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Another DAM Podcast interview with Jennifer Tyner on Digital Asset Management

Jennifer Tyner discusses Digital Asset Management

Here are the questions asked:

  • How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
  • Why does a research university use Digital Asset Management?
  • What advice would you like to share with DAM Professionals and people aspiring to become DAM Professionals?


Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset
Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Jennifer Tyner.
Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer Tyner: [0:10] I’m great. How are you today?
Henrik: [0:11] Good. Jennifer, how are you involved with Digital Asset
Jennifer: [0:15] Well, I first became interested in Digital Asset Management
when I was in graduate school and I took a cataloguing class. I was just really
intrigued by it, because our professor showed us an example. Of course, he
used their real database they were using at the time in the Museum where he
worked, and he showed an example of a screen with an item, an object in their
collection, and how it was catalogued. [0:42] Then he showed another screen
where he had listed out the name of a provenance, a certain provenance. And
the name of this provenance or company that had donated materials to that
museum was written out at least 10 to 15 different ways. It was written sometimes
as two words or three words. Sometimes with hyphens. Sometimes all
as one word with no spaces, or a shortened word or an acronym. So over the
years, they had had multiple people entering this information. It was never written
the same way.
[1:21] That was just one example of how messy cataloguing can be. It was
also one of the things I worked on as an intern. I called it data cleanup. I primarily
have a photography background before that. I realized I wanted to
work with pictures, without being a photographer. Which is why I went into
the graduate program I went into. What’s funny is, now with my current job, I
work in the communications and marketing department, which is the Central
Communications Office for Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as
Georgia Tech for short.
[1:54] I do play part of a backup photographer, from time to time, when our staff
photographer is unavailable. But most of the time I do manage the digital photography
Henrik: [2:05] Why does a research university use Digital Asset Management?
Jennifer: [2:08] Why doesn’t every university need it, actually? Everybody
needs a Digital Asset Management of some sorts and should already have some
type of DAM or storage and retrieval method in place. Regardless of what type
of content you’re cataloguing and storing. In our case, I work in the Central
Communications Office of a large university. What I work with is the marketing
photography database, and it is an online system. It’s password protected for
all of our users, and our users are people on campus. They’re the people who
work in other departments and academic units because everyone needs to have
some type of marketing photography. [2:53] They use the photographs on their
websites. They use them in brochures and posters. They all try to promote their
areas or promote the university in some way or another. Our photography collection
really does have a wide range of audiences. They can be the students,
faculty, staff, media from off campus or perspective students, faculty, staff, and
of course alumni and donors.
[3:20] We have everything in our DAM from recruiting photography. For instance,
they could be students walking around on campus or participating in
activities on campus. Or they could be in classrooms, in research labs. We also
have annual events, special events, and also donor events catalogued in our
database. But not so much sports photography, and I won’t get into that now.
Jennifer: [3:46] It’s mainly because we have so many departments and units on
campus that many of them have their own photo archives. They hire their own
freelancers to take care of the photography needs, and it’s really quite like a
small city on our campus because it’s so large. So they really should have all
their own photographers because it’s not possible for our one staff photographer
to cover every single thing for every single department on our campus.
[4:16] About our current Digital Asset Management tool, it has been a wonderful
and effective system for our campus users. It’s been in place since the fall of
2009, and before that we did have another DAM tool, which I’ll talk about later.
But our current one is great. It’s quick. You can browse using a category tree.
You can use advanced word searches.
[4:41] This is far from [laughs] what it was like before, so I guess you have to
experience the bad to really appreciate the good. So it is a huge improvement
from our previous system. Our previous system was in place when I began here
in 2006, and on my first day I was told by IT that there would be no more upgrades
to that Digital Asset Management system.
[5:06] I panicked a little because I had heard about database migrations before.
When I was in grad school, I had heard professors talk about it and other
people in the field when we had guest speakers. They all did a lot of eye rolling
and, “Oh, yes. Database [laughs] migrations.” Even one internship, I was working
at a museum. I worked in the photographer services area of that museum. I
was in the database a lot. But actually, they had two databases. Why? Because
they were migrating from one system to another and it was taking longer
than they expected. They were still working from two systems. I had to learn
both systems.
[5:47] That’s when I learned, “Gosh, why isn’t this a simple process?” [laughs]
I also heard from one of my professors, when he spoke to us about database
migration, he said, “I hope you will never have to experience this, but considering
how young you all are, you’re going to have to experience this at some point
in your careers.” And he was absolutely right. When I first started here, I began
doing the research on different Digital Asset Management systems.
Jennifer: [6:12] I was benchmarking with other universities. When I called other
universities, I spoke to what I thought were my counterparts at other universities.
I heard, again, that migrations are far from easy. I spoke to one campus
who had migrated from scratch. They were working from discs and hard drives.
They moved everything from their hard drives onto the new system. He said,
“No, we started from scratch and it was not easy.” Because I thought that
it might be.
[6:42] Then I spoke to another university who said they had migrated from an
older system to a newer one. They said, “No. It was not easy.” So I knew that
no matter what, I would be up for a challenging and rewarding experience. And
it has been very rewarding. Because I also saw this as an opportunity to make
