You are here:

What is the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme?

The situation Norris describes exists the world over, as the documents that record the past are destroyed by neglect, climatic conditions and natural and man-made disasters; or by the deliberate actions of those who are either ignorant of their significance or who have decided to obliterate the memories of individuals or cultural groups for political or religious reasons. In 1992 UNESCO took the initiative to prevent the world from sinking into ‘collective amnesia’ by establishing a ‘Memory of the World’ programme. The Programme attempts to raise the awareness of the importance of documentary heritage to world memory by inscribing significant documents and collections on registers, and advocating for its preservation and accessibility to all. Its overall aim is to help preserve and make accessible the documents that convey the world’s memory to future generations.

An Australian Committee to carry out the work of the Programme was established in late 2000 by Dr Jan Lyall, former Director of the National Preservation Office in the National Library of Australia. The Australian Program2 operates under the auspices of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. Its slogan is ‘Imagine a world without memories’, a potent reminder of what would happen if our documentary heritage were to be lost. The Committee has two patrons: internationally acclaimed novelist Geraldine Brooks; and distinguished Australian historian, Professor Marilyn Lake.

2The Australian Committee decided at the outset to adopt the ‘Program’ spelling, as distinct from the form used by the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme.