Archival Science

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 327–372 | Cite as

Stories of impact: the role of narrative in understanding the value and impact of digital collections

  • Diana E. MarshEmail author
  • Ricardo L. Punzalan
  • Robert Leopold
  • Brian Butler
  • Massimo Petrozzi
Original Paper


Cultural heritage institutions leverage digitization to fulfill their mission to preserve, represent, and provide access to collections under their care. Despite their common interest in documenting the progress of digitization and online access, the library, archives, and museums (LAM) sector lacks a conceptual framework for assessing and demonstrating the impact of digitized ethnographic collections. Reporting the findings of a yearlong interdisciplinary study, this article underscores the importance of storytelling in articulating the value and impact of digitized ethnographic collections held in cultural heritage institutions. We begin with an overview of the literature on the assessment and describe the methods we employed in our study. Next, we identify and discuss the different ways that stories and storytelling are strategically mobilized in conversations about the impact of digitization. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for cultural heritage practice and collection development.


Digitization Ethnographic collections Impact Narrative Storytelling 



This research was supported by the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Maryland, College Park, through the University of Maryland—Smithsonian Institution Seed Grants for Research program.


  1. Aaltio-Marjosola I (1994) From a ‘Grand Story’ to multiple narratives: studying an organizational change project. J Organ Change Manag 7:56–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bell JA, Christen K, Turin M (Eds) (2013) Introduction: after the return. In: Special issue, digital return: indigenous knowledge and the circulation of culture, Mus Anthropol Rev 7(1–2). Accessed 11 June 2015
  3. Boellstorff T, Nardi B, Pearce C, Taylor TL (2012) Ethnography and virtual worlds: a handbook of method. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  4. Boje D (1995) Stories of the storytelling organization: a postmodern analysis of Disney as ‘Tamara-Land’. Acad Manag J 38:997–1035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boje D (2001) Narrative methods for organizational and communication research. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Bormann E (1994) The symbolic convergence theory of communication and organizational culture. In: Thayer L, Barnett G (eds) Organization communication: emerging perspectives IV. Ablex, Norwood, pp 40–59Google Scholar
  7. Boyce M (1996) Organizational story and storytelling: a critical review. J Theory Soc Behav 31(2):167–195Google Scholar
  8. Brophy P (2005) The development of a model for assessing the level of impact of information and library services. Libr Inf Res 29(93):43–49Google Scholar
  9. Brophy P (2008) Telling the story: qualitative approaches to measuring the performance of emerging library services. Perform Meas Metr 9(1):7–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown M (1986) Dense making and narrative forms: reality construction in organizations. In: Thayer L (ed) Organizational communication: emerging perspectives, vol 1. Ablex, Norwood, pp 71–84Google Scholar
  11. Brown J, Denning S, Groh K, Prusak L (2005) Storytelling in organizations: why storytelling is transforming 21st century organizations and management. Butterworth-Heinemann, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  12. Carter LR (2012) Articulating value: building a culture of assessment in special collections. RBM A J Rare B Manuscr Cult Herit 13(2):89–99Google Scholar
  13. Chapman J, Yakel E (2012) Data-driven management and interoperable metrics for special collections and archives user services. RBM A J Rare B Manuscr Cult Herit 13(2):129–151Google Scholar
  14. Christen K (2011) Opening archives: respectful repatriation. Am Arch 74(1):185–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark B (1970) The distinctive college: Antioch, Reed, and Swarthmore. Aldine, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark B (1972) The organization saga in higher education. Adm Sci Q 17:178–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cobb S (1993) Empowerment and mediation: a narrative perspective. Negot J 9:245–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cohen PS (1969) Theories myth. Man 4(3):337–353Google Scholar
