Documentary heritage transmits an understanding of social, political, collective, and personal history. It offers more than a glimpse into the past –  it transmits memory, knowledge, perspective, stories, and testimonies that are relevant to our world today.

UNESCO urges its member states to ensure that documentary heritage remains permanently accessible and re-usable by all in its 2015 Recommendation. Through the Memory of the World programme, UNESCO brings together stakeholders responsible for preserving documentary heritage to help achieve this goal and raise awareness of the importance of this unique type of heritage.

The International Register

 Created by the Memory of the World Programme, the International Register is a tool for raising awareness of the global significance of documentary heritage. The International Register highlights items or collections of documentary heritage that are of universal significance – meaning they are important both for the societies who created them and for people around the world.

 The collection or item might tell us about the history of the world, or represent an important contribution to gender equality. It might be remarkable for its fine artistry or particularly innovative format or style. Or, it might have great social, community or spiritual significance.

Celebrating the 2023 Inscriptions

 In May 2023, UNESCO announced that 64 new items of documentary heritage were inscribed to the International Memory of the World Register.

Looking through these inscriptions, it is clear to see how items from the past still closely tie to modern challenges and social movements. The new inscriptions span the globe and represent a wide variety of types of materials – from magnetic tapes to illuminated manuscripts, palm leaves to movie posters, photographs to petroglyphs!

Explore all 64 new inscriptions here.

UNESCO challenges institutions to enlist documentary heritage to promote inclusive, just and peaceful societies. This includes celebrating documentary heritage of marginalized groups, highlighting the struggle for gender equality and social justice, and identifying items that promote greater understanding and dialogue across cultures.

Among the new inscriptions, we can find examples documentary heritage’s potential for understanding the past, informing the future, and building more just, peaceful, and inclusive societies.

The Children Speak: Forced Assimilation of Indigenous Children through Canadian Residential Schools (Canada)

This is a collection of historical documents and survivor testimonies that make up the body of evidence compiled by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This collection documents how indigenous children over many generations were forcibly stripped of their cultures, languages, spirituality, and knowledge systems in residential schools.

This collection not only preserves the memory of the survivors, but provides a testament to social erasure that was carried out against indigenous communities in many countries around the world. Preserving this body of evidence is an important step towards reconciling such injustices.

Registers identifying enslaved persons in the former French colonies (1666-1880) (France and Haiti)

Documentary heritage of the enslaved people of the Dutch Caribbean and their descendants (1816-1969) (Netherlands, Suriname (for Curaçao, Sint Maarten))

Among the new inscriptions are a number of joint nominations. These require cooperation between two or more countries who all share connections to an inscription, such as countries that have a colonial past.

 Archival records of enslaved people, for example in former French and Dutch colonies, offer a look into the lives of enslaved people and their descendants. These records help us understand and reconcile a painful period of human history, while also providing the diasporas of people of African descent greater possibilities to carry out ancestry searches.

Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka (covering the period 6th century BCE to 1815 CE) (Sri Lanka)

Archives of the Donghak Peasant Revolution (Republic of Korea)

 Some items on the International Register offer unparalleled looks into the history and development of modern societies. The Mahavamsa is among the world’s longest unbroken historical accounts, and offers rich context of the development of South Asian nations and the rise of Buddhism as a world religion.

The Archives of the Donghak Peasant Revolution documents the development of a unique cooperative governing unit that helped pave the way for democracy and respect for universal rights to flourish in the Republic of Korea.

How can Libraries get involved?

Looking through just the 2023 inscriptions, it is clear that libraries are integral institutions for the preservation and access to documentary heritage.

Heidelberg University Library and Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek der Stadt Trier in Germany, the National Library of Indonesia, the National Library of Thailand, the National Library of Malaysia, and the National Library of Mauritius all feature among this year’s inscriptions.

Libraries around the world hold items in their collections that could be good additions to the international register. IFLA encourages our members to get involved with UNESCO Memory of the World by submitting a nomination for the upcoming cycle.

Call for Nominations

UNESCO has launched a call for the next nomination cycle (2023-2025) to the Memory of the World International Register. Nominations opened on 1 July and will close on 30 November 2023.

More information: 2024-2025 Call for Nominations

 What can be nominated?

 The International Memory of the World Register includes items or collections of documentary heritage that are of universal significance.

Who can submit a nomination?

  •  Any person or organization, with the prior written consent of the owners or custodians, may submit nominations through their National Commission for UNESCO or, in the absence of a National Commission, the relevant government body in charge of relations with UNESCO.

Are you interested?

Contact IFLA for assistance or with any additional questions: