The Asia-Pacific Strategy

Dato’ Habibah Zon
Director-General, National Archives of Malaysia



All of us know that Memory is the cornerstone to a well balanced personality: that holds true for both individuals and for peoples. The collective memory of the peoples of the world is of vital importance in preserving cultural identities, in bridging the past and the present and in shaping the future. The documentary heritage residing in libraries, archives and in the hands of private individuals constitutes a major part of that memory and reflects a significant sweep of human history representing a diverse range of subjects, languages and cultures. But that memory, as we know, is fragile.

It is indeed tragic that nations of the world – and humanity as a whole – should lose and continue to lose large parts of their documentary heritage – through neglect, through indifference, through ravages brought on by time and harsh climatic conditions, and most tragic of all – through willful and deliberate destruction.

If we take a look at human history, more than half of all the people who ever lived are alive right now. They are creating what the Director-General of UNESCO, Frederico Mayor termed as the Memory of the World; people the world over are creating it in forms that are less and less permanent – be it sound recordings, film, videotape, newsprint, photographs, or computer-based documents. It must be said that the output of the present century alone is probably greater than the total output of all previous centuries put together; and ironically and tragically, it is being lost faster than ever before. It is a tragedy indeed, for what is at stake is the recorded memory of mankind.

And yet many of the countries in the world give less and less attention to archives, libraries and museums, and their work of preserving the cultural treasures. For the developing countries need to address calamities and emergencies, as well as urgent socio-economic and political problems of their own. Needless to say, it is in such cases that intervention by the international community becomes necessary in arresting the trends.


In 1992, UNESCO formally launched the Memory of the World Programmes as an answer to this problem. The Programme was conceived within the framework of the World Decade for Cultural Development.

The Programme seeks to focu world attention on the need to safeguard endangered and unique library and archive collections; it aims at reconstituting dispersed or displaced holdings and collections; and making them accessible to the peoples of the world. It aims to do this through existing institutions at national and regional levels – that also work to the same objectives.

This draws my attention to the noble work carried out by UNESCO, the world agency responsible for the protection of our world documentary heritage. This derives from its constitutional and comprehensive mandate to ensure that the world’s inheritance of books, works of art, monuments of history and science, as well as documentary heritage are conserved and protected. UNESCO is able to wield an authoritative overview of the world’s documentary heritage, and is best able to promote projects across national boundaries, and beyond the limited resources or mandates of particular institutions or associations.

The actual work was daunting – for now it was a task of translating mere declarations of intent into a vast world workshop – a workshop that must now rescue, reproduce and disseminate endangered documentary treasures. The sheer scale of the effort needed to preserve what is part of this irreplaceable Memory of the World requires the implementation of a consistent protection programme which will pool endeavours and make use of state-of-the-art technology. How was this to be organized and administered? How could such an ambitious idea be put into practice?


The Memory of the World Programme has ambitious objectives which, if they are to be effective, require a simple but effective management structure. The scope of work must be administered through a three-tier structure involving key players at the international level; the regional and national levels; as well as the Secretariat.

I.    International

      International Advisory Committee (IAC)

UNESCO administers the Programme through the International Advisory Committee (IAC)

The Committee comprises 14 members, appointed in their personal capacity by the Director-General of UNESCO himself. The chairperson, 3 vice-chairpersons and a rapporteur of the IAC constitute a bureau which holds office between the biennial meetings of the Committee. The Director-General of the National Archives of Malaysia holds office as one of the vice-chairpersons for the Asia-Pacific Region.

The Committee formulates and sanctions major policy decisions and provides the technical, legal and financial framework for the Programme. It has responsibility for monitoring the Programme as a whole; guiding its planning and implementation; as well as making recommendations to the Director-General of UNESCO concerning any aspect of the Programme, including fund-raising, allocation of funds and granting of Memory of the World labels to the Projects selected.

