a one-day workshop with a Q&A session with a visiting expert on using the image quality standard Metamorfoze Preservation Imaging in mass digitisation projects of library materials. The event was attended by specialists from reprographic departments of various libraries, museums and archives in Poland.
  • PAC Japan and the National Diet Library organises an annual one-day program on preservation and conservation of library materials for librarians in Japan. This program includes a lecture on basic preservation theory and a workshop on elementary techniques for mending paper materials. It was held three times in September 2019 for a total of 70 trainees.
  • The PAC Centre for Central Asia (Kazakhstan) hosts an annual School for the Conservation and Restoration of Written Documents, operated by the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This features courses to improve the skills of specialists in the field of preservation and preservation of paper documents. In 2019, practical classes were held with specialists from libraries, archives and museums of Kazakhstan. In 2020, classes were held online with specialists from the Kyzylorda and Kostanai regions. The PAC Centre also held a training seminar and master classes on the restoration of rare books in Uzbekistan, which were attended by restorers-binders from libraries, archives and museums of Uzbekistan.

Region-Specific Initiatives

  • The Qatar National Library and the PAC Center for Arab Countries and the Middle East (Qatar) have launched the Himaya Project, an initiative to counter the trafficking of manuscripts, books and archives in the MENA region. An important goal of the project will also be to create strong engagement with broader international agencies and regional organizations to counter trafficking of items. In addition to working with IFLA, they will cooperate closely with the World Customs Organization (WCO), INTERPOL, and UNIDROIT.
  • PAC Qatar also carried out the project, Supporting Documentary Heritage Preservation in the Arab Region In collaboration with UNESCO (June 2018 – June 2020). 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 in December 2019, which was jointly organised by Qatar National Library and UNESCO.
  • PAC Oceania and the National Library of Australia are collaborating with partners in the Pacific region to improve knowledge of and access to Pacific cultural heritage resources through the Australian collaborative online library database Trove.  Pacific is part of the new ‘Place’ facet of Trove. This feature gives users the ability to narrow their search to items related to the Pacific, allowing Pacific peoples to find and access freely available digitised material relating to their own culture and region online without having to visit an Australian library in person.

 PAC Centres and IFLA Projects

The major project that PAC Centres carried out with IFLA this year was the creation of the Preservation and Conversation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

This initiative helps to connect the expertise of the PAC Centres more directly to the global library field. Each participating PAC Centre identified key topics in the field of preservation and conservation on which they often receive questions. Each question has been answered with an explanation, best practice advice, and steps to help users tackle preservation and conservation issues.

Check out the Preservation and Conversation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) here.

PAC Centres and COVID-19

Despite the pandemic and lockdown procedures affecting many planned activities for 2020, the PAC Centres have been active in supporting libraries and the preservation field through this time.

PAC Qatar has provided support to Arab libraries throughout the COVID-19 period through direct response to related technical questions, and through participation and organization of webinars. These includes participation in a webinar with the American Library Association titled: Libraries Reopening: A Perspective of Best Practices from Around the World in the Time of COVID-19.

Work is also underway with University College London – Qatar to issue a guide on preventative measures for use across the region and beyond.

PAC North America is participating in an interagency study on safety practices for libraries, archives, and museums, convened by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and OCLC, called Reopening Archives, Libraries and Museums (REALM). The PAC team is participating in the Scientific Working Group that will review the literature and support laboratory testing to develop safe practices for library operations.

Standards, Guidelines & Best Practices

New this year

Coming Up

  • PAQ Qatar is developing a disaster plan template and tool kit in Arabic for libraries in MENA region with a special focus on conflicts – coming in 2021.
  • The Preservation Services branch of the National Library of Australia is currently researching current approaches to off-gassing requirements for construction materials and paints used for exhibition/display construction. This includes looking into the suite of modern Low/No VOC paints and reviewing the established preservation standard of 4 weeks off-gassing time.


“What is in the public domain should stay in the public domain!” – Article 14 of the EU-DSM Directive

by Timotej Kotnik Jesih, Intellectual Property Institute, www.ipi.si and Dr. Maja Bogataj Jančič, Intellectual Property Institute (IPI), www.ipi.si

The new Digital Single Market Directive (hereinafter the DSM Directive)[1] addresses works of visual art in the public domain in its Article 14, which reads “Member States shall provide that, when the term of protection of a work of visual art has expired, any material resulting from an act of reproduction of that work is not subject to copyright or related rights, unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author’s own intellectual creation.”

