It was brought to my attention that even my attempt to explain DAMS (“digital asset management system”) fell on the side of jargon and could use some explanation. I can do that…
Digital asset. The easiest way to think about a digital asset is to simply think, “file.” Most likely an image file for the sake of this discussion, but could be an audio, video, PDF, or graphics file — just about anything in digital format. We call them “assets” to call attention to the fact that it costs money to create them and because they have value to the person or organization that created them. (Besides, DIMS or DFMS just don’t have the same ring as acronyms.) They cost us money to store and back up, too, so we’d better manage them efficiently. If you don’t manage your files, you end up with 5 copies of the same big TIF file scattered around the network, with everybody hoarding their copies because they can’t count on finding them again when they need them.
Management System. When you hit a critical mass of image files (the 10K I talked about yesterday is a pretty effective one to push you into action), you really need a sophisticated database to manage the files and the data that describe both the files (technical metadata) and their contents (descriptive metadata). The system should store and keep track of the master files for you, so you don’t have to set up and manage file storage — there’s only so far you can go with even the most logical folder structure.
You need a good, clear, workable interface where people can work with the images and data–view images, download the size they need for their current project, and upload revised versions. They also need to be able to load their own image files — everybody has a digital camera and a scanner these days.
And then look beyond the individual worker bee at his/her desk, pulling up images for the latest project–when it comes to sending images and data out on the Web, a strong, well organized database is going to make the Web programmer’s work 1000% easier.
And it has to do all of these things without making the network folks blow a fuse. Working on DAMS is going to give you a real sense of what collaboration means.
Most of us have a sense of this with our own image files at home. We started with a handful of files that grew to the point that we were loading things onto CDs, flash drives, and external hard drives. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find things and share them in the blink of the eye? Get a caption and know who shot the photo and when, without having to get on the phone and use the by-guess-and-by-golly method of data creation? Enter Web services like Flickr and other online services for personal use and the “industrial strength” management systems that we call DAMS for organizations like your friendly neighborhood museum.
You can bet that the administration heard this and more when we pitched DAMS to them. Now we just need to provide proof of the pudding. All in good time. If you want to see more details about what we were and are looking for in a DAMS, click on the “more” link below, but for now, in celebration of the impending 4th of July holiday, here’s my image offering for this post:
Brooklyn Museum: Desired DAMS capabilities
Deborah Wythe manages the Brooklyn Museum’s Digital Collections and Services department (the “Digital Lab”), coordinating digital imaging activities museum-wide, including the photo studio, scan lab, digital asset management, and rights and reproductions. Before moving to the Digital Lab, Deb was the Museum Archivist, where she managed the Museum’s historical records and worked on several technology-driven projects. Deb edited the new edition of Museum Archives: An Introduction, published by the Society of American Archivists in 2004, and wrote the chapters on the museum context, appraisal, description, records surveys, and photographs. Prior to joining the Brooklyn Museum staff, she worked on the Steinway Collection at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and, as an intern, organized the records of the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In her previous life, before discovering archives work (she has always been a museum maven), Deb earned her Master’s and PhD in musicology at NYU. She still studies the piano.