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Measuring the Impact of Special Collections and Archives in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges

Kamposiori, Christina

The unique and distinctive collections held by research libraries have long been recognised as cultural assets to their institutions with strong research and educational potential. Yet, over the past decades, aspects of a fast changing society, such as the digital revolution, and the challenging economic climate have greatly shaped the practices and values of academic and cultural heritage institutions. Many institutions, including research libraries, have been called to respond to the call for openness in scholarship and culture as well as prove their worth and positive impact on society.

This paper presents the outcome of a recent Research Libraries UK (RLUK) project that aimed to explore and understand the approaches employed by our members and close partners for capturing and measuring the impact of activities based on special collections and archives. This work is directly linked to the strategic goals of RLUK for 2018-2021 and constituted part of the activities undertaken during the second phase of the RLUK Special Collections Programme (SCP) (2017-2018).

In the context of this project, we collected and analysed survey and case-study data from across the RLUK membership with the aim of learning more about the pathways to impact followed by special collection and archive professionals in the digital age as well as the characteristics of successful impact cases and the entailed challenges. The results show a shift towards more audience-focused strategies; by employing these approaches, which often include research, teaching and cross-institutional collaborations as well as public engagement activities, research libraries aim to increase physical and digital access to collections and engage with a variety of audience groups. Yet, RLUK members reported that there are still challenges that need to be addressed, such as issues around terminology or the need for more structured methodologies to capture long term impact of collections or better understand how collections and digital resources are used outside institutions. As part of this paper, a number of recommendations based on the key findings of this project will also be presented.

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