Another DAM Podcast

Audio about Digital Asset Management

Another DAM Podcast interview with Matt Shanley on Digital Asset Management

Matt Shanley discusses Digital Asset Management

Here are the questions asked:

  • How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
  • Why does a museum use Digital Asset Management?
  • What were the drivers for getting a DAM?
  • What advice would you like to give to DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM Professionals?


Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset
Management. I am Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Matt Shanley. Matt,
how are you?
Matt Shanley: [0:09] Very well, and yourself?
Henrik: [0:10] Good. Matt, how are you involved with Digital Asset
Matt: [0:14] I am the Digital Asset Manager for the Photography Department of
the American Museum of Natural History. They brought me on in 2006 to develop
a photography workflow that would stand savvy. [0:30] Basically, what they
were doing at the time is just taking everything they shot, burning it to a CD or
DVD, and putting it into a binder, and keeping an Excel spreadsheet of what
CDs were where. As you might imagine, that quickly became unmanageable.
[0:44] So when they hired me in 2006, it was a priority for them to have me redesign
their workflow and then research what hardware and software we would
need to get a Digital Asset Management system that was going to be usable
and scalable to the amount of assets that we would eventually accumulate.
[1:06] We decided to go with an Apple Xserve with a 10.5 TB X RAID, and we
decided to use Extensis Portfolio as our DAM. That has a MySQL back end with
a portfolio governing the front end.
[1:25] We started cataloging from 2006 on and then I redesigned the workflow
of the photographers to use Lightroom. It was embedding copyright metadata
on import.
[1:39] We came up with a standardized file naming and folder naming protocols
that were DAM savvy. Basically just formalized the workflow, because the photographers
were pretty much just doing their own thing and there was no real
organization to it. Had to standardize what they were doing in the workflow that
they used.
[2:05] From the time it left the camera and went onto the computer, data preservation
protocols were put in place so that things would get backed up onto
the server, so that if their local hard drive ever crashed, they would at least have
unretouched backups of everything, etc., etc.
[2:23] Then, I have to, when they finish a job, they move it to an area on the
server that I know that they’re done with that job. Then I move it over into the
portfolio sys, catalog it in portfolio. That’s how we do it.
Henrik: [2:43] Why does a museum use Digital Asset Management?
Matt: [2:45] I would say that while we are a museum photography department
we are actually a division of the communications department. We do all of the
press photography, anything that goes out to the press, advertising, marketing,
all of that stuff. We document all of the educational events that happen here.
We documents all of the development events that happen here. [3:12] What
we don’t do is we don’t, for the most part, photograph the collections for the
purposes of cataloging the specimens and artifacts that we have. That’s up to
the scientific department themselves. What museums would probably use it for
would be actually like a collections resource, management. But that is not what
this department does.
Henrik: [3:35] What were the drivers for getting a DAM?
Matt: [3:39] The bottleneck that was happening where it was just taking too
long for photo requests to be fulfilled. Once we got up over a couple hundred
thousand images, that system of burning stuff to CD and DVD became unwieldy.
It was just taking too long. Anything that wasn’t done recently it would
take someone doing much research and going through DVDs and the Excel
spreadsheet. [4:13] There was no controlled vocabulary as far as search and
keywords and stuff like that. It was just a mess. It made it very, very hard to
find things. We needed a centralized storage system that was well organized.
Keywords needed to be standardized with a controlled vocabulary. Once we did
that, it turned image requests from taking days to minutes. It was a huge efficiency
boost for us.
Henrik: [4:45] I bet. Are any of these requests you get paid requests?
Matt: [4:49] Yes. Our business development department and our museum
library both deal with requests coming in mostly from education book publishers.
We do get some of what I would call commercial requests, but it’s mostly in
the educational realm. [5:04] I don’t know how much they’re actually charging for
this stuff, but we’ll get a call. “Do you have a picture of an Apatosaurus thigh or
something like that, a thigh bone?” We’ll look through the collections and see
what we have. We’ve been shooting a mix of digital and film since around 1998.
I think by 2000 or 2002 we were shooting exclusively digital. Considering that
the museum has been here since about 1875 or so, the bulk of our collections
are shot on film.
[5:44] When we went digital the museum library did not have the manpower or
the technical expertise to handle and archive our photos, which is what, back in
the film days, we did. We always turned everything over to the library and they
would put them into the photo archive. When we went digital there was nothing
they could do with the stuff and we did what everybody did, just burn everything
to CD and DVD and store it that way. It was really the only economically
feasible solution at the time.
[6:23] But, like I said, once we got up over a couple hundred thousand assets
it was not working. Sometime in 2007 this new DAM system went online. I’ve
cataloged approximately 328,000 assets. At any given moment there’s about
100,000 assets that I haven’t gotten to yet.
[6:53] That legacy system, we had all of those CDs and DVDs copied onto the
server over a period of time and tried to clean it up as much as we could with
the limited manpower that we have available to be spending time doing that.
That’s somewhere around 210,000 assets in the legacy system.
[7:17] It’s never going to get smaller. We keep everything. So, pushing a million
assets total in no time. We have to make sure that are hardware and software
stay scalable to handling those kind of numbers.
Henrik: [7:33] Wow. Great. What advice would you like to give to DAM professionals
and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Matt: [7:39] I sort of tripped and fell into it. My background is photography.
It was my photography background that got me hired into this photography
department. Photography, digitally driven photography or organization, Digital
Asset Management is a necessity just like having an IT guy to keep your computers
working is a necessity. [8:09] I would say Higher Education is definitely the
way to go. I had to learn it from scratch, kind of on the job, on the fly. There’s
definitely a market for it out there. Anybody who deals with digital content has
to keep it organized because if you can’ find it then it’s like not having it.
[8:38] I think it’s a growing field. As more digital content is created better solutions,
on a larger scale, are going to become available. I think, even if you get
an education in it now, people who work in this field are going to have to get
reeducated in it multiple times over the course of their career. I think the technology
is going to keep changing at a rate that if you want to stay competitive
you’re going to have to keep up with it.
Henrik: [9:06] Never stop learning.
Matt: [9:07] Yeah.
Henrik: [9:08] Good point. Great. Thanks, Matt.
Matt: [9:11] Thank you. I enjoyed talking to you.
Henrik: [9:14] Me too. For more on Digital Asset Management, log onto Thanks again.

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Author: Henrik de Gyor

Consultant. Podcaster. Writer.

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