Despite the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 crisis which, amongst other things, has led to the physical lockdowns of many cultural organisations across the globe , libraries, archives, museums and arts organisations are striving to continue engaging with and supporting their communities. Digitised and born-digital collections and resources are currently at the forefront of institutions’ virtual services and offerings and significantly contribute to a number of areas including scholarship and teaching, the wellbeing of society as well as its battle against fake news .
At the moment, Twitter has become one of the main avenues for institutions to communicate and interact with different audience groups as well as share, promote and facilitate access to their resources; relevant campaigns have sprung up which, through the use of specific hashtags, aim not only to keep the conversation with users and colleagues going but also educate, inform, entertain, and raise the spirits of communities. Some examples from the broader library and archive sector include :
#LibrariesFromHome: This campaign was launched by Libraries Connected with the purpose of showcasing the best digital services and resources offered by public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The hashtag is being used extensively by the public libraries community and beyond. Some RLUK members have also participated, such as Senate House Library and Bristol University Library, sharing resources that support the work and wellbeing of their communities.
#COVIDlibrary: Professionals in US academic libraries and beyond discuss their experiences about institutional responses to the Covid-19 crisis, and provide support through collating and sharing digital resources that help user communities in their work and other areas of daily life, including enabling them to identify and combat misinformation.
#crisislibrarianship: Professionals from research libraries in the UK, including RLUK members such as Oxford University Library and Edinburgh University Library, discuss the challenges of continuing to serve their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic and provide examples of digital collections and resources that constitute important part of their institutional virtual offerings.
#LetterstotheLibrary: Led by the National Library of Scotland, this initiative collects, in the form of blog posts, reflections of colleagues in cultural institutions, such as research libraries, documenting the impact of Covid-19 on their institutions, services to user communities, and professional lives.
#ExploreYourArchive: Archivists from across the UK unveil daily material from their institutional digital collections, ranging from drawings to manuscript images and a variety of documents, to inform, educate and inspire other professionals as well as the general public.
#Archive30: Through this hashtag, the Archives and Records Association, Scotland, encourages the UK archives community to respond to thematic challenges by revealing and sharing parts of their institutional collections and working lives as professionals in the sector.
The need to develop a better understanding of the impact of digitisation, including the creation of digital collections and resources, on scholarship and the society more generally has been raised by several studies (e.g. Hughes, 2012; Kamposiori and Crossley, 2019; Tanner 2020). In these extraordinary times, a great opportunity for cultural heritage organisations arises: to show in practice the positive impact and value that the digital collections and resources they have built have on the broader society, its health, wellbeing, and progress.
According to IFLA (2020), the end of the current crisis will most probably bring economic challenges and budget cuts for many cultural institutions, including libraries. Yet, capturing and showcasing evidence (e.g. collected through Twitter interactions) of the value of these organisations, their services, collections and staff expertise, in difficult times for communities can potentially strengthen their position and argument when advocating for funding and support. Tools and strategies currently available online, such as the Balanced Value Impact Model, the Europeana Impact Assessment Playbook and those provided by the Audience Agency and Arts Council England can help organisations work towards this goal.