It must be said that the Programme is fortunate to have been located within the framework of UNESCO – an agency that has become visibly vibrant and responsive to heritage concerns of countries that world over. For UNESCO is prepared to lend its very name, its credibility and its own mandate to those Projects that come within the administrative ambit of the Programme.

1.    Meetings of the International Advisory Committee

(i)    Preliminary Meetings of the Committee

The IAC monitored the progress of the Programme by holding regular meetings in various parts of the world. Even in its interim capacity the International Advisory Committee held two important Meetings – one in Pultusk, Poland (1993), and the other in Paris (1995).

(a) IAC Meeting in Pultusk, Poland, 1993

The meeting in Pultusk offered a new global approach to the issues of both preservations as well as access, as expressed in two basic principles:

  1. The first principle is that we need to secure and safeguard, and ensure the survival of such endangered world documentary heritage as are stored in the archives and libraries of the world.
  2. The second principle is that we need to democratize access to the widest possible public, or in other words, to provide universal access to the collective memory in order that it falls within the grasp of as many people as possible. It is interesting to note that an approach that transcends national borders creates an entirely new dimension of access, especially when the collectionn owes itself to an external source in terms of both funding as well as effort.

These two principles then represent two sides of the same coin: on the one hand preservation makes access possible; and on the other, access provides the reason for preservation and the best argument for its support and defence! Besides these twin principles, two other matters were also recognized. The first relates to the importance of raising overall awareness, meaning governments, international organizations, public and private foundations as well as the public at large must be systematically sensitized and made aware of the need for continuing and sustained support of the Programme. This concern is linked to the second proposal – that the Programme should develop products with a view to making them widely available to members of the public.

Following the Meeting in Pultusk two sub-committees were established: one for the periodic assessment of technologies relevant to the Programme; and the other for examining marketing and markets for the products of the Programme worldwide.

(b) IAC Meeting in Paris (1995)

This meeting was held as a further move to provide the impetus and momentum that the Programme needed in its initial stages. It was here that recommendations were made for the creation of a Memory of the World Register. The principles of creating the Register, and the basic criteria to be used for the selection of nominations for inclusion in the World Register were discussed. The criteria were not firmly fixed, but could be adjusted in the light of experience.

(ii) Official Meetings of the International Advisory Committee

In 1997, Tashkent offered the venue for the first official Meeting of the International Advisory Committee. The Meeting was held in the aftermath of UNESCO’s 149th Executive Board session of May 1996, in which the agency adopted the IAC Statutes of the Memory of the World Programme in regard to its role of guiding the planning and implementation of the Programme. This Meeting was followed by the IAC Bureau Meeting of 4-5 September 1998 held in London.

(a) IAC Meeting in Tashkent (1997)

The purpose of the Meeting was to review the progress of the Programme to date, to refine its activities in the light of experience, to assess nominations received from 33 countries for inclusion on the World Register, against the criteria agreed upon at the 2nd Meeting of the IAC held in Paris (1995), to recommend the granting of Memory of the World labels to selected projects, and to suggest ways of raising extra-budgetary funding to support the aims of the Programme. Three working groups were formed to examine different aspects of the selection criteria, and their application. These include the work of refining and developing the selection criteria; developing guidelines for contextual application of these criteria; and thirdly, developing procedures for the processing of incoming nominations. It is interesting to note that of the nominations considered at this Meeting, 3 Projects were granted permission to use the Memory of the World logo. They include Chinese Traditional Folk Music (China); Tamil Palm-Leaf Manuscripts (India); and the Matenadaran Collection of Ancient Manuscripts (Armenia). The sub-committees on both Technology as well as Marketing were able to present their respective reports at this Meeting.