some better changes to our system and the way that things had been catalogued
before. Because I noticed, in our older system, we had a lot of problems.
[7:10] The same problems that I mentioned earlier, with the provenance being
listed out many different names. On our campus, as I’m sure on a lot of university
campuses, there are many departments and academic units that all have
acronyms. What I like to do is list out the full name of that department or the
event. We have events in buildings that also have acronyms or nicknames. So
that’s like three things right there.
Jennifer: [7:37] I can list out the full name for that building or event or department.
Then the acronym, then the nickname, if I know it. I can add those in the
tags, so that when people search for any of those things, those pictures will
come up. With our older system, I would type in, “The school of XYZ.” That
would be an acronym. I would see a few pictures there. Then I would type out
the full name of that particular school or program.
[8:05] Sometimes I would see the same pictures and sometimes I wouldn’t. So
this database migration was a good time to develop some kind of consistency.
Those small changes really do matter. One way I fixed this was by converting
some text fields to drop down menus. In our old system, we had just open box
text where you could just type in the information. That’s effective for descriptions,
but for things like copyright information or photographer’s name or so on,
something like that, that’s going to be just about the same every time, it works
best with a drop down menu.
[8:42] That way, there’s no mistake. You have the same thing every time. And
now our collection is growing almost daily. The important thing is the changes
that I made… I asked myself, “How do I maintain the constancy?” I got this great
new system to start with and that was one of the changes I’d made, with the
drop down menus and the event names. We have certain events on campus that
take place every single year, the same events.
Jennifer: [9:09] One of them, of course, would be commencement, and then
homecoming. So I go into the system every time, before I catalog these pictures
and I look and see, “How did I write that out last year? What tags and keywords
did I use to identify those pictures last time and the year before that?” I try to
stay consistent with keeping the same information or similar information for
these same annual events that take place.
[9:36] Because it wasn’t like that before. [laughs] I would search for something
like homecoming and I would see pictures from 2003 in one category and then
homecoming the following year. 2004 would be in a different category. And
written a little bit differently. Then keywords were in one set of photos that
weren’t in the other. And so on. That’s just one example. I do try hard to maintain
consistency. You would think it would be easy with just one person doing
the data entry, which would be me.
[10:06] But it’s really not that easy. I realized how quick it is to forget things
like that. That’s why I double check and recheck my work before I put it in
the database.
[10:17] We recently began integrating videos into our collection, before it was
just photography. We’ve just put a videos in, we’re experimenting with it. Our
database is fancy enough that we can play videos in it, store them in there,
download them from there.
[10:34] We only have a small sprinkling of videos in there, so things that I’m
asking myself now are “How should these videos described in catalogs, should
be done the same way as the photography?” It all comes down to the end
users, how will the end users want to search for these videos?
Jennifer: [10:55] Should I make a category tree that has categories for B roll
footage or final edited pieces? Should I have the category tree mimic the photography
category tree? We have ours listed out by things like events, the different
schools on campus, student life, and studying. That kind of thing.
[11:18] These are all questions I’m asking myself now because I know that this
video collection will continue to grow just like the photography collection.
[11:26] I’m also familiar with how difficult it can be to turn around and do something
different like “Oh, we’ve already cataloged about 1,000 videos, let’s turn
around and change the way this is being done.”
[11:37] That’s not an easy thing to do and no one wants to do that, so it is a really
a good idea to have a good plan in place before you begin, you can get all of
those questions out of the way early on. It’s even more difficult sometimes to
convince people you work with that it’s not a quick fix.
[11:58] Getting a new fancy database is not a magical like a feature that’s going
to make all of your problems disappear. You do have to look at these things,
and ask yourself these questions, and have a good plan in place before you just
start dumping photography and video in.
Henrik: [12:14] Jennifer, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals
and people aspiring to be DAM professionals?
Jennifer: [12:19] Well the best advice I can give is be organized, consistent, and
the most important one, be patient. That patience can apply to a lot of things. It
can mean being patient with yourself, the people, your users who are using your
system. One thing I learned is that I initially never made it very clear how easy
it would be for our users to actually use our database. [12:51] And so when our
new system launched, we created some training videos that we posted online
because the system was so different, it had a different interface and it was a lot
fancier than what we had in place before.
[13:08] We had instructional videos, showing people how they can go into the
categories, do an advanced word search, create a saved set of photos or cart
so they can come back to it later, how to search by dates, or sort their search
results, which we certainly didn’t have in our previous database, which is an
excellent feature.
[13:32] Since it’s mostly photography in our system, it’s great to be able to sort
by creation date. The creation date is the date that the camera documents the
moment the shutter snapped.
[13:44] Since everything is digital now, when you have an order by creation date,
you’re looking at the most current down to the oldest and people want the
most current when they’re in PR.
Henrik: [13:53] Well thanks, Jennifer.
Jennifer: [13:55] Well, thank you for interviewing me.
Henrik de Gyor: [13:57] No problem. For more on this and other Digital Asset
Management topics, log onto Another DAM Podcast
is available on Audioboom, iTunes and the Tech Podcast Network. If you have any
comments or questions, feel free to email me at
Thanks again.

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Author: Henrik de Gyor

Consultant. Podcaster. Writer.

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