This article was introduced by the European Parliament as an amendment during the legislative process with the intention of enhancing cultural heritage preservation by relying on the legal concept of public domain. Its aim is to ensure that works of visual art that are in the public domain in analogue form remain in the public domain also in digital form, by not granting copyright protection to faithful reproductions of such works. Reproduction of visual works in the public domain can, pursuant to Article 14 DSM Directive, be granted copyright protection only when they fulfil the originality threshold themselves. The rationale for this provision is explained in the DSM Directive’s Recital 53, as “[t]he expiry of the term of protection of work entails the entry of that work into the public domain” and “the circulation of faithful reproductions of works in the public domain contributes to the access to and promotion of culture, and the access to cultural heritage“, whereas in the digital environment, “the protection of such reproductions through copyright or related rights is inconsistent with the expiry of the copyright protection of works“.

Article 14 DSM Directive increases the level of legal security for libraries and other cultural heritage institutions (CHIs) when they use public domain works of visual art in cultural heritage preservation activities, as faithful reproductions of such works sometimes otherwise enjoy protection by related rights, even if they do not meet the copyright-required originality threshold. Article 14 enables libraries to be able to make visual works from their collections (that are in the public domain) available online and in a digital format, without the fear of such works having to be taken down. With the good implementation in national legal systems, Article 14 will hopefully provide the tool for libraries to expand and facilitate the access to works in the public domain and improve cultural heritage preservation across the whole of EU.

Despite Article 14 being one of the most unambiguous provisions in the DSM Directive, there is still some leeway for libraries and CHIs to try and ensure the best possible implementation of this provision.[2] While Article 14 explicitly applies only to works of visual arts, there is nothing preventing the member states from implementing a broader provision, covering any type of works. Such implementation would further improve cultural heritage preservation, as the issue of appropriation of public domain works and protecting non-original reproductions is certainly not limited only to visual works.

In Slovenia, the DSM Directive implementation process started in March 2020 when the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology (hereinafter the Ministry) invited interested stakeholders to convene and conduct a public debate. After the COVID-19 pandemic prevented any in-person consultations, the Ministry called upon interested stakeholders to provide written submissions on how to best implement the DSM Directive in Slovenian legal order by April 30, 2020, which were then published online and all stakeholders were invited to submit a second round of comments by 30 June 2020. We are now waiting for the publication of second-round comments and publication of the first draft of the legislative proposal.

Many public interest institutions in Slovenia participated in this process: research institutions, educational institutions, NGOs and CHIs. Several libraries and CHIs across Slovenia submitted their comments addressing also the Article 14.[3] In their submissions, they emphasised Art 14’s importance as a public domain safeguard and called for implementation that encompasses all types of works, not only those of visual art, and that would ensure that copyright protection is not granted to faithful reproductions notwithstanding whether they were made before or after the original work was already in public domain.

Stakeholders have not disputed such position on Article 14 implementation so far, which may showcases that in Slovenia there is a high level of awareness of importance of public domain works for cultural heritage preservation and that broad implementation of Article 14 is desirable and necessary in order for libraries and other CHIs to perform their cultural heritage preservation functions adequately. While it remains to be seen which route the Slovenian legislator, which usually provides for an expansive and strong protection of stakeholders, will take when implementing Article 14 CDSM Directive, the early signs are encouraging for libraries and other CHIs, and they can reasonably expect to be able to rely on works in public domain in a broadest possible way.

[1] Directive (EU) 2019/790 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market and amending Directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29/EC, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dir/2019/790/oj; last visite July 2020;

[2] see also Communia Guidelines: https://www.notion.so/Article-14-Works-of-visual-art-in-the-public-domain-eb1d5900a10e4bf4b99d7e91b4649c86 and Transposing the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market: A Guide for Libraries and Library Associations (LIBER): https://zenodo.org/record/3552203#.Xx_hjy2B3OR, last visited July 2020

[3] Positions of stakeholders are available here (in Slovenian)https://www.gov.si/novice/2020-06-05-prenos-direktiv-s-podrocja-avtorskega-prava/, last visited in July 2020;

The Power of the Narrative: African World Heritage Day

[Today] there is a growing understanding that human diversity is both the reality that makes dialogue necessary, and the very basis for that dialogue… We recognize that we are the products of many cultures, traditions and memories; that mutual respect allows us to study and learn from other cultures; and that we gain strength by combining the foreign with the familiar.

