It has been said that Brazil is a country without a memory, firmly rooted in the present and with its eyes on the future. Yet Brazil’s cultural heritage encompasses millennia of human endeavor, five centuries of European colonization, and nearly two centuries of independence. Its state and private museums, archives, universities, and libraries, along with a multitude of private and municipal cultural and historical associations and foundations, hold a rich heritage. However, hot, damp, tropical conditions, or alternating dry and rainy weather, combine with the constant threat of insects, industrial pollution, and a low level of building maintenance to create serious environmental challenges to the preservation of these holdings. While investment has poured into economically productive activities over the last several decades, finding resources for preserving Brazil’s cultural heritage has not been easy. Lack of awareness of both the costs and benefits of preservation has made it difficult for advocates to adequately defend preservation priorities. Few were aware that basic measures can be very cost-effective, and the content and value of collections were also not widely known. The solution to the problem then, as now, is to implement preventive preservation measures while at the same time producing inventories and educating the public about the richness of the collections.

Project Overview

The project to translate and disseminate preservation knowledge was part of a broader partnership between the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), which incorporates the former Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), and a consortium of Brazilian archival, library, and museum institutions. The partnership was intended to serve as an information network for preventive conservation for all Brazilian institutions with collections on paper and film and in digital form. This included federal, state, and municipal institutions; public and private museums; universities; and local cultural institutions and foundations.


In September 1994, representatives of 12 Latin American institutions gathered to attend a preservation round table held in Quito, Ecuador. The round table was sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS) as part of a cultural heritage preservation development program. The Quito round table, which the OAS had begun in 1987, provided a rare opportunity for Latin American archive, museum, and library staff to discuss preservation conditions and devise an action plan to improve them. The round table recommendations included providing staff with technical and managerial training and up-to-date literature on preservation translated from the best available sources.

Returning from the OAS workshop, Solange Zúñiga, then director of research and documentation for Funarte (Brazil’s National Arts Foundation) and Ingrid Beck, preservation coordinator of Brazil’s National Archives, were determined to find a way to raise preservation awareness in Brazil on a national scale and catalyze action to pursue the twin goals of providing training and documentation. The Quito recommendations echoed similar priorities that both had identified while interviewing Brazilian institutions in June and July 1994 to collect information for the Quito meeting.

In October 1994, Gina Machado, the project manager for culture at Vitae, a not-for-profit organization in São Paulo, introduced Beck and Zúñiga to Richard Ekman, secretary of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Ekman had traveled to Brazil to explore projects that would be suitable for foundation funding. Beck and Zúñiga presented the idea of a Brazilian national preservation training and information project to him. He put them in touch with Hans Rütimann, international program officer of the Commission on Preservation and Access. The CPA agreed to help Beck and Zúñiga shape a proposal to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a project to translate and disseminate within Brazil technical literature on preservation. CPA would be a partner in the project and would submit a separate proposal to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funds to support project coordination.

By the end of the year, Beck and Zúñiga had formed an initial working group of 22 colleagues from 18 archives, libraries, and museums in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais, where these institutions are concentrated.

Organization and Funding

Late in 1994, Beck and Zúñiga began to develop the first draft proposal for submission to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The working group took about a year to discuss and refine the proposal. Amidst these discussions, the first step was to agree on the scope of the project. The core idea was to translate and disseminate basic literature on preservation; however, the project had to do more than simply distribute documentation. Regional workshops to educate and raise awareness of the importance and effectiveness of preservation activities would also be required.

To know where to distribute the documentation and training opportunities throughout Brazil would require a third task: a comprehensive survey of Brazilian institutions. There were several inventories and guides to institutions and collections, but there was no single, complete, and up-to-date inventory of institutions with cultural document collections. Moreover, the existing sources did not include information about collection preservation or the composition of technical staff teams. The working group decided that it needed to organize a comprehensive mailing list, starting with the existing data, and carry out a targeted survey that would gather all the information needed for the project.

In October 1995, the working group submitted a proposal to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that incorporated three elements: preservation literature in Portuguese, a survey and database of institutions, and training workshops. The foundation formally announced its approval of the proposal in January 1996. Vitae agreed to cosponsor the project with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and CLIR, and the Getulio Vargas Foundation agreed to manage the grant funds. The National Archives would host the project and contribute Beck’s time as coordinator, and Funarte would contribute logistical support, travel funds, and Zúñiga’s time as advisor. These six institutions signed cooperative agreements, and in April 1996, the project was inaugurated with a celebration that brought together representatives from the 18 institutions in the working group.

Over four years (1996-1999) the project has received $578,000. The first two-year phase of the project was funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ($210,000) and Vitae (about $41,500). During this phase, CLIR provided an additional $18,500 from international program funds and project coordination funds, and, more important, access to technical information and advice. During the second phase (1998-1999), The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided a second grant of $265,000 and Vitae contributed $38,000. Prize money from the Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade Award received from the Ministry of Culture in 1998 ($5,000 equivalent) is also being used to fund the project.


