Tag Archives: Heritage

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.

Highlighting the Role of Libraries in Protection and Promotion of Diverse Cultural Expressions

2021 is the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, and IFLA has been helping libraries identify where they fit in – and how they can advocate for their role.

The UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is an international framework in which Member States commit to promoting conditions that will allow creativity and the creative economy to thrive. You can learn more about this Convention with IFLA’s Get Into the 2005 Convention Guide.

We have examined some of the broader ways in which libraries open the door to cultural participation in a recent article. Key values upheld by libraries which allow cultural participation and protection include providing access to information, education, and lifelong learning opportunities, promoting digital, media and information literacy skills, and carrying out cultural heritage preservation.

Through our advocacy, which highlights how libraries connect their communities to all forms of cultural creation and participation, we can help build awareness of the important role of libraries in society. To do this effectively, there are four useful steps you can take:

  1. Set an advocacy goal
  2. Identify your audience
  3. Clarify your advocacy message and ask
  4. Provide examples that support your advocacy message

This article will walk you through these steps and suggest actions that you can take to advocate for the role of libraries role in cultural participation. You will be strongest working with your association if this exists, but of course contributions from individual libraries will add to this.

Step 1: Defining your Goal: Including Libraries in National Reporting

From the beginning, it is important to have an objective for your advocacy in mind. In this case, you will want to ensure that libraries and examples of relevant library programmes are included in your country’s next Period Report to the 2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

This document is a result of the fact that State Parties to the 2005 Convention are required to submit a report every four years. These reports detail the policies and measures they have put in place, as well as any challenges they have encountered.

These reports are an important way for civil society and other stakeholders to engage with government officials and demonstrate progress being made towards implementing the Convention. Find out more.

Periodic Reports in 2021 and 2022

The following countries will be preparing Period Reports in the next two years. Note that the 2021 deadline for State Parties to submit their report to UNESCO is 30 June.

2021: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Comoros, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Iraq, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Turkey, Venezuela

2022: Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Czechia (Czech Republic), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Lesotho, Malawi, Republic of Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine

Step 2: Identify your Target Audience: National Points of Contact

A next step in effective advocacy is to identity your audience – in particular who will take the critical decisions, and who might influence them.

In order to achieve the goal of including libraries in your country’s next periodic report, your main audience would be your country’s National Point of Contact for the 2005 Convention.

National Points of Contact

State Parties to the 2005 Convention have each designated a point of contact responsible for information-sharing with relevant Ministries and public agencies. These contact points gather information from both governmental and non-governmental sources and assist in the drafting of the quadrennial periodic reports.

Find your National Contact Point here.

You may also want to understand who can help you in convincing the national point of contact. These may be decision- and policymakers at the local or national level, institutions, civil society organisations, inter-governmental organisations, or other stakeholders. For example, are there specific libraries which could help, cultural associations which make strong use of libraries, or key journalists or thinkers?


Step 3: Clarify your Message and Ask: the Recognition of Libraries

With a clear goal and understanding of your target, you can then work out how to clearly state why your audience should consider libraries as important to their work (that is your message). This will be at the heart of your advocacy, in meetings, preparing blogs or articles, on social media and beyond.

You should also define clearly what you would like them to do, in order to make things simple for the decision-maker(s) (that is your ask).

You will want to define and draft these in a way (and a language) that is appropriate for your setting, but you can use the below as a starting point.


Libraries and their staff have a key role in preserving and providing the widest possible access to culture. They can foster an environment where diverse cultural expressions are encouraged, valued, shared, and protected – an environment in which a strong creative economy can thrive. Core values that the Convention upholds are also values that libraries champion and enable. These include freedom of information and expression, participatory democratic societies, linguistic diversity, the fundamental role of education, and recognition of the importance of the digital environment in education, creating and providing access to culture.


That in preparation of the upcoming Periodic Report, the National Point of Contact considers including examples from your country’s libraries which demonstrate how libraries have had a role in implementing the 2005 Convention and addressing challenges.


Step 4: Provide Examples of Libraries Contributing to the Convention’s Goals

Backing up your message with a selection of examples from your experience and that of other libraries adds power to your advocacy.

