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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Diana E. Marsh.

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Marsh, D.E., Punzalan, R.L., Leopold, R. et al. Stories of impact: the role of narrative in understanding the value and impact of digital collections. Arch Sci 16, 327–372 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-015-9253-5

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Keywords

  • Digitization
  • Ethnographic collections
  • Impact
  • Narrative
  • Storytelling