Policy Brief on Documentary Heritage launched at British Library

The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Policy Brief on UNESCO’s Recommendation on Documentary Heritage was launched at a well-attended event at the British Library on 3 April.

Organised in collaboration with UNESCO’s Memory of the World UK Programme and the Digital Preservation Coalition, the event provided an opportunity to learn more about the challenges and rewards of effective digital preservation at a time when the UK knowledge economy and cultural memory is becoming more focused on digital content.

The Recommendation on Documentary Heritage is a valuable advocacy and communication tool in the effort to preserve, and ensure continued access to, documentary heritage; including in digital form. The Brief outlines how this recommendation relates specifically to the UK, providing a framework for action for UK stakeholders.  The Brief stresses that implementing the Recommendation will require raising awareness of the issues and opportunities relating to digital heritage, and creating the capacity and culture to enable digital preservation to take route in all aspects of society. It will also require extensive collaboration between government, regulators, business, research bodies and memory institutions.

Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Chair of the UK Committee for the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Programme, introduced the Recommendation; emphasising the importance of creating a culture of digital preservation, collaboration and the role of influential institutions such as the British Library in tackling the challenges of digital preservation.

Laura Mitchell, Chair of the Digital Preservation Coalition, followed on from this, discussing some of the problems associated with creating, keeping and using digital data. Mitchell summarised the issue of digital preservation, saying ‘It won’t do itself.  It won’t go away.  It’s not only technology’.

Using a case study from the UK Parliamentary Archives, Adrian Brown highlighted ‘transparency, accountability [and] providing access to information’ as some of the key benefits of preserving digital data, while Jason Webber of the UK Web Archive highlighted some of the challenges of digital preservation, using web-archiving as an example. These challenges including preserving and re-using data that is borderless, large in size, and both comprehensive and flawed.

Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian of the British Library, welcomed the Recommendation and Policy Brief.  She emphasized how important they both were to maintaining the UK’s knowledge and cultural inheritance.

Concluding the evening’s speeches was the British Library’s Maureen Pennock, who discussed the Brief and a vision for the Digital Cultural Hub. While in its very early stages, the British Library’s ambition is that this Hub would provide a sustainable and comprehensive digital collection management service to which any organisation could subscribe.