(b) IAC Meeting in London (1998)

The Bureau met in London in September 1998 to consider nominations whose considerations were deferred in Tashkent, and to also consider those received since Tashkent. The Meeting deliberated on selection guidelines for the Programme, and the Memory of the World Register. Participants at the SEAPAVAA Meeting will be interested to know that the term Documentary Heritage was redefined to expand the scope of A-V materials to include non-electronic sound recordings and non-photographic moving images. In this regard, I feel SEAPAVAA representatives need to work in concert with their Memory of the World counterparts in addressing shared concerns in the respective countries.

First International Conference in Oslo (1996)

It is interesting to note that the first truly international Conference on the Programme was held in Oslo in 1996. Some 150 delegates from 65 countries participated in the Conference which highlighted the results achieved by the Programme, and the need for regional and national plans for preservation and access. The Conference adopted a resolution urging all countries to establish National Memory of the World Committees, and to become active participants in the Programme.

II.   National and Regional

1.   National

(a) National Committee

Since 1994, UNESCO has invited member states to set up Memory of the World National Committees in order to identify and select projects and raise funds for them. I must say that so soon as it was launched, the Programme began to arouse great interest in many parts of the world, including Malaysia. Our own National Committee in Malaysia, which was established in line with the recommendations of the Experts’ Meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in 1994, succeeded in bringing libraries, archives and museums together in active partnership with one another in dealing with the issues of preservation and access of documentary heritage in a holistic manner as envisioned in the Programme.

2. Regional

Asia-Pacific Regional Committee

(a) Objectives and Terms of Reference

It was just last year in Beijing that the objectives of the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee were formulated as follows:

  1. to promote, facilitate and monitor the MoW Program within the region, and
  2. to represent the region’s perspective at the international level.

The Regional Committee will have the following terms of reference as agreed upon at this Meeting:

  1. To increase awareness of the importance of documentary heritage, improve its accessibility and use.
  2. To promote resource sharing and optimal use of resources in the region.
  3. To mobilize political, social and economic support for the MoW Asia-Pacific Programme.
  4. To encourage cross-country linkages of valuable collections with multi-country cultural significance.
  5. To encourage the establishment of national MoW committees.
  6. To maintain the Asia-Pacific Regional register of MoW documentary heritage, and
  7. To discuss the selection criteria and any other matters determined by the International Advisory Committee and make recommendations.

(b) Regional Bureau

Our region, Asia-Pacific, being too large in area, we decided on decentralization. Accordingly, for better coordination of the Programme, it was agreed that the region was to be divided into 4 sub regions, each represented either by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman. The result was the formation of a Regional Bureau, comprising 6 officers, 4 of whom represent 4 different parts of Asia-Pacific, as well as 2 others, namely the Secretary-General and Treasurer of the Regional Committee. The Director-General of the National Archives of Malaysia holds office as the Bureau Chairman, following the appointment in Beijing. You may be interested to know that the first meeting of the Bureau will be held early next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

(c) Meetings

We are glad to be able to say that three successive meetings have been held to date at the regional level – the first was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1994; the second in Xiamen City in 1997; and the third in Beijing in 1998. We shall now dwell on these meetings.

(i) Experts’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur (12-14 December 1994)

An example of efficient regional follow-up to the Programme was the Experts’ Meeting for Asia-Pacific held towards the close of 1994 in Kuala Lumpur. The importance of the Meeting was that it served to introduce the Programme to this region. It set the stage for the formation of National Committees in the various countries of the Asia-Pacific, with participants agreeing to cooperate regionally in identifying Projects that could be adopted by the Programme.

(ii) Experts’ Meeting in Xiamen, China (10-12 December 1997)

The Meeting was convened to identify problem areas in the region, and to discern regional level issues which could not be addressed by single countries. It emphasized the importance of forming national MoW committees, and the need to formally establish the Regional Committee.

The Meeting also made several recommendations to UNESCO and the IAC.

