Here are the questions answered:
How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
How does a Museum of Art and Design use Digital Asset Management?
What are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Henrik de Gyor (0:00): This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Denise Bastien.
Henrik de Gyor (0:07): Denise, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Denise Bastien (0:11): Thank you, Henrik for having me speak with you today and I’m excited about our podcast. Let me tell you a little bit about my background. I am the registrar for collection information at the RISD Museum also known as the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design. And in that capacity, I administer the museum’s collection information and oversee the Digital Asset Management in the integration of assets and information into our museum operations. And in this capacity, I ensure that digital documentation on the collection meets appropriate collection management, legal, security, cataloguing, publication and preservation standards and requirements. And I’m just going to give you a little brief intro to the RISD Museum in case our listeners aren’t familiar. We were established in 1877 as part of a vibrant community of stewards represented in art from diverse cultures from ancient time to the present. Because of our deep connection to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the most highly regarded schools of Art and Design in the country, we offer a unique approach to experiencing art, whether it be through our gallery interpretations, our talks, our hands on activities, our workshops, the RISD museum visitor not only observes the significant objects of Art and Design, but they learn about the process and techniques of making art from the hand and the mind of the artist. So our philosophy is a driving force is that our approach to our partnership, our programmings in exhibitions, we also aspire to create an accessible and inclusive environment that fosters meaningful relationships across all of our communities. And the RISD Museum is committed to deliberately, consistently and compassionately confronting racism and injustice in any form. We are a midsize Museum, we employ about 100 staff members along with numerous docents, freelance artist educators, and we serve approximately 125,000 visitors a year. And we roughly hold about 100,000 objects in this comprehensive collection of Art and Design. We also provide free access to our digital images of public domain works in the collection for any purpose. We want our collection, obviously, and our scholarship and interpretive content to be accessed and distributed and reused by everyone.
Denise Bastien (2:39): So where am I on this journey? I began my DAMS journey at the Museum about 18 years ago, when we made the transition from shooting film, to direct digital capture. And at that time, it was the first time when the semi-professional cameras were digital capture cameras were in the marketplace. And but it was also at a time when there was no Digital Asset Management systems really in the marketplace. So at that time, and still today, the museum photographers fall under my management. And we also at that time, had a collection system that was capable of associating JPEGs of our objects, our exhibitions, our conservation publication, and event records in the system. So we quietly built a critical mass of high resolution professionally shot digital images, looking at emerging standards that were coming out of the National Institute for Standards (NIST) and some of best practices that were coming out of these really early initiatives at creating and digitizing from a direct digital capture. So as we began to introduce these digital files into our collection system, we are also able to bring in the work of our registrar’s, our three curators, our conservation and our art handlers, all being now able to use our images of our collection and their daily work, as well as being able to distribute them for print publication primarily. And that’s how we quickly expanded our user base into the educators, our marketing staff and our graphic designers. So now we’re like 15 years later. We’ve also gone through two previous migrations of our collection information system. We’ve designed and relaunched our webs platform three times. And once again, we’re taking on another migration, funded largely in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is a federal program which offers grants to museums to build capacity, increased public service, and public access.
Henrik de Gyor (4:51): Denise, how does a Museum of Art and Design use Digital Asset Management?
Denise Bastien (4:56): So this is in this iteration, we’re tackling our biggest and most ambitious technology project today, we will be incorporating select information from each of these three systems, our collection information system, the Digital Asset Management system, and our web platform. And we’re going to use these, what we’re really envision is creating a almost like a triad or a triangle, that each system will be using be used for what it does best. And that we will be pushing and pulling data between each system that’s common and needed in each system. For example, all of our we are having to done that we had to create an integration concept. So all of our collection centric information is administered and stored, entered, shared through that collection information system. All the digital assets will be administered, entered, stored and shared through the Digital Asset Management system. So what happens is, it’s not just you go to one system for your digital asset, you go to the other system for your information about the object, or on the object. In this case, we’re engineering with our vendors, through our API’s, because all of these three systems will be web platforms, we are using API to be able to take the content about and of the object that would be sent to the digital asset itself that represents as a surrogate of that object, and would embed all of the identification information that’s needed there. And then some select technical information, and rights information will come back to the record in the collection information system. And then the data for that object, let’s say it either is going to go to our website directly, or it’s going to a path. We’re going to have a path coming from the Digital Asset Management system and a path coming from the collection information system.