The working group identified a need for training on four basic topics in preventive conservation: environmental monitoring, microfilming for preservation, remodeling and maintenance of facilities to improve environmental conditions for collections, and preservation planning.

The working group established the following main objectives for the project:

  • to stimulate education and training in preventive conservation
  • to facilitate networking and collective action by institutions
  • to disseminate up-to-date literature on preservation and collections management in Portuguese
  • to provide technical support to Brazilian institutions for the development and implementation of in-house preservation policies and programs

To meet these objectives, the project was to focus on the following activities:

  • establishing a communications network among institutions for exchanging information about preservation
  • promoting the exchange of information through a dedicated Web site and a bulletin
  • compiling and maintaining an inventory and database about institutions with library or archival holdings
  • selecting, translating into Portuguese, and publishing relevant technical documentation
  • organizing staff and management training and other activities in Brazil
  • promoting research and development of preservation procedures tailored to Brazilian institutions’ needs
  • encouraging the development of policy recommendations for preservation in Brazil, such as preservation microfilming, digitizing, and using acid-free paper

Brief Chronology

The project’s first year, 1996, was focused on translating the preservation literature into Portuguese. Selection of the documents to be translated had begun in parallel with the final stages of the proposal preparation (June-December 1995) and was completed by March 1996.

Once document selection was complete, the working group turned its attention to the design of the survey questionnaire and the collection and compilation of address lists for the survey. Translation of the first group of documents began in January 1996 and was completed by March 1997.

In 1997, efforts focused on the following activities:

  • printing an edition of 2,000 sets of 52 documents and producing three videos in Portuguese, both completed by June 1997
  • carrying out the survey, completed by December 1997
  • launching core workshops organized by the working group in mid-year to train the first 160 regional partners. Documents were distributed first exclusively to the workshop participants and then, in September and October, to all institutions that had responded to the survey.
Fig. 2. Project timetable, 1995-2000

The main activity in 1998 was a series of regional workshops organized by partner institutions that would continue through 1999. A fourth video was translated and produced in Portuguese, and the Web site was prepared for its early 1999 launch. The working group met monthly throughout the year to plan the project’s second phase and held an annual meeting at year’s end.

A second, smaller, group of technical documents was selected in late 1998 for translation and printing by mid-1999. A second series of regional workshops on preservation planning was scheduled for the second half of 1999, along with the production of new teaching materials, including a video, for subsequent workshops and for distance learning. Rather than holding a second annual meeting in 1999, the working group decided to organize three new core workshops for the active regional partners. The workshops were intended to broaden their knowledge about preventive conservation, since many of the partners located far from major centers have no other opportunities for training and professional growth. The first workshop was held in Campo Grande (state of Mato Grosso do Sul) in October 1999. The other two workshops will be held in the Northeast and the South by the end of 1999.

For 2000, the working group is planning to organize an international conference in Rio to present the results of the project to a wider audience and to discuss strategies for extending or replicating the project in interested Latin American countries and in other Lusophone countries.


Two thousand sets of the original 52 titles were printed in Portuguese, and all but about 200 have been distributed free of charge. About 3,600 individuals have attended 84 workshops held in 26 locations in all five of Brazil’s regions. The videos have been distributed to 300 institutions and have been seen by about 3,000 staff members in 500 institutions. Following the project’s successful first phase in 1998, it received the highest cultural heritage award presented by Brazil’s Ministry of Culture, the Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade. The award included a $5,000 cash prize that has been invested in the project’s second phase.

More important than these quantifiable measures of success have been the qualitative changes in attitudes, the new awareness of preservation, and the growth of networking and communication among professionals from the library and archival communities. For the first time, large numbers of professionals have repeatedly come together to discuss preservation-related issues. The process has created ever-widening circles of knowledge and activity as the 160 participants in the core workshops have returned to their home institutions to organize regional workshops and lobby their colleagues for changes in policies, procedures, and attitudes. Several participants have carried their advocacy to other institutions, becoming roving ambassadors and missionaries for the preservation message. In this way, the impact of the initial investment has been multiplied many times over.

On a more concrete level, university professionals have begun to incorporate preventive conservation into the archives and library curricula.

  • At the University of Rio de Janeiro, preventive conservation has been added to the library and archival science curriculum by the professor in charge, who was a participant in a core workshop. His students have raised awareness of preservation in the institutions where they are interns to the point where the classroom has become a forum for the concerns of these institutions’ collection managers.
  • At Santa Catarina’s Western University, a workshop participant was invited to create a chair for preservation in the Department of History.
  • At the Federal University of Paraná State, two workshop participants, including the head of the Librarianship Department, created the first specialization program in paper conservation in 1998.
  • At the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul State in the South and at the Federal University of Bahia State in the Northeast, workshop participants are involved in preparing preservation curricula for newly created courses in archival science.