  19. Davies JE (2002) What gets measured, gets managed: statistics and performance indicators for evidence based management. J Librariansh Inf Sci 34(3):129–133Google Scholar
  20. Deegan M, Tanner S (2002) Digital futures: strategies for the information age. Neal Shuman Publishers, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  21. Duff WM, Dryden J, Limkilde C, Cherry J, Bogomazova E (2008) Archivists’ views of user-based evaluation: benefits, barriers, and requirements. Amer Arch 71(1):144–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Duff WM, Yakel E, Tibbo HR, Cherry JM, McKay A, Krause MG, Sheffield R (2010) The development, testing, and evaluation of the Archival Metrics Toolkits. Amer Arch 73(2):569–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Duff WM, Flinn A, Suurtamm KE, Wallace DA (2013) Social justice impact of archives: a preliminary investigation. Arch Sci 13(4):317–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Durkheim E (1961) The elementary forms of religious life (trans: Swain JW). Collier, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Falk JH, Heimlich JE, Foutz S (2009) Free-choice learning and the environment. Altamira Press, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  26. First Archivists Circle (2007) Protocols for Native American archival materials. Accessed 11 June 2015
  27. Franklin B, Plum T (2010) Assessing the value and impact of digital content. In: Hee SH (ed) Bridging the gap: connecting users to digital contents. Routledge, New York, pp 41–57Google Scholar
  28. Fraser BT, McClure CR, Leahy EH (2002) Toward a framework for assessing library and institutional outcomes. Portal Libr Acad 2(4):505–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Frazer JG (1918) Folklore in the Old Testament, vol I. Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Freud S (1952) On dreams (Trans Strachey J). Hogarth Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Gabriel Y (1998) The use of stories. In: Symon G, Cassell C (eds) Qualitative methods and analysis in organizational research: a practical guide. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 135–160Google Scholar
  32. Geertz C (1973) Ethos, world view, and the analysis of sacred symbols. In: Geertz C (ed) The interpretation of cultures. Basic Books, New York, p 127Google Scholar
  33. Gergen M, Gergen K (2000) Qualitative inquiry: tensions and transformations. In: Denzin N, Lincoln Y (eds) Handbook of qualitative research. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 1025–1046Google Scholar
  34. Gibson LK, Turner H (2012) Facilitating inclusivity: the politics of access and digitisation in a South African and Canadian museum. Int J Incl Mus 4(1):1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Glaser BG, Strauss AL (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  36. Goddard I, Thomason L, Kiyana A, Chuck C, Morgan M, Bear Y, Leaf P, Poweshiek H, Sa:kihtanohkwe:ha (2011) Meskwaki texts from the Truman Michelson collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution: Accessed June 11 2015
  37. Graves R (1955) The Greek myths, vol I. Penguin, HarmondsworthGoogle Scholar
  38. Harris J, Barnes BK (2006) Leadership storytelling. Ind Commer Train 38(7):350–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hennessey K, Lyons N, Loring S, Arnold C, Joe M, Elias A, Pokiak J (2013) The Inuvialuit Living History Project: digital return as the forging of relationships between institutions, people, and data. In: Special issue, digital return: indigenous knowledge and the circulation of culture, Mus Anthropol Rev 7(1–2):201–253Google Scholar
  40. Hollinger RE John E, Jacobs H, Moran-Collins L, Thome C, Zastrow J, Metallo A, Waibel G, Rossi V (2013) Tlingit-Smithsonian collaborations with 3D digitization of cultural objects. In: Special issue, digital return: indigenous knowledge and the circulation of culture, Mus Anthropol Rev 7(1–2):201–253Google Scholar
  41. Hooper-Greenhill E (2002) Museum, Media. Message, RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Hughes LM (2004) Digitizing collections: strategic issues for the information manager. Facet Publishing, London, pp 1–30Google Scholar
  43. Hughes LM (2012) Evaluating and measuring the value, use and impact of digital collections. Facet Publishing, LondonGoogle Scholar
  44. Jaarsma SR (2002) Handle with care: Ownership and control of ethnographic materials. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  45. JISC-Joint Information Systems Committee (2013) TIDSR: Toolkit for the impact of digitised scholarly resources. Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford Accessed 17 Nov 2014