Denise Bastien (7:06): So that’s where we are. And then once we committed to this concept, we identified, as I said, all these fields, and by and push and pull between systems, with the ultimate goal of making sure that we are we have the most accurate information, and we are reducing redundant work. And it allows people to work in the systems that they primarily work in.
Denise Bastien (7:31): So our first goal, in that in this new iteration, was to begin the process of transferring and migrating our older SQL based database, that is a collection information system, we had to select a Digital Asset Management system. And in that selection process, we had to have make sure that we could do this concept that we want it.
Denise Bastien (7:59): So right now we’ve managed for years, for almost 18 years, we’ve managed the assets using strict control over metadata. We keep it in a foldering system on a network shared drive. And so you can imagine now that we’re into, you know, 18 to 19 terabytes worth of assets, we can no longer do it in this sort of manual method. So that’s where the Digital Asset Management System came in.
Denise Bastien (8:30): Plus, we were also being hindered by the fact that we didn’t have an API platform for our collection management system. So that’s what put us here today.
Denise Bastien (8:42): So that’s how we’re going to use it. It’s going to be considered like part of the ecosystem of our work. As many of your listeners may know, museum work largely is collaborative. People often think of the front of the house, the curator who’s acquiring objects, or the educator who’s running a program or teaching a class. But there is this whole orchestra of players in the background. And the idea here is to make sure that our Digital Asset Management requirements fit into the way people need to use their work. So largely, what the Digital Asset Management system will do for us, is give an extension to the information that we already have in the collection information system. However, there’s features and functions that the Digital Asset Management system can do that our content management system can do, such as gathering assets, collecting them being able to output them in different other kinds of software.
Denise Bastien (9:47): Searching is different people are going to be searching for what it depicts more than what it is of and so there’s many different reasons why our staff, many different staff members will use the Digital Asset Management system. We also manage all of our event program and marketing tools, and soon to be wrangling in even our graphic design files into the Digital Asset Management system. And and consequently, we’ll have also have a record in our back end, overall information central system. So that’s where we are on our journey today. And it’s very exciting.
Henrik de Gyor (10:29): Denise, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Denise Bastien (10:34): One of the largest challenges that we’ve had to face was change management. Obviously, you know, one of the things that we’re going to be asking a very high functioning staff to adapt a different workflow. While we’re doing that, we’re also trying to minimize the amount of change that will be required of them. So that’s one of the largest challenges.
Denise Bastien (11:03): And that directs us a lot in the way in which our workflow will be and is being developed and designed. Many decision makers in our institution, and like many others, typically do not use these systems. And because of that, there’s always a risk that the cost to build or implement, can overshadow the value of bringing these workflows into alignment. So that’s one thing we’re also very, has to be very present thing for us. And then beyond building, that initial integration is absorbing the increases to our operating costs for licensing and storage, once the systems are built. And then recognizing really, that these platforms will continue to change. And we must be able to meet these changing dynamics as they arise. So also keeping abreast with whatever new innovations are coming that would really enhance our work.
Denise Bastien (12:03): We also are finding one of the challenges that’s both successful is building relationships with the vendors, who can help you identify your technology solutions. Whenever you find a gap, and help you best deliver that function and capability.
Denise Bastien (12:21): One thing that we had to do, because we don’t have technologists here directly in the museum staff is bringing in outside expertise to help us and especially and for us in the Digital Asset Management system. That was the one area that no one really had any expertise to that particular software.
Denise Bastien (12:43): So we had were very strong on collection information, software knowledge, we’re very strong on web information knowledge, but we had never seen a Digital Asset Management system. So you know, we kind of went through the typical way in which a lot of institutions and agencies approach this.
Denise Bastien (13:02): They start, usually they’ll find like, a checklist of criteria, and they’ll go through and go through this really granular list of everything that they need, and check it off. And so then when you connect with a potential vendor, you’re oftentimes almost always working with a sales staff at that particular vendor. And yes, a lot of times you can see, can it do x? Can it do y? Yep, it can do e x, can it do y? But can it do it in the way that we really need it? The way we work with it every single day? And, and is it really what we expected when we first thought of it?