(iii) The First Asia-Pacific Regional Committee Meeting on the Memory of the World, Beijing (17-21 November 1998)

When we met in Beijing in November 1998, we called the Asia-Pacific chapter into being. This is therefore the first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee. It was hosted by the State Archives Administration of China and UNESCO. It was encouraging that 17 representatives from 8 countries were present – although this remains a far cry from the 43 countries identified by UNESCO as constituting Asia-Pacific.

The Meeting was important in that Regional Committee was formally established at this meeting; its leading body was elected; its Secretariat was established; and its terms of reference were discussed.

III. Secretariat


The Secretariat of the Memory of the World Programme is located in Paris. It is responsible for the administration of the Programme. Detailed aspects of this role include:

  1. provision of secretariat services to the International Advisory Committee
  2. establishment and maintenance of the Memory of the World Register
  3. administration of Programme activities
  4. administration of Memory of the World Fund
  5. detailed monitoring of the Programme
  6. other activities related to the Programme’s objectives as directed by the IAC; and
  7. administration of sub-committees.


At the Regional level, the Meeting held in Beijing (1998) agreed that the National Archives of Malaysia should formally assume its role as the Secretariat for the Regional Programme, with leadership as Chairman of the Regional Committee devolving uponthe Director-General of the National Archives of Malaysia.


Documentary heritage can be a single document, a collection, a holding or an archival fonds. They are deemed to be of such significance as to transcend the boundaries of time and culture.

1. Memory of the World Registers

The Memory of the World Register is a compedium of documents, manuscripts, oral traditions, audio-visual materials, library and archive holdings of universal value.

It seems obvious that any global endeavour must reflect the three-tier structure involving the international, regional and national dimensions. This is true not just for organizational administration and structures; it is also important in the administration of the documentary heritage and the Registers. In this connection, there is a three-tier link involved in the work of compiling Registers at the world, national and regional levels.

World Register

Compiled at the international level, it remains a significant document in itself, inspiring both nations and regions to identify, list and preserve their respective documentary heritage. The value of the Register lies in its selectivity; and its indication of priorities. It represents heritage concerns, drawing world attention to practical issues of preservation and access. In concept, it is an extension of the successful World Heritage List to the realm of documentary heritage.

National Register

Individual countries are encouraged to set up their own documentary heritage registers in parallel to the World Register. National Registers identify the documentary inheritance of the nation, and enhance awareness of the importance of the national documentary heritage and the need for a national policy to ensure that endangered documentary heritage is preserved.

Regional Registers

The Regional Register corresponds to the World Register. From the objectives of the Regional Committee it is evident that nations within a region should compile a register to list documentary heritage integral to the collective memory of a particular region, especially those rare, precious ad endangered documents and manuscripts extant in the various libraries, museums and archives in the region.

II. Selection Criteria

The decision as to the choice of materials for inclusion in the World Register is subject to appraisal standards that have been decided and agreed upon by the International Advisory Committee. It is important for us to understand these standards, for each Register – be it World, Regional or National – must be based on clearly defined criteria for assessing the cultural value of documentary heritage:

These criteria relate to influence, time, place, people, subject, form and style, and social value. Documentary heritage may just need to meet any one criterion for inclusion in the World Register, but it is more likely to be assessed in reference to several criteria.

The criteria are as follows:

  1. Influence – The heritage should have had a major influence on the history of the world, transcending the boundaries of a national culture.
  2. Time – The material should reflect a period of momentous change in world affairs or contribute to our understanding of the world at a critical point in history.
  3. Place – The heritage should contain important information about any particular locality or region which has contributed to major developments in world history or culture.
  4. People – The document should have a special association with the life or works of a person or people who have made an outstanding contribution to world history or culture.
  5. Subject – The heritage should document, in an outstanding way, an important subject or major theme of world history or culture.
  6. Form and Style – The document should represent an outstanding form or style.
  7. Social Value – The material should possess cultural, social or spiritual value which transcends a particular national culture.

