background image
archive access in the future _ meaningful
querying and content-based retrieval.7 We
hope that our current and future work will
extend some of the concerns and solutions
specific to INA across many different types
of archive, and improve access to all hold-
ings for our users.`8
Abdelaziz Abid, Division
de la Société de l`information,
From an office with an elegant view
of the Eiffel Tower, Aziz Abid spoke
to DigiCULT about his work with-
in UNESCO and the Memory of the
World Project (http://www.unesco.
To introduce myself briefly, before work-
ing at UNESCO, I was in charge of the
Library of Alexandria, where my work
included fundraising for an internation-
al architecture competition. I felt that
the time was right to move on to some-
thing different and noticed that UNESCO
( was seeking an
officer for a specific project in Egypt. I
could not go myself, but this led my work
in a new direction, and in 1991 I began to
work on the development of the Memory
of the World programme, a different project
with UNESCO.
t the general conference of UNESCO,
one of the major elements was a dis-
cussion stemming from several countries
from Eastern Europe about the preservation
of their heritage, the emphasis being on
the fact that co-operation would be need-
ed throughout Europe to prevent the loss
of some of this heritage. Since the collapse
of the Berlin Wall, there has been very lit-
tle co-operation across the full breadth of
Europe, and the countries asked UNESCO
to put together a scheme to assist in the
preservation and digitisation of this rich but
highly dispersed heritage.
s a result of this meeting, I wrote
a one-page proposal, outlining the
basics of the new programme, eventu-
ally named Memory of the World. The
project was launched in 1992, funded by
UNESCO with an initially small budget.
In these early days, a paper was commis-
sioned to define the needs of the sector and
it concluded that a programme was neces-
sary to co-ordinate activities and that dig-
ital technologies should be used to provide
democratised access. In order to supervise
and advise the programme, a body of four-
teen people was created. The members are
from all over the world and represent many
different disciplines within culture, herit-
age and technology, for example, publishing,
information science, legal, and history.
he first meeting of the Memory of
the World Programme took place
in September 1993 in Pultusk, Poland, a
country identified as having suffered a great
deal of damage to its heritage as a result of
war. This meeting represented the birth of
the project, laying the foundations for the
future and setting up three major objectives.
he first was to act for the preserva-
tion of documentary heritage that was
of world significance and under the threat
of disappearance. The most relevant mate-
rials needed to be identified and therefore
we designed and planned surveys to meet
these needs.
econdly, it must be remembered that
Memory of the World emphasises pres-
ervation not primarily for conservation but
for access purposes. Part of this ultimate goal
was to encourage existing holders of cul-
turally valuable heritage to open up their
collections to the public, despite a certain
reluctance from some! At that time, the
benefits of digitisation were not as obvious
as they are today. Clearly, the original mate-
rials must be protected, not a process that
is naturally linked to access; however, early
suggestions of using digitisation technolo-
gies were met with some scepticism and
resistance. For example, I remember a quite
heated discussion about the relative benefits
of microfiche as opposed to digitisation!
e began with a few pilot projects
(for example, the Sana'a manu-
scripts at
and the work at the National Library in
which I believe is one of the most success-
ful projects based on relatively little initial
funding). The programme grew, extending
to many institutions all over the world and
utilising the alliances forged by these pilot
projects. More recently, our approach has
moved more towards the systematic digi-
tisation of collections. This is a very clev-
er approach ­ scholars are offered a digital
copy of an item upon demand as an alter-
native to viewing the original and have
the option of buying a product containing
the digital copy, such as a CD-ROM. This
not only helps to preserve the original and
offers researchers added functionality, but
the digital resource is itself enriched by fur-
ther papers, knowledge and expertise con-
tributed by the knowledgeable users (such
a system is used at the National Library of
the Czech Republic:
7 Content-based Information Retrieval will be discussed in
a chapter of the forthcoming DigiCULT Technology Watch
Report 3.
8 One example of a project that developed from the work
of INA is PrestoSpace. For more detail, see the article dedi-
cated to PrestoSpace, also in this issue.
Aziz Abid demonstrates a publicity board for the Memory
of the World Programme