David Fricker

David Fricker

Last updated on 20 November 2018

David Fricker is the Director-General National Archives of Australia and President of the International Council on Archives

For some time, UNESCO has recognised the transformative power of digital media as a creative engine of cultural heritage, and as a carrier through which culture is transmitted across populations and through time to future generations. Of particular concern, however, is the fragile nature of digital heritage and the risk that, as technology advances, so much of our digital heritage is lost through neglect or technological obsolescence. Back in 2003, in article 12 of its visionary Charter for the Preservation of the Digital Heritage, UNESCO defined its task ‘to serve as a reference point and a forum where Member States, intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector may join together in elaborating objectives, policies and projects in favour of the preservation of the digital heritage’.  More recently, in 2015, UNESCO adopted its Recommendation Concerning the Preservation and Access to Documentary Heritage, including in Digital Form, which calls upon member states to establish cooperation and dialogue between governments, social organisations, and the ICT industry, and to create practical solutions in the area of sustainable digital preservation.

This is why ICA and IFLA have joined with the UNESCO Memory of the World Program as partners in the PERSIST initiative. I am currently the Chair of the PERSIST Steering Committee, which in turn is supported by three PERSIST workgroups:

  • POLICY – considering recommendations, policies and legal frameworks for ensuring effective life-cycle management of digital technologies and digital content
  • TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH – considering technological issues, research advances, and economic sustainability of tools, methods and services for storage, preservation, and use of digital artefacts
  • CONTENT – establishing recommendations and guidelines for selecting, managing, curating, and disseminating digital content of cultural, educational, and scientific value.

The PERSIST initiative has picked up momentum. To date we have:

  • published the PERSIST selection guidelines (available in seven languages)
  • entered into collaboration with the DPC to produce an Executive Guide on Digital Preservation.  The Guide is aimed at decision-and policy-makers in organizations which now rely heavily on digital media and need to secure their digital legacy. On the DPC side, these include memory and heritage institutions, commercial and financial organizations, government bodies and not-for-profits. On the UNESCO side, they include those in the member states who have a role in implementing the UNESCO Recommendation.
  • held an International Symposium – “Lost in the Cloud” - in October this year in Canberra, Australia. It was a great success, with a special appearance by DPC’s own superstar Tim Gollins as well as presentations by ICA, Australia’s National Memory Institutions, UNESCO, academia and ICT Industry. The full video record of the day will be posted soon on the www.unescopersist.org website and our partner organisations.

More activities are in the pipeline and suggestions are being sought for the establishment of expert groups who can advise PERSIST and UNESCO on a specific issue. These may include, for example, legal frameworks for providing access to legacy software and task-forces comprising individuals who are invited or who volunteer to work towards specific objectives and outcomes, such as guidelines or standards related to digital heritage.

If you’d like to learn more about UNESCO PERSIST and to find out how you can be involved, we’d love to hear from you.  Our Community Engagement guidelines can be read at https://unescopersist.org/community/

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