Kofi Annan (Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1997-2006)


The goal of preserving world heritage – that is, heritage deemed to be of “outstanding universal value” – is to ensure a legacy from the past is passed on to future generations. This legacy belongs to all humankind, it is quite literally the heritage of the world.

Through international cooperation for world heritage preservation, we are able to access and explore the most outstanding natural, cultural, and mixed sites offered by each country around the world. It is a doorway to learning about peoples’ values, histories, cross-border exchanges, and riches of natural and cultural diversity.

It is through learning about and celebrating this diversity that mutual respect grows.

African World Heritage Day

African World Heritage Day on 5 May is an opportunity for people around the world, and particularly Africans and those of African descent, to celebrate Africa’s vibrant and unique cultural and natural heritage.

Unfortunately, while African heritage is underrepresented on the World Heritage List (only 12% of all sites), it features disproportionally highly on the List of World Heritage in Danger (39% of all sites in danger).  Civil unrest and instability, uncontrolled development, lack of investment in its safeguarding, and threats of climate change are all factors in the endangerment of world heritage in this region.

As the Ngorongoro Declaration (2016) affirms, safeguarding African World Heritage is a central driver for sustainable development, and so there is an urgent need to build capacity for heritage conservation and management in the region.

This will take international cooperation, overwriting the long-standing effects of colonial inequalities in heritage conservation, and ensuring that a narrative of diversity, dignity, and solidarity is established.

More than World Heritage

Yet maintaining a dialogue on cultural diversity takes more than the preservation of heritage sites. Looking to the historical record and personal accounts can bring these sites to life, by describing their value to the people and societies who created and lived in these places, often in their own words.

There is much power to be found in stories, archives, and records. They help us recognise that we are the “products of many cultures, traditions and memories” – they give context to the heritage of the world. UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme promotes the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage, which are key resources for telling these stories.

In Africa, tapping into the power of these resources can be a central part in rewriting the narrative of the region’s cultural heritage, raising awareness of its rich traditions, building pride in one’s cultural identity, and educating on the value of cultural diversity.

Through this, heritage can spark a dialogue of mutual respect, which hopefully will play a role in counteracting the threats of extremism, helping to heal inequalities, and contributing to sustainable development.

Manuscripts of the Sahel

Let’s explore an example of the power of the narrative in this context.

In early 2020, IFLA was represented at an international consultation on documentary heritage in the Sahel, organised by UNESCO and held in the Malian capital, Bamako.

The meeting aimed to contribute to strengthening the preservation, accessibility and enhancement of ancient manuscripts from the Sahel region, in order to “improve universal access to knowledge on the written history of Africa”. Read more about this event here.

Containing a range of topics from mathematics to science, philosophy, grammar and theology, the manuscripts comprise a narrative that might not be widely known – depicting this region as a hub for knowledge exchange and intercultural discussion, and providing a rich African history of the written word.

Over the past years, manuscripts in the Sahel region have been notoriously targeted for destruction by those trying to silence this narrative. This destruction was mirrored in the context of built heritage with the targeted destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu in 2012.

However, preserving and utilising the Sahelian ancient manuscripts to promote public access to the information and knowledge contained within can strengthen national cohesion, tolerance and dialogue. Experts maintain that the “protection, accessibility and promotion of ancient manuscripts can serve as a basis for building just, inclusive and peaceful societies in the Sahel”.

IFLA continues to support this project, and those who are working for the preservation of documentary heritage.


Ensuring the continuity of this shared narrative has the power to make a positive difference in a region that still faces many challenges.

Strengthening the preservation, accessibility and enhancement of such examples of heritage can not only strengthen respect for built heritage, it can bring forgotten pieces of history back to life – sparking dialogue, countering preconceived notions, and promoting respect.

On this African World Heritage Day, let’s celebrate the power of the narrative.

Something Old, Something New: COVID-19’s effect on documentary heritage professionals

The shock of cultural institutions shuttering is beginning to wear off. The world of social distancing might begin feeling like the new normal, even as, depending where in the world you are, there is talk of memory institutions re-opening.

