By Operations Manager Marcia Spicer
Regardless of the audience, every museum, historical society, or specialized library knows they have a story worth telling. That’s why they’ve taken countless hours, dollars, and coordinated effort to form. In collections, we often see decades of dedication and work spearheaded by a single individual or a small group who believes in those stories, knowing they’re not only worth preserving, saving, and telling, but they’re worth celebrating.
Digital preservation plays a crucial role in safeguarding cultural heritage, promoting awareness, and enhancing the understanding of history and traditions. It provides a useable reproduction of one-of-a-kind originals, from artifacts to documents to photographs. Those digital copies present the opportunity for expanded access to materials, breaking down barriers of physical distance and fragility. Making them available online means they can be accessed around the world by a greater audience than a mere brick and mortar building could provide.
Digital preservation can be particularly valuable for protecting endangered or at-risk cultural heritage. By creating digital records and archives, endangered languages, oral traditions, and fragile artifacts can be preserved in a digital format even if the physical items are at risk of being lost or destroyed. This ensures that the knowledge and traditions associated with them are not lost to future generations.
The Digital World and Storytelling
How can cultural heritage organizations turn their storied collections from documents and artifacts to a true storytelling experience? Augmented Reality (AR), multi-sensory experiences, and interactive displays can play a significant role in telling stories that engage and educate. Interactive displays aren’t new—museums have been using audio tours to assist visitors for years—but the technology available today is capable of far more creative options.
These types of experiences allow communities to share their stories and experiences directly, giving them a platform to express their perspectives, challenges, and achievements. They offer the opportunity to reclaim narratives, challenge stereotypes, and offer counter-narratives that may not be otherwise adequately represented.
Provide Immersive and Empathetic Experiences:
Interactive, multi-sensory displays can help users understand and empathize with the lived experiences of marginalized communities. By adding digital content onto the physical world, AR can convey stories in a more engaging and emotionally impactful way, fostering greater understanding, empathy, and connection with the subject matter.Many museums are leaning on interactive, multi-sensory, and AR displays to create memorable and impactful experiences for their visitors. Take the St. Louis Sound exhibit, which just retired from the Missouri History Museum:
Audio and video features bring the story to life beyond visuals and captions.
Create Accessible and Inclusive Storytelling:
By using mobile devices, AR experiences can be brought directly to people, allowing them to access stories at their convenience and in various locations. This flexibility helps reach more diverse audiences who may face physical, economic, or other barriers to accessing traditional museums or cultural institutions.AR can also keep the story moving after the initial exhibit is done. Features like QR codes that link to more in-depth information on a topic, interactive displays that provide different perspectives on a subject, or photos and journals from first-hand accounts can lead a visitor down a rabbit hole of knowledge they might never have learned about in a traditional setting.
The interactive and immersive nature of digital displays, coupled with their ability to democratize storytelling and challenge existing power dynamics, makes them powerful tools for telling stories. They can help foster a greater appreciation for experiences and contributions of those whose story you want to tell.
If you’re currently still stuck in the physical world with your collection and are thinking of ways to utilize AR to share stories, it may be time to explore digitization as an essential first step.