In addition to these seven major criteria, two further criteria should also be taken into account. Although these criteria serve to enhance the standards of appraisal, they may not have sufficient validity of their own to establish the worth of documentary heritage. The criteria are as follows:

  1. Integrity: The document should have a high degree of integrity or completeness.
  2. Rarity: The document should be unique or rare.

The criteria for the World Register are tested by the International Advisory Committee and weighting factors are developed to reflect the relative importance of the criteria. As far as the National or Regional Registers are concerned, the selection criteria may be determined by the relevant National or Regional Committees in the light of regional needs and experience. I wish to emphasize here that these criteria are as relevant for audio-visual materials as they are for any other form of documentary heritage.

III. Nominations

Nominations of documentary heritage for the Memory of the World Programme may be made by any person or organizations for the consideration of the IAC Secretariat. It is recommended that nominations be submitted to the IAC Secretariat directly or through the relevant Regional or National Committees, should one exist.


In pursuit of the Programme objectives, eight key strategies were identified at the first Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee of 1998 for implementation at the regional level:

1. Formation of National Committees

Member countries are encouraged to set up their own National Committees. These Committees should attempt to draw the active participation of relevant institutions from both public and private sectors alike; as well as voluntary organizations and private individuals.

2. Identification of Documentary Heritage

The second strategy constitutes identifying documentary heritage of significance at the world, regional or national levels, and listing if on the Regional Register. The selection criteria may be contexually considered in identifying materials for the Register.

3. Encouragement of Nominations

Countries in the region are encouraged to submit nominations for consideration of the IAC Secretariat either directly, or through the Regional Secretariat. However, nominations may even be submitted by any person or organization, including governmental and non-governmental organizations, for the preservation of documentary heritage in urgent need of assistance. The Regional Committee can advise countries on nomination procedures.

4. Raising of Awareness

Countries in the region are encouraged to support activities relating to awareness as well as publicity for the Programme. This could be carried out through outreach activities such as public talks and exhibitions; and sustained through education and training programmes. These activities are important, for some of the countries may not be aware of the riches of their documentary heritage. Their treasures may be saved by a heightened awareness of their significance. To date, the Secretariat has prepared leaflets and posters for distribution.

5. Fund Raising

Countries in the region need to sensitize governments, international organizations, as well as both public and private foundations to the Programme. There is a need to foster the development of partnerships between cultural collecting institutions and commercial companies to carry out projects. Further to that, funds could be raised by commercializing derived products.

6. Use of World Web-Site

It is recognized that the use of modern communications could greatly enhance the opportunities for the exchange of information between institutions. In this connection UNESCO has allocated funds through the Regional Secretariat for the purpose of setting up of a Southeast Asian web-site based in Malaysia; and for the purpose of providing training in the setting up of web-sites. The web-site will constitute an important link in a chain of similar networks linking various parts of the world at the regional and international levels.

7. Preservation of Specific Documentary Heritage

This involves implementing preservation projects for specific documentary heritage that has already been included in the Register. The Programme may provide various forms of support for individual projects, or even seek funds from other sources.

  1. Holding of Seminar on Submission Procedures

A Seminar on the procedures for submitting nominations is planned to be held in the year 2000. It is hoped that the Seminar would provide the impetus for countries in the region to get started in the work of identifying documentary heritage of enduring value in their midst.


Let us hope that on the threshold of the new Millenium, a new and hopefully enlightened era can begin with the understanding that we need the past for the sake of our future, and that nations that do not care about their past do not have a future. With this belief that is common to both the Memory of the World Programme as well as SEAPAVAA, let us greet the eve of the Millenium with cooperation. With this belief in place we may even be able to change the way mankind as a whole recognize, values and benefits from the heritage of the past – the Memory of the World.

In closing, let me express hope that the practical meeting points between SEAPAVAA and the Memory of the World Programme could be explored even further and formulated as resolutions to be tabled at the end of the Symposium.

Thank you.


National Archives of Malaysia
17th April, 1999