For the past months, we have been living in a world without cultural institutions as public spaces.  We’ve seen museums close their doors, libraries exploring online engagement, and many cultural professionals furloughed or navigating their work from home.

Through this crisis, UNESCO maintains the importance of culture, including a call for greater support to documentary heritage during COVID-19, co-signed by IFLA.

How is the crisis affecting the professionals that are working to preserve and provide access to the world’s cultural heritage? We’ve reached out to documentary heritage practitioners in our international network of Preservation and Conversation (PAC) Centres to reflect on their experience of working through the pandemic.

Q: How have stay-at-home measures affected the preservation work at your institution?

 Library of Congress, USA

Stay-at-home guidance has had a major, and predictable, impact on our work with the physical collections. We have had to stop conservation treatments and laboratory research, along with our collections maintenance projects like shelf reading and condition surveys. We are fortunate to have dedicated staff who are able to make weekly rounds in our storage areas to ensure collections are safe, which has paid off several times. The weather is not on lockdown and accidents can always happen.

Many of our digital preservation activities are not only active, but have taken on special significance. We are working on COVID web archiving projects along with several international partners, for example. Our digital resources, and the infrastructures for preservation and access that support them, are more in demand than ever. Our digital content management projects continue more or less as before.


National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), Trinidad and Tobago:

 Trinidad and Tobago has taken emergency measures to curtail the spread of Covid-19. A Stay-at-Home order has been in effect since 27 March with only essential services asked to report to work.

The National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) has closed its facilities to the public, ramping up its online services and permitting only designated staff access to the National Library Building which houses the Heritage Library and the Preservation Lab.

The hands-on work of conservation and preservation, that is, the direct work with collections – the assessment, diagnostic and treatment phases, as well as cataloguing and digitization – have all been placed on hold.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

The mayor of Moscow announced a regime of self-isolation from 30 March to 1 May.

During this period, only organisations and business that cannot stop their activities due to production and technical conditions, those providing citizens with essential goods, those providing warehousing and logistics services, emergency response, and construction are able to continue working. Therefore, until 1 May, the Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Documents at the Russian Library for Foreign Literature does not work. It is not yet clear whether such instructions will be extended.

The regime of self-isolation was introduced gradually, at first only for a week, and then extended. It was therefore difficult to prepare for it.

It’s important to note that the situation differs between Russian regions. For example, our colleagues from Siberia are making videos instructing readers on how to repair books themselves.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

 The lockdown in Sri Lanka has certainly affected the preservation work at the National Library. The National Library has completely closed for staff and visitors from 23 March.


National Library of Australia:

We are continuing preservation work at the National Library of Australia through a variety of means, namely those staff working from home are working on procedure review updating processes and completing research that often we don’t get time to do as part of our day-to-day business.

Two tasks we are looking into are a complete review of our care and handling training we provide Library staff and researching new approaches to exhibition furniture and material off-gassing needs.


Q: Is your team working remotely, still on location, or a mix of the two?

 National Diet Library, Japan:

In Tokyo, people are asked to stay home but it isn’t as strict as in some other countries for now. Staff in the preservation division of the National Diet Library are split between remote working and on-location.  About one third of staff members work at home or take a day off in rotation.


Library of Congress, USA: 

We are almost entirely remote agency-wide, though the details vary group by group. We do have essential staff on site to ensure the safety of the buildings and collections, but the number is strictly limited and they are scheduled to minimize contact.

About half the Preservation staff have full time telework projects to carry us through the next several months, and others have part-time projects or training they can complete online.

Our digital content management staff have shifted to full telework mode, with some significant adjustments having been made to allow teamwork to continue using a variety of tools to support remote collaboration.


National Library of Australia:

 Our Digital Preservation team is working solely from home which has impact on their technical ability to process collection items. All of this work continues, just a little more slowly. Some work, such as the processing of obsolete carriers, has pretty much ceased.

The rest of the lab team is working on a roster system, part of the week at home, the other at work. This enables our core treatment work to continue and provide support to the Library’s digitisation programme. While the Library building is closed, we have also taken the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive condition report and clean of all objects on permanent display. This task otherwise gets scheduled into the small hours before the building opens to the public or after hours, so it is a good opportunity to do this now.