In this case, it would be a good idea to align your library’s examples with the goals of the 2005 Convention. Finding examples that align with the four goals set out in the Convention can help make a strong case to your National Contact Point for their inclusion in the Report.  The reporting period is four years, so examples can come from within that time frame.

Goal 1: Support sustainable systems of governance for culture

This might include examples of programmes, initiatives, or services that:

  • Promote information and awareness-raising activities for the culture and creative sector
  • Build capacity and/or provide training for artists and cultural professionals
  • Give support to medium, small, or micro-enterprise creative industries, such as promoting local authors and publishers, making space for art marketplaces or hosting writers or artists in residence
  • Contribute to participatory decision-making regarding cultural policy, such as making spaces for dialogue with government authorities (i.e. meetings, working groups).
  • Support digital literacy and promotion of creativity and cultural content in the digital environmental (skills and competences, creative spaces, innovation, research and development, etc.)

Goal 2: Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase the mobility of artists and cultural professionals

This might include examples of programmes, initiatives, or services that:

  • Connect potential beneficiaries of mobility funds to related information resources or training services
  • Participate in writing and other arts residencies or cultural events like festivals that host travelling artists or cultural professionals – notably from developing countries
  • Celebrate potentially little-known works by a diverse range of writers and other creators


Goal 3: Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks

This might include examples of programmes, initiatives, or services that:

  • Promote the inclusion of culture in sustainable development plans and strategies
  • Support or facilitate cultural programmes at the regional, urban and/or rural levels, especially community-based initiatives
  • Help to ensure the right to participation in cultural life and access to culture, especially addressing the needs of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.


Goal 4: Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms

This might include examples of programmes, initiatives, or services that:

  • Raise awareness of the right to participate freely in cultural life
  • Support women’s full participation in cultural life
  • Collect and manage data related to gender equality in the cultural and creative sectors
  • Advocate for writers and other artists and take a stand against limits to artistic freedom of expression

Next Steps

When you are prepared with your advocacy message, ask, and examples – it is time to reach out to the contact person you have identified. You could use the below message as a template:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am contacting you from [LIBRARY ASSOCIATION/LIBRARY], located in [CITY]. I have noted that our country is a State Party to the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and that you are due to submit a periodic report in [YEAR].

In order to best demonstrate the work within [COUNTRY] to protect and promote diverse cultural expressions, it would be beneficial to include the work that libraries have done in this area over the past four years.

Libraries and their staff have a key role in preserving and providing the widest possible access to culture. They can foster an environment where diverse cultural expressions are encouraged, valued, shared, and protected – an environment in which a strong creative economy can thrive. Core values that the Convention upholds are also values that libraries champion and enable. These include freedom of information and expression, participatory democratic societies, linguistic diversity, the fundamental role of education, and recognition of the importance of the digital environment in education, creating and providing access to culture.

Some examples from our country that impact on the goals of the 2005 Convention include:

[Goal number: List examples, be brief but specific. Provide links to more information if possible]

On behalf of [LIBRARY ASSOCIATION/LIBRARY], I hope that you will consider including these examples, as they contribute to the implementation of the 2005 Convention and showcase the dedication of the nation’s libraries to this work. I remain available to answer questions or provide additional information.

We can help!

Do not hesitate to reach out to IFLA for support in your advocacy. If you have examples in mind but would like further input or require addition support in crafting your advocacy approach – be in touch. We are happy to help.

Start by emailing: Claire.mcguire@ifla.org

Library Stat of the Week #50 (Part 1): Where there are stronger, and better used public and community libraries, there tends to be greater participation in artistic and creative activities

In part one of the last of our mini-series on libraries and cultural data – and indeed the last of our regular Library Stat of the Week posts for now – we’re looking at data about libraries and the wider cultural field.

This follows two posts exploring the relationship between libraries and the book sector, measured in terms of the share of household spending on culture going on books across countries for which culture is available.

In this post, we make use of Eurostat data about frequency of participation in artistic activities (in general), and regularity of attendance at cultural events (cinema, live performances, and cultural or heritage institutions such as museums).

Once again, we also draw on data from IFLA’s Library Map of the World, combined with World Bank population data.

Given that Eurostat data only covers Europe, and that Library Map of the World data is not complete for every country, we have limited analysis to those countries for which data is available.