Denise Bastien (13:45): So again, the biggest challenge, and success is being to be very clear and articulate exactly what we envisioned the systems, the systems to do, and then getting a detailed use case or a scenario what we called it and had each vendor present it and demonstrate that. From that scenario and demonstration, we went to what we call a proof of concept stage, where we then invited the two or three top contenders to actually build a small implementation of this to show us that the system could indeed deliver all the six or seven key work tasks that we needed it to do. That was an incredibly worthwhile opportunity for us. We also had a selection team representing a survey of all of our stakeholders within the institution, and so everyone could see exactly where their work would fit in by these demonstrations. And we had two weeks, and we was called a proof of concept. Basically, it was a sandbox, we had two weeks to go in as and, you know, each user would try to do the type of task that they could do. Now regard, we all understood that there were limitations because this was just a shell that was built. But it was clear from that process where our final vendor merged from. So it was a challenge to put it together, but it was really successful, and bringing us with the confidence to know that we are getting a system that can indeed do everything that we need it to do. So that was that’s really been some of our most challenging but most rewarding work to date.
Henrik de Gyor (15:35): Denise, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Denise Bastien (15:41): if I had any advice to share with DAMS professionals, one of the big things, I think, is again, we don’t have an overall digital manager for all these different systems. But what we’ve done is built a team between these three systems, kind of like, we can assign, like a department chair, if you will. So you know, you have the collection management administrator, you’ve got the DAM administrator, and you’ve got the webmaster. And together, we have to keep this concept together, we have to keep informed what each system needs to do and when it needs to change so that we can maintain all of these relationships, these technical relationships, and also concept in intellectual relationships. So just, you know, kind of let down the silo, you bring down the silo you get at the table, because each one of these persons are the ones that actually know what the work that they do.
Denise Bastien (16:46): So bringing it down to like the practitioner level, that people will actually do the work and need to do the work. Having them involved in the process is critical. So I would say that’s one thing.
Denise Bastien (16:59): And I would also not be shied off to change systems. So if you’ve got a system that’s not working, or it’s only working to a particular… only does one thing well, but doesn’t do the other eight things you need very well. You know, it’s work, but it’s not insurmountable work, to change a platform or to change from one system to another. Like I said, we’ve done it numerous times. And then the key to making that successful and not harrowing, is that just having good, consistent metadata, and training your users on metadata, and both the ones that put it in, we separate the ones who put it in from the ones who use it. So you know that the people that are entering, or building records, [they] can learn the real nuances of the system, that a casual user doesn’t always bring. However, the casual user, that we’re always being driven by what they search for, how they want to ask for things, is this the proper information. So you know, the other thing that that does is assure by building to tech, this sort of different user bases is that we can have a balance between what our users need, and then you know, the rigor of keeping your metadata as tight as you can make it.
Denise Bastien (18:24): So if I were going to start in the this business again, now, I’m going to date myself because I started way back when it was only film. And, you know, it exploded when we were able to create digital information that was easily shared, and especially of our artwork, I mean, it’s tremendous for those working in the front end working with the public or public facing audiences. But it’s also a critical collection management tool for our everyday art handlers, conservators, registrar, our staff, our security staff, everyone has some function and some interface with the systems.
Denise Bastien (19:07): And so you know, you can investigate different programs. There are different professional programs emerging now at the higher Ed level. There’s a lot of professional organizations that have Digital Asset Management professionals. There’s a you know, it just is like, Henrik, you’re providing today. There’s different learning tools, webinars, and there’s all kinds of literature articles about becoming a digital asset manager. And the thing I really find exciting about it, it’s the probably one of the largest growth areas in anyone who’s interested in working with any kind of media asset. So you can do it in the commercial world. You can do it in nonprofit world. You know, you can kind of you can do it in the technical area where you can learn to build and, you know, actually use it from computing side. And some of the most exciting things that we’re seeing, and innovations that we’re seeing all surround this idea of the user experience. And largely that’s being thought of and developed as an image based or an imagery based experience. So you know, the work is going to continue to keep growing. And it’s very exciting.
Denise Bastien (20:28): If I were going to go back into museum work again, from the beginning, I would not change a thing. I would stay right in this path of information collection information, and its imagery, and all the imagery that sits aside of it. One not over the other, they really work mesh together, because you can’t have an image or a video with no information, other than, you know, just its essence. Or you can’t have a record that has no metadata. And if it has information about an object, you have nothing you don’t know who made it, you don’t know where it’s from, you don’t know what it’s made of. You don’t know where you got it. It kind of renders that object less useful than those that really have this marriage of image and information. So that’s where we are.
Henrik de Gyor (21:23): Thanks, Denise.
Denise Bastien (21:25): Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you. It’s been fun.
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