It also provides the team with good social distancing opportunities as we aim to have a Team A working in the morning, Team B in the afternoon.


Q: What work has been possible to achieve? How have priorities shifted during this time?

National Diet Library Japan:

Naturally, conservation works are slowing down, as conservators cannot take library books home, but haven’t stopped. We will need to cancel or postpone training workshops and other events unless the situation improves dramatically.


Library of Congress, USA: 

First and foremost, in times like these we are very much the Library of Congress, with many of staff fully engaged in providing information to our legislators to support their work in the face of this pandemic. I am sure that many of our colleagues in IFLA national and parliamentary libraries are doing the same and it certainly makes me proud of our profession.

This period has allowed many preservation staff a welcome opportunity to dig into research and to do thoughtful, uninterrupted work to create research guides and educational materials, or to work on complex problems.

This crisis has been valuable in helping us stress-test both our priorities and our procedures. So, while our ultimate goals and major priorities remain, we have learned a great deal about how to achieve them. I see this as a good time to ask which processes were resilient and which need to be refined, retired, or redesigned.


NALIS, Trinidad and Tobago:

Even though direct work with the collections have been paused, staff are focussed on outreach and professional development. Outreach efforts are being ramped up via social media outlets with events such as tutorials on preserving family heirlooms, pictures and documents and other community engagements planned via Facebook and the NALIS website.

Events such as ‘this day in history’ for Trinidad and Tobago are ongoing and online tours of our large catalogue of exhibits and displays are also planned. Programmes that would have been held, such as our First Time Authors, celebrating newly published authors in commemoration of World Book and Copyright Day, will now be featured online.

Some consultative work is still being done, but these pertain to collaborative projects in train before the shut down and these are via the usual communication media and a limited reference service is in effect using NALIS’ online heritage resources and askNalis facility.

One of NALIS’ priorities has always been the financial sustainability of the PAC Lab and the preservation projects and efforts. It is even more so now in the straightened economic circumstances that would exist in a world battling with the pandemic.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

At the moment, there is a process of editing the translation of IFLA guidelines and working on the National Program for the Preservation of Library Collections. Due to the fact that restorers cannot work remotely, the focus was shifted towards methodological activities.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

 The National Library has strengthened digital services during lock down period. This includes assistance offered to our communities via the telephone, and on social media like the National Library Facebook page.


National Library of Australia:

We are maintaining some focus on our main treatment programmes but these will experience delays because of the reduced time at the bench to undertake treatments.

We have been able to address a lot of tasks we just never got to previously and as discussed above – procedure review, some professional reading. Digital preservation work continues – just at a slower than normal rate due to the technological issues of working off site.  

Q: What comes next? Has there been discussion in your region over what will come next for preservation, or over lasting changes to the field after COVID-19?


National Diet Library Japan:

We haven’t yet discussed possible changes to our work after COVID-19, but I am not expecting any significant changes for preservation.


Library of Congress, USA: 

The initial deliberations about how to reopen are starting and preservation experts have been important contributors to the working groups on this topic. The Institute for Museum and Library Services has convened several Federal agencies, including the Library of Congress, to work with medical and public health experts to develop guidance for the field.

In preservation, there is always a long future to look forward to. The Library of Congress is celebrating its 220th anniversary this month and we look forward to sharing our beautiful spaces and great collections for another 220 years and beyond.


NALIS, Trinidad and Tobago:

The NALIS PAC Lab – as an IFLA PAC Centre – has reached out to its regional partners in the form of a simple survey to discuss preservation in the time of COVID-19. We are awaiting feedback.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

At the moment, this is unknown. However, I think that work will continue ahead in the usual manner.

We collect information about the processing of books after the pandemic, but for ourselves we have so far revealed the main idea – two-week quarantine is universal, safe for books and does not cost a lot of money.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

The National Library has issued guidelines regarding the exit strategy from COVID-19 for libraries in Sri Lanka.


National Library of Australia:

I don’t believe there has been any discussion about what next, as the Australian community is still in the ‘what to do now’ phase. The latest from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) is available here.  At this stage, I have not heard anything in relation to changes regarding digital preservation.


In conclusion

Documentary heritage professionals are facing varying degrees of stay-at-home measures around the world. Despite setbacks and the limited access to materials, work has been able to continue.