The goal is to explore what relationships exist between the existence and use of libraries and broader cultural participation. The thesis is that libraries can act as a gateway to culture, providing opportunities that are both local, and free, for people to discover creativity, both in others and in themselves.

The first part of this post looks at data around participation in artistic activities, compared to different metrics of availability of libraries (measured by the number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people), and their use (measured by numbers of visits and loans per capita).

Participation in such artistic activities can be used as a proxy for levels of creativity, as well as a broader indicator of the strength of culture.

Graph 1a: Public/Community Libraries per 100 000 People and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 1a therefore compares the shares of the population reporting that they participate in artistic activities at least once a week, at least once a month, and not at all in the last year, with the number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people.

In this (as in all the graphs in this post), each dot represents one country. The higher up a dot is, the higher the share of people reporting that they practice an artistic activity at a given frequency. The further to the right it is, the more public or community libraries there are per 100 000 people in the country.

This finds little relationship between the presence of public and community libraries and levels of participation in artistic activities.

However, as in previous posts, it is worth looking at just those countries with up to 20 public or community libraries per 100 000 people (above the European and global averages) – this allows us to exclude more extreme cases.

Graph 1b: Public/Community Libraries per 100 000 People and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities (up to 20 Libraries per 100K)

Graph 1b does this, showing a much stronger link between the presence of libraries and participation in artistic activities. More public and community libraries tends to be associated with greater shares engaging regularly in artistic activities (and smaller shares not engaging at all).

For example, every extra public or community library per 100 000 people tends to be associated with a fall of almost 2 percentage points in the share of the population not engaging in artistic activities at all.

Graph 2: Public/Community Library Visits per Person and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 2 continues the analysis, but looking rather at a key indicator of intensity of use of libraries – the average number of visits per person per year. This finds a similar trend as in Graph 1b, with more regular visits to libraries associated with higher engagement in artistic activities.

Here, every one additional visit to a public or community library per person per year is associated with an almost three point rise in the share of the population engaging in artistic activities at least once a month.

Graph 3: Total Loans per Person and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 3 does the same but with the average number of loans per person per year, and again shows that more regular borrowing of books tends to be associated with more regular participation in artistic activities. Each additional loan per person per year tends to be linked with a fall of over two points in the share of the population not engaged in any artistic activity in the past year.

Overall, these graphs underline the connection between the presence and use of libraries, and wider involvement in artistic activities. Clearly, we cannot say for sure say that there is causality in one direction or the other. Indeed, both library use and other artistic activity could be the result of a single cause, such as a strong focus on culture in education or a wider appreciation of being cultured.

Nonetheless, it does support the argument that societies which are more involved in artistic activities – and so which arguably encourage creativity – are characterised by a greater number of public libraries (at least up to around 20 public libraries per 100 000 people), and more intense use of these.


The second part of this post looks at data around frequency of participation in specific cultural activities – namely visits to the cinema, going to live performances (theatre, concerts), and visits to cultural or heritage institutions (including monuments and museums).

This data, as far as it appears, does not include data on library visits. However, it provides an insight into the strength of the wider cultural sector. In particular, larger numbers of people going regularly to the cinema or a live performance, or visiting a cultural or heritage institution, bring advantages in terms of revenues for each of the sectors concerned.

The following analyses look at how the share of the population carrying out these different activities regularly (at least four times a year) compares with numbers of visits to libraries per person per year, as an indicator of how well used libraries are.

Graph 4a: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population Participating in Cultural Activities 4 or More Times Per Year

Graph 4a therefore looks at the share of the population aged 16 or more going to each of the three types of cultural event four or more times per year. It indicates a positive correlation – in countries where there are higher average numbers of library visits per year, there are also more people going regularly to the cinema, to live events, or to cultural or heritage institutions.

The most positive correlation here is between visits to libraries and visits to cultural or heritage institutions, with live performances and cinema following closely behind. For every additional library visit per person per year, there tends to be a rise of 1.4 points in the share of the population visiting cultural or heritage institutions regularly.

Graph 4b: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population with Low Education Participating in Cultural Activities 4 or More Times Per Year

Graph 4b looks specifically at the case of people with lower education (defined as less than primary and lower secondary education), given that people in this situation can be at risk of exclusion. A break-down of this data is not available for libraries, and so data for the whole population is used.

