For tomorrow and the future – Libraries safeguarding documentary cultural heritage

logo-iflaThroughout the centuries, libraries have been essential for the preservation, conservation and safeguarding of the worlds’ heritage. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) upholds the mission and we made this one of our core aims.

Culture is a basic need.  A community thrives through its cultural heritage, it dies without it.

IFLA, preservation, conservation and safeguarding of heritage

At IFLA, we work with our members and our extensive preservation and conservation network on many different aspects of safeguarding documentary cultural heritage for the next generation. We engage in issues around digital preservation with the UNESCO PERSIST Project, we manage a network of 14 Preservation and Conservation Centres and work closely with UNESCO and the Blue Shield on safeguarding heritage affected by natural and man-made disasters.

Preservation and conservation of documentary heritage in all its formats has always been a priority for IFLA. However throughout the last decade, it is becoming apparent that IFLA needs more active involved with the role libraries play in disasters. As one of the founding members of the Blue Shield and with close relation to UNESCO, more concrete measures were needed by IFLA to better respond to disasters and to raise awareness for disaster preparedness. Based on the ICOM Red Lists and the ICOMOS, Heritage@Risk, we started working, together with our Preservation and Conservation Section, on the Risk Register for Documentary Heritage.

The IFLA Risk Register for Documentary Heritage


The IFLA Risk Register for Documentary Heritage is an essential tool to serve documentary collections world-wide. It assists safeguarding of heritage by:

Being a closed, confidential database where institutions and holders of documentary heritage collections are encouraged to submit their collections. By submitting collections, their holders ensure that IFLA has reliable and trustworthy contact details in regions if a disaster strikes. It also enables IFLA to pinpoint where collections are held if this is required by UNESCO or the Blue Shield.

We want to ensure that institutions are aware of preventative methods to secure their collections in order to minimise the damage if disaster occurs, by raising awareness for risk preparedness and disaster plans as well as adequate staff training in institutions.

We also aim to raise awareness for libraries and archives to be considered in international cultural heritage rescue efforts if a disaster strikes.

How are libraries affected by disasters?

A burnt manuscript recovered from Timbuktu and preserved at Bamako under partnership with UNESCO. Image ©UNESCO/A. Maiga

A burnt manuscript recovered from Timbuktu and preserved at Bamako under partnership with UNESCO. Image ©UNESCO/A. Maiga

In 2013 armed groups occupied Northern Mali and Timbuktu, a city famous for its cultural heritage and its vast amount of public and private libraries with invaluable documentary heritage. To safeguard the manuscripts during the occupation, volunteers smuggled them into safety to Bamako with the help of international support. The manuscripts have since been kept in the capital and are undergoing restoration and digitisation work.

Cases like Mali are devastating and are happening world-wide over and over again, for example currently in Syria and Iraq. But heritage also gets damaged or destroyed by natural disasters, as the destruction of the invaluable temples, libraries and museums in Nepal showed after the earthquake earlier this year.

The Risk Register is designed to enable IFLA to help libraries in desperate situations, to facilitate conversations between affected libraries and possible funders, to keep UNESCO and the Blue Shield partners informed on the library situation and ultimately to help safeguard and restore our irreplaceable cultural heritage.

What can you do?

Cellist Vedran Smailović playing in the ruins of the National Library at Sarajevo. Photograph by Mikhail Evstafiev.

Cellist Vedran Smailović playing in the ruins of the National Library at Sarajevo. Photograph by Mikhail Evstafiev.

What IFLA needs now is your involvement! It is essential that we collect as much relevant data in the Risk Register as possible. We aim to cover all of the world’s regions so we can react adequately if disasters happen.

  • We are asking you now to submit your documentary heritage collections to the Risk Register.
  • We are asking you to talk to other institutions and private holders of documentary heritage to encourage them to register their collections
  • We are encouraging everyone to implement disaster preparedness and risk mitigation plans and ensure that their staff is trained in disaster preparedness and recovery

Together we will be able to make a difference to save more of our cultural heritage for tomorrow and the future!

For further information visit or contact


Julia Brungs (IFLA Policy and Research Officer)

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