Providing support to government, reflecting on processes, diving into research and methodological work, and shifting the focus to digital communications are examples of how professionals keep preservation and access to documentary heritage moving ahead through the pandemic.

As the focus shifts from “what to do now” to “what comes next”, it is vital that this work is allowed to continue forward and develop in a positive direction thanks to the lessons we have learned during this time.

In the words of the PAC Centre at the Library of Congress, USA, “In preservation, there is always a long future to look forward to”.

We look forward to navigating the post-COVID-19 world with access and preservation of cultural heritage continuing to be upheld as a priority.


Libraries: Culture, Connection and Transition

When cities leverage their heritage for development, there is the possibility of gaining their investment back in social and economic dividends. Investing in cultural heritage can make a location more attractive for tourism, new residential growth and business investment – changing the landscape of a community and the way people interact with it.

I recently attended a webinar on this topic offered by EUROCITIES, an economic, political and social development network connecting many of Europe’s major cities.

Experts spoke to their experience of social and economic returns on cultural heritage investment, including finding balance between social and economic benefits of urban renewal and the negative effects of gentrification and over-tourism.

When considering cultural heritage as a tool for development, this was a very interesting concept and it got me thinking – as memory institutions, where do libraries fit into this?

Urban Transition in Bakklandet  

This discussion focussed on heritage and social and economic valorisation – that is, the process of creating social and economic value from cultural heritage resources.

The example I’d like to focus on is from the Bakklandet neighbourhood of Trondheim, Norway. Today this area is a must-see for tourists in the city, who enjoy the traditional wooden architecture, colourful buildings, and plentiful cafes.

Colourful buildings in Bakklandet

Colourful buildings in Bakklandet (photo by darolti dan on Unsplash http://bit.ly/3bc3xVI)

However, this was historically a working-class area, which in the 1960s faced the threat of being demolished to make room for a highway. The neighbourhood was saved by locals, whose grassroot campaigning successfully opposed the demolition plans. Given this history, the area for a long time has been home to a deeply engaged local population.

Bakklandet is now in a period of urban transition – valued by tourists for its cultural capital, and therefore valued by investors and businesses for its economic potential.

How does a city in transition balance the benefits that economic returns on heritage can bring while preserving authenticity and social capital for residents?

I would argue one answer lies in libraries, as memory institutions and as public spaces.

Third-Party Preservation of Memory

I wondered if there was any information in this case study on the role of libraries and archives in keeping local’s connection to culture at the heart of Bakklandet’s transition.

The speaker from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who presented this case study informed me that residents themselves have taken action to record the history of their community.

Locals have created an online archive, rich with historic photos and stories about the neighbourhood’s long history, alongside current news and events connecting residents to one another.

The speaker referred to this repository as a third-party preservation of memory. It is a wonderful blend of memory, history and social connection. It is a community centered around a deep connection to its neighbourhood, preserving its memory and building social capital among its residents.

Check it out here (in Norwegian): https://blvel.wordpress.com/hjem/bilder/

The Role of the Library

What if a physical library could function the same way?

Could it become a hub for local history, preservation and social connection to balance the changing landscape that comes with urban transition?

Could it itself be an attractive stop for visitors, which helps connect them to the local heritage through exhibitions, public events and cultural expressions?

What could libraries do to build up their role as providers of connection and social capital, while balancing the negative effects that a changing city can face?

Like the example of Bakklandet, the answer could come from the bottom up. Engaging the local population, especially in areas of urban renewal and transition, could be a valuable first step towards reimagining the library as a hub of culture and connection.

 What can be done?

Are there local stories in your archives waiting to be told? Are there grassroots preservation initiatives that could benefit from a physical space? Could cultural heritage be a method by which to engage both locals and tourists?

Many libraries have already taken note of the value they can bring their communities in this way. From community archiving initiatives to IFLA’s own Local History and Genealogy Section, we are certainly seeing these suggestions in practice within the library profession.

Collecting best practices, sharing evidence of the impact of such programmes, and cooperating with other sectors within cultural heritage and development are positive steps that can be taken to advocate for libraries in this space.

We encourage you to consider these questions, then share your thoughts and ideas!

Libraries, Culture and Heritage in 2020

Culture is the way we express ourselves. It is the celebration of diversity. It is sharing, teaching, learning and connecting.