  46. Jung CG (1961), Jacobi J (eds) Psychological reflections: an anthology of the writings of CG Jung. Harper, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  47. Kelly B (2012) Evidence, impact, metrics: final report. University of Bath, Bath, UKOLNGoogle Scholar
  48. Kling R, Scacchi W (1982) The web of computing: computer technology as social organization. Adv Comput 21:1–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lakos A, Phipps S (2004) Creating a culture of assessment: a catalyst for organizational change. Portal-Libr Acad 4(3):345–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Law J (1994) Organization, narrative and strategy. In: Hassard J, Parker M (eds) Towards a New Theory of Organizations. Routledge, New York, pp 248–268Google Scholar
  51. Lawson, KL (2004) Precious fragments: first nations materials in archives, libraries, and museums. M.A. thesis, University of British ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  52. Leach ER (1954) The political systems of highland Burma. Bell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  53. Leopold R (2008) The second life of ethnographic fieldnotes. Ateliers d’anthropologie 32.
  54. Leopold R (2013) Articulating culturally sensitive knowledge online: A Cherokee case study. In: Special issue, digital return: indigenous knowledge and the circulation of culture, Mus Anthropol Rev 7(1–2):85–104Google Scholar
  55. Lévi-Strauss C (1955). The structural study of myth. J Am Folk 68(270):428–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lévi-Strauss C (1966) The Savage Mind. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  57. Malinowski B (1948) Myth in primitive psychology. In: Malinowski B (ed) Magic, Science and Religion and other Essays, Beacon Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  58. Martin J, Feldman M, Hatch M, Sitkin S (1983) The uniqueness paradox in organizational stories. Adm Sci Q 38:438–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mitroff I, Kilman R (1976) On organizational stories: an approach to the design and analysis of organizations through myths and stories. In: Kilmann R, Pondy L, Slevin D (eds) The management of organization design, vol 1. North-Holland, New York, pp 189–207Google Scholar
  60. Myrsiades L (1987) Corporate stories as cultural communication in the organization setting. Manag Commun Q 1:84–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nakata, MN, Nakata V, Gardiner G, McKeaugh J, Byrne A, Gibson J (2008) Australian Indigenous digital collections: First generation issues. Final Report, 22 August 2008. University of Technology, Sydney, the Northern Territory Library, the State Library of Queensland and State Library of New South WalesGoogle Scholar
  62. Nielsen L, Madsen S (2005) Using storytelling to reflect on IT projects. J Inf Technol Theory Appl 7(4):35–47Google Scholar
  63. Oliver G (2011) The digital archives. In: Hughes L (ed) Evaluating and measuring the value, use and impact of digital collections. Facet, London, pp 49–60Google Scholar
  64. Pasmore W, King D (1973) Sociotechnical systems: A sourcebook. University Associates, San Diego CAGoogle Scholar
  65. Pastakia C, Jensen A (1998) The rapid assessment matrix (RIAM) for EIA. Environ Impact Asses Rev 18:461–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Patriotta G (2003) Sensemaking on the shop floor: narratives of knowledge in organizations. J Manag Stud 40(2):349–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Peers LL, Brown AK (2003) Museums and source communities. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  68. Pepper HJ (2004) Challenges in managing culturally sensitive collections at the National Museum of the American Indian. In: Sullivan E, Edwards A (eds) Stewards of the sacred. American Association of Museums, Washington DC, pp 105–122Google Scholar
  69. Plum T, Franklin B, Kyrillidou M, Roebuck G, Davis M (2010) Measuring the impact of networked electronic resources: developing an assessment infrastructure for libraries, state, and other types of consortia. Perform Meas Metr 11(2):184–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Raglan L (1955) Myth and Ritual. In: Sebeok TA (ed) Myth. Indiana University Press, Bloomington INGoogle Scholar
  71. Rhodes C (1997) The legitimation of learning in organizational change. J Organ Change Manag 10:10–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rhodes C, Brown A (2005) Narrative, organizations, and research. Int J Manag 7(3):167–188Google Scholar
  73. Roussou M (2008) The components of engagement in virtual heritage environments. In: Kalay Y, Kvan T, Affleck J (eds) New heritage: new media and cultural heritage. Routledge, New York, pp 225–241Google Scholar