Important physical changes have also been introduced at some institutions as a direct result of the distribution of the preservation literature. The Federal Ministry of Culture funded a program to rehouse photographic archives held by the regional offices of the National Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) in São Luiz. The archives, comprising 12,000 photographic prints, 8,000 negatives, and 600 slides, is the only collection of images of São Luis, a tropical island and state capital that UNESCO designated a cultural heritage site in 1997. Working from two articles translated and disseminated by the project (Isoperms by Donald Sebera, and New Tools for Preservation by James Reilly, Douglas W. Nishimura, and Edward Zinn), the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina developed Climus, an innovative computer-based system for thermal monitoring of collections. The Climus system uses the preservation index as a decision-making tool for timing the opening and closing of windows and for turning on and off the mechanical ventilation systems. This allows institutions located in the temperate climate of southern Brazil to take advantage of the external environment.

In 1999, with support from Vitae, the National Archives installed the Climus system to collect and manage data for a special climate-controlled environment for the audiovisual collection. The record of changes in the preservation index and the time-weighted preservation index that Climus generated have provided important evidence to justify the need to improve the air cooling and drying system for this collection. Also in 1999, the Edgard Leuenroth Archives in São Paulo received approval from the São Paulo State Foundation of Research and Development for a project to improve the physical space and install the Climus system. The preservation literature provided valuable information for designing this project.

The working group hopes that the importance of environmental control systems for collections preservation will be more widely discussed as a result of the preservation environment workshop held in September 1999 in Curitiba. Three specialists from different institutions discussed the Climus system at this event. The workshop presentations were videotaped, and the tape will be disseminated as a new teaching aid.

Brazil’s Cultural and Educational Infrastructure

The centralized nature of Brazil’s cultural and educational public infrastructure lends itself to the kind of organized action and communication required to overcome the challenges of great distances, intemperate climates, and low budgets. Administratively, the country is divided into five regions and 27 states. Political and administrative authority was decentralized during colonial times and in the century after independence in 1822. There is, therefore, a long tradition of municipal administrations operating independent of central control. Since the 1930s, Brazil’s federal government has gradually centralized power in federal institutions and assumed a leading role in setting standards and policy. However, the states and municipal governments retain a great deal of latitude in defining public policy.

Public universities, libraries, museums, and archives exist at the federal, state, and municipal levels, with many archives also attached to libraries or museums. Many of the national institutions are located in Rio de Janeiro, the country’s political center until the 1960s. Outside Rio, many important cultural institutions are associated with the state and federal institutions (including universities), such as the Amazon Museum in Manaus and the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belém, which houses one of the richest natural science collections in the world. At the State University of Campinas, the Edgard Leuenroth Archives houses extensive documentation on the social and political history of Brazil.

The National Library and National Archives are both located in Rio. The National Library of Brazil was created in 1808 with donations from the royal family, when the intended King John VI of Portugal decided to transfer the Portuguese court to Brazil. With eight million works, it is the eighth largest library in the world and the largest in Latin America. Maps, photographs, sound recordings, and rare books are the heart of this library’s treasure.

The National Archives was created in 1838 to house, organize, preserve, give access to, and disseminate knowledge about the country’s documentary heritage, and also to implement the federal government’s archival policies. It houses government administrative materials and gifts from private institutions, including about 45,000 linear meters of documents, 55,000 maps and drawings, 13,000 magnetic audio tapes, and 12,000 films and video tapes. The National Archives also serves as the head of the National Council of Archives, which implements federal archival policy.

Many of the national museums are also located in Rio, such as the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of History, and the Museum of the Republic. Most of these belong to the National Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage, which also has 15 regional offices and whose members include 30 other important museums located throughout the country. The National Foundation of Art (Funarte), also located in Rio, houses a Documentation Center with more than one million items, including books, magazines, photographs, sound recordings, and posters. The collection is especially rich in the areas of music and theater and includes manuscripts of Brazilian composers, original stage set drawings, and unpublished plays.

At the state level, there are both public and private collections of note. Brazil’s state assemblies have broad authority to develop legislation regarding state archival systems, usually inspired by federal legislation. Secretaries of culture oversee most cultural institutions at the state and municipal levels. The situation is different for archives, which are overseen in part by the secretaries of justice or administration. One of the most important federal institutions at the state level is the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation in Recife, capital of Pernambuco State in the Northeast. The foundation houses a variety of private historical and political collections and two museums, and is also a member of IPHAN. Another important private institution is the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Research and Documentation Center of Contemporary History of Brazil, created in 1973. It houses documents related to political figures from the 1930s Vargas era.