Cultural heritage are the traditions, spaces, and artifacts that tell the stories of our communities – big and small.

In 2020, let’s embrace the role of libraries as hubs for cultural expression and heritage. Let’s explore how every aspect of the library and information service profession helps preserve culture and make it accessible to all.

Our Goals for 2020 and beyond

  1. Demonstrate how culture and cultural heritage connects the library field and builds connections between people and communities
  2. Inspire libraries to think more strategically on how they can use culture and cultural heritage to provide value for society
  3. Use culture and cultural heritage to help libraries engage more meaningfully on a regional level
  4. Enable libraries and collection holders to build their capacity to carry out digitisation and risk reduction initiatives

Coming Up in 2020

From preserving cultural heritage and intervening with heritage at risk, to increasing opportunities for people to experience and share cultural expression and beyond, here’s an overview of some major projects coming up this year:

Strengthening Cooperation within IFLA

Culture and heritage cover a lot of ground, and many different professionals from across IFLA’s activities are involved in one way or another.  This year is about aligning work across the organisation to allow for better channels of communication, opportunities for collaboration, and a greater overall impact.

The Cultural Heritage Programme (CHP) Advisory Committee has been renewed to include members representing Rare Books and Special Collections, Audio-visual and Multimedia, Indigenous Matters, and Art Libraries, in addition to the Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres and Preservation and Conservation Section. This advisory body will ensure we have the expert oversight to steer all of IFLA’s cultural heritage programming.

WLIC 2020 will also bring exciting opportunities for collaboration between IFLA’s Sections, both those immediately involved in cultural heritage and those from other areas of the profession. Keep an eye out for Sessions organised by Preservation and Conservation together with the Sections focused on Information Technology, as well as Local History and Genealogy jointly with Indigenous Matters and Rare Books and Special Collections.


Heritage at Risk

Plans are underway to revitalise IFLA’s Register for Documentry Heritage at Risk in 2020. At the heart of this re-launch will be provisions to build more content around the register itself, creating a more comprehensive set of tools. In addition to raising awareness of the register and its function, these tools will add value for collection holders both leading up to and following their collection’s inclusion on the register.

This should prove to be an opportunity to develop our partnership with UNESCO, as we continue to collaborate with the Memory of the World Programme and Culture Sector within the scope of this project.


PAC Centres Growing Regional Connection and Representation

IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre network is a valuable resource, not only for sharing knowledge, but for building regional understanding, capacity and networks. Over the course of the year, we will work to raise the profile of the PAC Centre Network. This includes evaluating performance and finding ways to increase their impact, both within their regions and across IFLA’s cultural activities.


Libraries in the Climate Heritage Network

Launched in October 2019, the Climate Heritage Network (CHN) is an energetic initiative working to highlight and enhance the role of memory institutions in climate action. IFLA is a proud founding member of the CHN.

We feel libraries a can have a large impact through our work in preservation and access to information and data. This also includes our field’s knowledge about the preservation of and access to digital heritage

Librarian and archivist-led exploration and discovery of information and data can power other advocacy and awareness-raising efforts. This year will bring opportunities for IFLA to contribute to the CHN through communicating the connection between cultural heritage and climate action.   


Typology of libraries in national literacy programmes

Literacy programmes can help drive a lifelong love of reading and learning, as well as providing essential skills for economic and civic participation. This brings with it opportunities to experience diverse cultural expressions and record one’s own. This year, we want to better understand the role libraries currently play in national-level literacy plans around the world.

We are also seeking to strengthen partnerships at the international and regional level, through the UNESCO Education Sector, to advocate for the important role libraries plan in society to increase literacy.


Long-term Preservation and Digitalisation

PERSIST is a project spearheaded by IFLA together with UNESCO and the International Council on Archives. It aims to enhance the sustainability of the information society by establishing continuity of access to information through preservation.

The Content Selection Guidelines were first prepared by the UNESCO PERSIST initiative in 2016. In the light of experience in applying the guidelines, as well as broader technological change over the last four years, we’ve decided that it is time for an update. This year, we are convening a working group to update  the guidance around existing elements, and to include new types of content in these guidelines.


For updates, follow our Cultural Heritage programmes online at ifla.org/cultural-heritage and on the Library Policy and Advocacy blog