The graph indicates that levels of regular participation in different events or activities are lower than for the population as a whole. However, we see the same positive connections with even stronger correlations between average use of libraries (for the population as a whole), and participation in different activities (for people with lower education).

In other words, there is an indication that there may be links between use of libraries and participation in other events, even for those who may otherwise be at risk of exclusion.

Graph 5a: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population (by Education Level) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Graph 5a looks specifically at cultural and heritage institutions, given that these are, in other circumstances, often considered as part of a group with libraries (GLAMs). They can also have similar functions as community spaces, where visitors have more freedom to discover for themselves.

In addition to the positive link between library visits per capita and shares of the population as a whole, it helps underline similar positive links for people with both high and low levels of formal education. Interestingly, the strength of the correlation is highest for those only primary and lower secondary education.

Graph 5b: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16-29 Population (by Education Level) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Graph 5b repeats the analysis for younger people (aged 16-29) and comes to a similar conclusion – where there are more visits to libraries per person (again, for the whole population), there tend to be higher numbers of people regularly visiting cultural and heritage institutions.

Graph 6: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of Population (by Age) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Finally, Graph 6 looks rather at trends for different age groups. This finds very little difference in the relations between library visits (for the whole population) and for the share of younger (16-29 year olds), older (65-74 year olds) and the population as a whole (anyone over 16). In each case, the connection is positive.


This post has looked at different indicators of levels of participation in culture. Maximising this participation can be seen as a goal in itself, a driver of wellbeing for individuals, a support for the cultural sector, and as a foundation for strong economies and societies in general.

While, as always, correlation cannot be read as causality, there certainly are positive links between levels of presence and use of public and community libraries and engagement in artistic activities. The same goes for visits to public and community libraries and regularly going to the cinema, live performances and other cultural and heritage institutions, including across age groups and levels of education.

The data presented here therefore supports the argument that a well-supported and well-used public and community library field tends to be associated with wider participation in artistic and cultural activities, either as a gateway or as a complement. It can help support arguments for libraries to be considered as a key part of cultural policy, as a support for the wider creative economy, and indeed as actors in boosting creativity in general.

Part two of this post will look, finally, at data around the strength and use of public and community libraries and reading habits.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Open your “Virtual Doors” – Conservation and Access to Cultural Heritage

Open your “virtual doors” to the public!

This is the call to action for the 3rd annual European Day of Conservation and Restoration (11 October), for which the E.C.C.O. (European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations) invites Conservator-Restorers from all around Europe to give a glimpse into their work via social media.

In this time, when more of our engagement with culture than ever needs to take place from home, the ability not only to access cultural heritage, but also to see the process of its conservation and preservation is important. It raises awareness of the expertise that goes into the protection of, and access to, our cultural heritage.

It is this expertise, held by practitioners in museums, archives, galleries, universities, and of course libraries, that allows us to access, enjoy, learn, and benefit from the world’s cultural heritage – even from home.

Why Documentary Heritage Matters

The value of documentary heritage, stated by UNESCO, is promoting “the sharing of knowledge for greater understanding and dialogue, in order to promote peace and respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and dignity”. Preservation is a key element in realising this potential.

Photographs, manuscripts, books, journals, public records, audio-visual material – the survival of the documentary heritage that is held in the collections of libraries around the world relies on the precise and scientific practice of conservation as much as the paintings and antiquities in the world’s museums do.

As such, Conservator-Restorers have an essential role to play in the implementation of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation for the Preservation and Access to Documentary Heritage, including in Digital Form.

In the segment Preservation, UNESCO encourages member states not only to carry out practices to ensure the long-term preservation of documentary heritage, but as well to develop awareness-raising and capacity-building measures and policies, such as promoting research and providing training and facilities. 

Conservation and Restoration: A Necessary Precondition for Access

In line with this year’s European Day of Conservation and Restoration theme, experiences with culture and heritage during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic have largely existed in the virtual space.

With the worldwide halting of tourism and restrictions or physical closures of museums, libraries, archives, and galleries, there is hardly an institution that does have an interest in ways to connect virtually their public to their collections.

IFLA has recently shared tips for collection-holding institutions to create digital engagement during this time and beyond. Yet the truth is that the need for online engagement will continue even after COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

Little of this engagement would be possible without the conservation and digitisation of our heritage objects.

