UNESCO argues that, although knowledge is today primarily created and accessed through digital media, it is highly ephemeral and its disappearance could lead to the impoverishment of humanity. Despite the adoption of the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage in 2003, there is still insufficient awareness of the risks of loss of digital heritage.
Writing in From Papyrus to Hypertext: Toward the Universal Digital Library (University of Illinois Press, 2009), Christian Vandendorpe makes the point that of the 32 million books published since the invention of writing, 10% are protected by copyright, 15% are in the public domain, and the remaining 75% are in a kind of legal limbo.
"The inclusion of these texts in the collective memory of the Web wouyld enhance their topicality, finally making them searchable and acessible by everyone, and the new virtual space would become the twenty-first century's natural extension of the concept of the library created in Alexandria some three hundred years before the Common Era."
Of course, the UNESCO initiative goes much further than books. But what Vandendorpe is arguing for is inclusivity in and equal access to today's information and knowledge societies, principles that both WACC and UNESCO have long advocated.
Digital information has economic value as a cultural product and as a source of knowledge. It plays a major role in national sustainable development as, increasingly, personal, governmental and commercial information is created in digital form only. But digitized national assets also constitute an immense wealth of the countries concerned and of society at large. The disappearance of this heritage will engender economic and cultural impoverishment and hamper the advancement of knowledge. Ensuring digital continuity of content requires a range of legal, technological, social, financial, political and other obstacles to be overcome.
UNESCO hopes that the Conference will lead to:
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