  74. Sahlins MD (1976) Culture and practical reason. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  75. Saracevic T (2000) Digital library evaluation: toward an evolution of concepts. Libr Trends 49(2):350–369Google Scholar
  76. Saracevic T (2004) Evaluation of digital libraries: an overview. Notes of the DELOS WP7 workshop on the evaluation of Digital Libraries, Padua, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  77. Serrell B, Adams R (1998) Paying attention: Visitors and museum exhibitions. American Association of Museums, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  78. Shen R, Goncalves MA, Fox EA (2013) Key issues regarding digital libraries: evaluation and integration. Morgan & Claypool, San RafaelGoogle Scholar
  79. Simon, N (2010) The Participatory Museum: Museum 2.0: Accessed 25 May 2015
  80. Skotnes P (ed) (1996) Miscast: negotiating the presence of the Bushmen. University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town, pp 15–25Google Scholar
  81. Skrydstrup M (2006) Towards intellectual property guidelines and best practices for recording and digitizing intangible cultural heritage: a survey of codes, conduct and challenges in North America. Prepared for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)Google Scholar
  82. Smithsonian Institution (2011) Digital asset access and use. Smithsonian Directive 609, Washington, DC. Accessed 17 Nov 2014
  83. Stocking GW (1968) Race, culture and evolution: essays in the history of anthropology. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  84. Strathern M (2000) Audit cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics, and the academy. Routledge, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Sutton S (2004) Navigating the point of no return: organizational implications of digitization in special collections. Libr Acad 4(2):233–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Swanson EB, Ramiller NC (2004) Innovating mindfully with information technology. Manag Inf Syst Q 28(4):553–583Google Scholar
  87. Tanner S (2012) Measuring the impact of digital resources: the balanced value impact model. King’s College, London. Accessed 13 Feb 2014
  88. Terras M (2008) Digital images for the information professional. Ashgate, Burlington VT, pp 99–139Google Scholar
  89. Trist EL, Higgin GW, Murray H, Pollock AB (1963) Organ Choice. Tavistock Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  90. Tsakonas G, Papatheodorou C (2011) An ontological representation of the digital library evaluation domain. Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 62(8):1577–1593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tylor EB (1958) The origins of culture. Harper, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  92. Underhill KJ (2006) Protocols for Native American archival materials. RBM A J Rare B Manuscr Cult Herit 7(2):134–145Google Scholar
  93. Van Buskirk W, McGrath D (1992) Organizational stories as a window on affect in organizations. J Organ Change Manag 5(2):9–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Voorbij H (2010) The use of web statistics in cultural heritage institutions. Perform Meas Metr 11(3):266–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Williams DA, Wavell C, Baxter G, MacLennan A, Jobson D (2005) Implementing impact evaluation in professional practice: a study of support needs within the museum, archive, and library sector. Int J Inf Manag 25(2005):533–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Xie HI (2008) Users’ evaluation of digital libraries (DLs): their uses, their criteria, and their assessment. Inf Process Manag 44(3):1346–1373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Yakel E, Tibbo H (2010) Standardized survey tools for assessment in archives and special collections. Perform Meas Metr 11(2):211–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Yakel E, Duff W, Tibbo H, Kriesberg A, Cushing A (2012) The economic impact of archives: surveys of users of government archives in Canada and the United States. Am Arch 75(2):297–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.American Philosophical SocietyPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.College of Information StudiesUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Center for Folklife and Cultural HeritageSmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.College of Information StudiesUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  5. 5.College of Information StudiesUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations