Man looks through Audio Visual archive shelves.
After surviving two decades of civil war, the archives of Radio Mogadishu are being converted into digital files. Abshir Hashi Hali, the head of the archives, is pictured at work in the station’s library.
Photo:UN Photo/Tobin Jones
Audrey Azoulay

Mexican poet and former Director-General of UNESCO, Jaime Torres-Bodet, once said that archives are not “vast cemeteries” but places crucial to the “continuity of human conscience”. [...] As a duty to future generations, this very specific and exceptional heritage, both fragile and technologically challenging, requires special attention."

Audiovisual archives tell us stories about people’s lives and cultures from all over the world. They represent a priceless heritage which is an affirmation of our collective memory and a valuable source of knowledge since they reflect the cultural, social and linguistic diversity of our communities. They help us grow and comprehend the world we all share. Conserving this heritage and ensuring it remains accessible to the public and future generations is a vital goal for all memory institutions, as well as the public at large.

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (WDAH) provides an occasion to raise general awareness of the need to take urgent measures and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents. It serves as an opportunity for Member States to evaluate their performance with respect to implementing the 2015 Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage, Including in Digital Form, and it promotes the free flow of ideas by word and image as a representation of our shared heritage and memory. In so doing, the Day highlights the role of heritage in building the defenses of peace in people’s minds.

Through initiatives such as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, the Memory of the World Programme, and UNESCO Archives project "Digitizing our shared UNESCO history", the work of preservation professionals is encouraged, in order to manage the range of technical, political, social, financial and other factors that threaten the safeguarding of our audiovisual heritage.

2020 Theme: Your Window to the World

#AudiovisualHeritageDay #AudiovisualHeritage


Audiovisual materials as documentary heritage objects provide a Window to the World as we observe events we cannot attend, we hear voices from the past who can no longer speak, and we craft stories that inform and entertain. Audiovisual content plays an increasingly vital role in our lives as we seek to understand the world and engage with our fellow beings.

27 October: UNESCO zoom event — Documentary Heritage at Risk: Policy gaps in digital preservation

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the urgent need for universal access to documentary heritage as a knowledge resource, particularly as memory institutions seek to reopen their doors to the public. Alongside this is the near lack of enabling policies for preserving and giving access to documentary heritage items. This is further exacerbated by the dwindling of funds available to archives, libraries and museums, increasing the risk of permanent loss of heritage. Against this background, UNESCO is organizing an online policy dialogue among memory institutions and other stakeholders aimed at identifying policy gaps in the digital preservation of documentary heritage at risk.


The 33rd session of UNESCO’s General Conference adopted 33 C/Resolution 53 to proclaim 27 October as World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, in commemoration of the adoption, in 1980 by the 21st session of the General Conference, of the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images.

While the Recommendation has helped to raise awareness of the importance of our audiovisual heritage and has been instrumental in ensuring the preservation of this often unique testimony to economic, political and social development for future generations, more efforts are needed as audiovisual recordings are particularly vulnerable and require special attention for their long-term security. The anniversary of the adoption of the Recommendation is considered a timely opportunity to launch a movement in recognition of the benefits of the preservation of audiovisual heritage.

Sound recordings and moving images are extremely vulnerable as they can be quickly and deliberately destroyed. Essentially emblematic of the 20th century, our audiovisual heritage can be irretrievably lost as a result of neglect, natural decay and technological obsolescence. Public consciousness of the importance of preservation of these recordings must be engaged and the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is intended to be the platform for building global awareness.

Activities and events that take place during the day include:

  • Competitions, such as a logo contest, to promote the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage;
  • Local programs organized as a joint effort between national film archives, audiovisual societies, television or radio stations, and governments;
  • Panel discussions, conferences, and public talks on the importance of preserving important audiovisual documents;
  • Special film screenings.

Race To Preserve History

The United Nations observes World Day for Audiovisual Heritage on October 27th. In New York Headquarters, a team of archivists worked around the clock to protect almost 40,000 records.

Photo collage: left is of stacks of film reels, right is of a man of African descent walking the streets of Manhattan.

UN Audiovisual Library

The AV Library has over 6,330 hours of historical content in 35,16 and 8mm film and 49,400 hours of video stored in its off-site archives.

Photo collage: left - A microphone and a collection of scripts used by UN Radio, right: Miss Lena Horne narrates a featurette for U.N. Radio.

UN Radio Classics

UN Radio Classics is an online archive of documentary and dramatic programmes starring Lena Horne (pictured), Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas and Bing Crosby, among many others. Available free of charge with digitally remastered sound, they offer a unique way of experiencing key historical moments throughout the second half of the 20th century.

A collage of photos of world heritage

UNESCO established the Memory of the World Programme in 1992. Impetus came originally from a growing awareness of the parlous state of preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. War and social upheaval, as well as severe lack of resources, have worsened problems which have existed for centuries. Significant collections worldwide have suffered from looting and dispersal, illegal trading, destruction, inadequate housing and funding. Much has vanished forever; much is endangered. Happily, missing documentary heritage is sometimes rediscovered.

Georges Day, Mrs. Eleanor D. Roosevelt, and Professor René Cassin, Representative of France to the Commission, in the UN Radio studios.

Picture is of a radio round-table discussion: Georges Day (left), UN Radio Commentator (France); Mrs. Eleanor D. Roosevelt, Chairman, UN Commission on Human Rights (United States); and Professor René Cassin, Representative of France to the Commission, are conducting a radio roundtable discussion in French on International Bill of Rights beamed to France from Lake Success, New York, 16 June 1947. This is one of many archival images available from the UN. Collectively, they document key historical moments at the UN and around the world throughout the second half of the 20th century.

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.