The IFLA Guidelines for Setting Up a Digital Unification Project (2019) take collection holders through the steps they must consider when carrying out a project that centres on digitisation. In this practical guide, the very first step of “Managing the project” is Conservation/Preservation.

The guidelines state: “Documents that are not in a fit state to be digitised without damage have to be restored to an appropriate level.”

During the time of COVID-19, when many in the cultural heritage sector are relying on digital collections to connect them with their public, the role of conservators remains a crucial step in ensuring cultural heritage is accessible.

What Can Libraries Do?

As highlighted, our documentary heritage gives us a record of the memory of the world – a look at the past that connects us with one another, to the generations that came before, and, through its conservation, to the generations to come.

Libraries have a critical role to play, both in carrying out this conservation work, and in educating their visitors on what goes on “behind the scenes” to ensure these collections remain accessible.

Public interest in heritage can be increased through allowing a peak behind the curtain.

Libraries can help educate their communities on the work of Conservator-Restorers in their institution through programming both in-person, such as tours of conservation spaces, as well as virtually, though videos, lectures, and other content shared online and through social media.

Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres

Over the past year, IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres, hosted in libraries around the world, have carried out multiple programmes that connect both the library’s visitors and other professionals with their preservation and conservation work.

PAC Korea, hosted at the National Library of Korea in Seoul, Republic of Korea, hosts an annual Special Stacks Tour during Library Week in mid-April. Registered guests could join tours of the inside area of preservation stacks, which are usually not publicly accessible. They were about the learn about the preservation environment and techniques. By introducing the library’s preservation function to the general public, these special tours promote the importance of materials preservation.

Although PAC North America, hosted at the Library of Congress, USA, 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.

Planned Library Engagement in the European Day of Conservation and Restoration

 In the current “stay at home” climate, how is the European Day of Conservation and Restoration being celebrated this year?

 In line with the call to “open your virtual doors to the public”, the E.C.C.O. asked their network to share photos and videos on social media throughout the week to give a glimpse into their workrooms.

We were excited to see E.C.C.O members in libraries sharing examples of the work they are doing to preserve documentary heritage! Have a look at a few examples:


IPCE. Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España shared photos of their project restoring the binding of a 16th-century Quran from the collection of Arab-Andalusian manuscripts of the Library of the Instituto Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid.



The National and University Library, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia shared pictures and information detailing their careful restoration of a manuscript from Poljanska valley.



The Chester Beatty museum and library in Dublin shared an online lecture on the condition and treatment of an 18th century Indian manuscript from the library’s collection, including ethical considerations that go into treating original manuscript material.

Watch here [YouTube] 


The Association of Conservators of Antiquities and Works of Art of Higher Education, Greece, shared a glimpse into the Conservation Service of the National Library of Greece and its laboratory hosted at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.
Watch here [YouTube] 

Thank you to the E.C.C.O. and all the participating institutions for opening your virtual doors and giving us a peak at the work you are doing to preserve and provide access to the world’s documentary cultural heritage!

Get involved! You are welcome to share your library’s conservation and restoration work using the hashtag #EuropeanDayConservationRestoration.

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.

The Sarr-Savoy report, the restitution of African cultural heritage.

In 2017, the President of France announced the desire to set up temporary and definitive restitutions of African heritage held in French institutions. This declaration led to the commissioning of the Report on the restitution of African cultural heritage: Towards a New Relational Ethics, prepared by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy and issued in November 2018.

Centered on museum collections, this report sporadically evokes manuscripts, archives and books, and looks at some depth at the contexts of acquisitions of collections within French collections, as a basis for making recommendations on what should be done with them now.

The Sarr-Savoy report has received reactions both in France and in African countries.


What does the Sarr-Savoy report contain?

This report proposes to analyse the different forms and methods of appropriation of cultural property as a process of subjugation and deculturation of populations in a French colonial context. Its focus is on the period before the Hague Convention in 1899, which prohibited looting and the taking of cultural property during military campaigns.

It highlights the distinctions to be made between correctly acquired collections and those whose acquisition was the result of the unequal balance of power between colonised peoples and colonial powers. In particular, it indicates that the transfer of cultural property in theecolonialism often takes the form of a forced agreement which cannot be considered as a voluntary exchange.

