The conference participants call for a Declaration of Action to Protect the Arab Region’s Documentary Heritage

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, which was jointly organised by Qatar National Library and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 1 and 2 December.

The two-day conference was hosted by the Library in its role as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Regional Preservation and Conservation Center for Arab Countries and the Middle East and was part of a joint Qatar National Library-UNESCO project, Supporting Documentary Heritage Preservation in the Arab Region.

One of the highlights of the conference was the agreement of the participants to a Declaration to Support Preservation of Documentary Heritage in the Arab region, calling for action on all levels to raise the standards of conservation and care of documentary heritage based on regional and global best practices.

Delegates from institutions in Qatar, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen agreed to seize the opportunities presented by digital technologies to support access, use and preservation of the region’s rich heritage. The Declaration also highlighted the need to advance an international legal instrument on preservation and access at the World Intellectual Property Organization.

UNESCO representative Danilo Padilla, on behalf of Anna Paolini, UNESCO Director of the office for the Gulf States and Yemen, said:

In a region marked by protracted conflicts, we need to step up efforts to ensure that our common heritage and our common memory are not erased.’

Speaking at the conference, President of IFLA Christine Mackenzie emphasised the importance of holding such events.

Culture is a basic need and a community thrives through its cultural heritage; it dies without it. This conference has been so important, and we heard so many stories of really terrible things that are happening to documentary heritage.’

Dr Nada Itani, an expert on documentary heritage, presented the report and analysis of the UNESCO-Qatar National Library survey on documentary heritage in the Arab region.

Dr Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library mentioned the reasons why documentary heritage in the region is at risk.

Preservation has developed into a critically important part of managing a library’s most precious assets—its collection. Documentary heritage in our region is at risk for a variety of reasons, ranging from war and natural disasters to climate conditions and the age and quality of the heritage items. It is our job as memory institutions to protect our shared human heritage for future generations.’

Discussions also focused on the importance of strengthening coordination and sharing capacity and best practices from centres of expertise.

Hazem Jamjoum, Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer at the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership Project said:

Together, we can improve access to information and help break down barriers that restrict knowledge sharing and preservation. The Qatar Digital Library is a good example, which exemplifies an open-access world. Anyone with an Internet connection can easily access the information on the portal.’

 

Aside from hosting the regional conference, Qatar National Library is also conducting programmes this December with national pride as its theme. This includes the event entitled My Dream in Qatar on 17 December. Young visitors ages 12 to 18 gathered at the Library during the event and were asked to inscribe their dreams for their future in Qatar on helium balloons. Together with Library staff, they launched the balloons outside the Library in a symbolic gesture.

On 16 December, visitors to the Library learned about the traditional art of the Arabian Gulf and Qatar in a lecture, The Journey of Qatar’s Traditional Art, by artist and researcher Mohammed Alsaygh.

Other events included a lecture featuring personal letters and signatures from famous Qatari historical figures, a book launching by Qatari writer Jassim Al Mohannadi and a lecture by Qatari artist Ahmed Al Maadeed.