So what’s a DAMS and why do we need one?

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:


Mitchell Tapper (American, born 1953). Fireworks over Brooklyn Bridge, 1983. 83.208.
For this and more great Brooklyn Bridge images, see our digital collection (done without the help of a DAMS, and boy could we have used one),
The Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Museum: Spanning Art and History. Our BB community pool on Flickr doesn’t have anything tagged fireworks — get busy, friends!

Brooklyn Museum: Desired DAMS capabilities

  • MySQL, POSTGRESQL or MSSQL database
  • use LDAP/Kerberos for authentication against existing Active Directory database
  • access to database for data and image export purposes
  • ability to map data to and from other databases
  • simple and clear method of organizing file storage; automatic placement in imageserver
  • ability to program batch data loads and batch image loads with associated metadata
  • batch and/or automatic creation of derivatives from a master file at standard or custom file specifications
  • ability to handle a wide variety of image file types; ideally also other file types such as doc, PDF, Quark, InDesign; also video such as Quicktime
  • highly granular and flexible permissions structure, including
    • individual and group permissions;
    • lock or release individual records and groups of records to individuals/groups/public;
    • control access (view/edit) to metadata at the field level;
    • limit access to specific file types to a specific group (i.e. TIFFs only accessible to limited audience)
  • strong descriptive metadata structure, ideally offering
    • templates for standard metadata sets such as Dublin Core, VRA Core;
    • ability to create and/or import pick lists and thesauri
    • set required fields
    • set default values
    • create user-defined fields with permission
    • global update of data with permission
    • create data entry templates
  • strong technical metadata structure with
    • ability to record data at the individual file level, including
    • automatic loading of file header data (source camera/scanner; resolution; date; color space, etc.);
    • ability to set session defaults (name of operator, equipment settings, etc.)
  • ability to link multiple image files to a single record (i.e. one master image, with multiple derivatives and edited versions)
  • ability to link related records
    • multi-part objects-4 views of a single sculpture;
    • a screen that has 3 panels, each a separate digital image
    • image of an object in the collection, a document with text relating to it, a Quark file of wall text
  • ability to express a hierarchical structure and the sequence of images within it
    • a book with chapters, sections, and pages;
    • an archival collection with series, subseries, folders, and items
  • ability to create ad hoc groupings of assets for projects (i.e. works that will be included in an exhibition)
  • ability to create “placeholder” metadata records where images will be added later
  • canned and custom output formats for selected images and metadata
    • PowerPoint presentation
    • HTML page
    • Word/PDF document
    • XML output template
  • canned and custom administrative reporting
    • data and image load statistics
    • use statistics
    • system reports