The Sarr-Savoy report focuses strongly on the term “restitution”. This refers to the return of property to its legitimate owners, which allows nations to reappropriate their own history. It responds to the need, not to annihilate colonial history, but to allow these nations, deprived of around 90% of their heritage, to reconstruct a discourse on themselves through these objects.

This document also proposes recommendations and criteria for restitution in order to allow countries to establish lists of objects acquired illegally by force or coercion, under unequal terms acquisitions, or in a context of war.

If the framework of the mission opposes temporary restitutions, preferring permanent restitutions to the continued the circulation of works, the report accepts that this may be a transitory solution. This would gain the time needed to solve judicial issues linked to the “Code du Patrimoine” (the French Heritage Code), in particular, the inalienability of French public collections.


What are the recommendations proposed by the report?

The report sets out that before determining a potential restitution, it is necessary to identify or collect all the information available relating to this collection to understand its provenance. This means that the collections must be examined in order to identify whether the conditions of acquisition and entry into the heritage collections of the country have been fair or not.

The Sarr-Savoy report proposes several possibilities for responding to requests for restitution from African countries by distinguishing between:

  • rapid restitutions without additional research on contextualized artefacts taken in Africa by force or under unfair conditions (military clashes; military or administrative personnel active on the African continent during the colonial period; during scientific missions prior to 1960; museums which hold works that have never been returned to the original institutions).
  • “Additional research when the requested pieces entered museums after 1960 and through donations, but it can nevertheless be assumed that they left Africa before 1960 (case of pieces that have remained for several generations within families). In cases where research does not establish certainty as to the circumstances of their acquisition during the colonial period, the requested items could be returned on proof of their interest for the requesting country. ” (Sarr-Savoy Report).
  • Maintaining African pieces in French collections where it is established that they were acquired thanks to a transaction document in mutual consent, free and fair and in respect of the provision “without taking ethical risk” developed during the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Another recommendation is the creation of a portal for collections designated as eligible for restitution, with the suggestion that free access and usage rights be provided to these for both parties.

This portal would require that a policy on image rights for collections should be developed, based on images already collected through digitisation campaigns. The report mentions that all collections eligible for restitutions should be subject to a systematic digitisation campaign, including a restructuration of the reproduction rights policies.

Finally, the Sarr-Savoy report proposes legal provisions making it possible to amend the French Heritage Code (“Code du Patrimoine”) in order to allow legal restitutions to legitimate owners, currently prevented in particular by the inalienable nature of public collections. It also offers proposals for bilateral agreements between countries and fact sheets for returning artefacts which sit outside of heritage collections, as well as how to handle donations and bequests of these objects.


What are the next steps, what will be the international impacts?

This report is the first document produced on the subject at the request of a government and therefore opens the way for reflection in other countries, which are likely to face the growing demand from governments in Africa and other formerly colonised countries to have their heritage returned. Beyond governments, all heritage institutions, including archives and libraries, will potentially be affected by these restitution requests.

In July 2020, the French government announced that it was preparing a bill on the return of objects, giving concrete form to the Sarr-Savoy report. This project would require a limited derogation from the principle of inalienability of collections, including removal from national collections and transfer of ownership.

In the meanwhile, Benin and Senegal, having already expressed their desire to have the objects of their heritage returned to them, have already seen the restitution of objects from the Abomey Palace collections.

IFLA will continue to report on developments in this field.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #6: Celebrate an item in your collection

Libraries have a strong history of cooperation and partnerships.

With no single institution able to acquire and preserve everything, we have worked together for centuries to preserve and share materials, for the benefit of users.

Long before the internet, libraries were enabling information to flow around the world in support of education, research and access to culture.

This role is as vital as ever, especially given that so many items in library collections being rare or unique.

Through ensuring their preservation and accessibility, each library contributes to achieving the missions of the field globally.

By highlighting these, you not only underline the importance of your work, but also that of the library field as a whole.

So for our 6th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, celebrate an item from your collection.

Ideally, if copyright and ethical concerns permit, share a photo on social media and a description, or even a full digitised copy.

Let others know about the treasures you are safeguarding for the future!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Strategic Direction 3, Key Initiative 2: Support Virtual Networking and Collections.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store (especially Opportunity 7)! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.