How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
How does a Museum where radical Arts and Architecture meet 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 Susan Wamsley.
Henrik de Gyor 0:09 Susan, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Susan Wamsley 0:13 Hi, Henrik. I am currently the Digital Asset Manager at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum here in New York. And previously, I’ve worked as a Digital Asset Manager, and Photo Archivist for civil engineering firms and architecture firms in New York City. And I was thinking, what the differences between those those days of yore and now and previously, there was more of a focus on kind of a mass digitization of photography collections, and then making them accessible. And now we have the undercurrent of mass digitization of archives. But on top of that, we have the proliferation of born digital assets, photography, as well as audio and video these days. So that’s what we’re dealing with at the Guggenheim.
Henrik de Gyor 1:04 Susan, how does a Museum where radical Arts and Architecture meet Digital Asset Management?
Susan Wamsley 1:11 We use the DAM in many different ways. One, we organize and reuse our assets for our public facing projects. These would be marketing projects, our website, social media, our app, any educational programs, virtual tours, publishing, licensing, that sort of thing.
Susan Wamsley 1:33 We also use it for documentation of the collection. We have our condition documentation for our artworks. We have treatment documentation, install and de-install photographs. And we also have documentation of our beautiful building, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. And we have going back to the construction of the building, William Short, was the project manager, I believe, for the construction, and he photographed the building, as it was being built. So that’s fascinating information. And then we also, of course, document the building to this day, that that up to our Wayfinding signs that relate to our pandemic preparedness. So we document all different kinds of things in there.
Susan Wamsley 2:26 And then also be capture our institutional knowledge with the DAMs for Museum, it just sort of grows and grows. The lifecycle of a digital asset is essentially forever in there, because we just build on it. So if you have an old photograph of a painting, maybe you don’t use it for marketing anymore, but maybe your conservation department’s interested in what the colors looked like in a particular year. So we just sort of build our institutional knowledge in the DAMs. Use it as sort of a small a archive, we also have capital A Archives. But this is a place where you can learn about our objects. You can look at the exhibition history, how it’s been shown and exhibitions through the years, you can look at the conservation history and determine the copyright information.
Susan Wamsley 3:18 And one good example of how we’re using our DAM to capture knowledge is in our recently, almost completed project, the Panza Collection Initiative. That was a 10 year research project that was funded by the Mellon Foundation grants. And it was a look at our conceptual, minimal and post minimal artworks in the Panza collection. And this is very complex material. And it needed to be researched very carefully from lots of different sources.
Susan Wamsley 3:53 And our researchers were able to capture what they found about the objects. I’m just gonna use as an example. We have four exhibition copies of one Bruce Nauman neon work, and these kind of holdings you need to look at and determine Is there something that would be considered an original? Are there any they’re considered wrong? Are they the wrong colors or something, for example? So our researchers interviewed the artists, interviewed artists estates, looked carefully at what we have looked at other archives, pulled all this information together, and then they’re able to determine, for example, in this or that exhibition photo, which artwork is in there is this exhibition copy, that exhibition copy. So that kind of material, which is very complex and has lots of nuance is perfect, actually for the DAM because you can get a lot of description in there. You can get a lot of photographs in there, and you can really detail all of the findings. And then ultimately, this is to be sort of available for public research. So this has been a big project and one that I think has really shown what you can do with the Digital Asset Management system.
Henrik de Gyor 5:15 Susan, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Susan Wamsley 5:20 This was something that, as I thought about, I kind of thought we could answer both questions with the same answer, which would be user adoption. I feel like your biggest success as a digital asset manager is achieving a solid user adoption, because that means you’ve got a good interface, your metadata is good and you’ve have a good rapport with your colleagues and with all the people who are using this [DAM] because you’ve listened to what they need, and you’re responding to also the needs of the company. So you can set up good workflows, as well as have data integrity.
Susan Wamsley 6:02 And I thought this is also really one of the biggest challenges is you have a system that people need lots of different things from and they want different things from. And how do you set something up that can please everybody, or mostly please everybody? So I would say user adoption for both of those.
Henrik de Gyor 6:24 Susan, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Susan Wamsley 6:30 I don’t know if I have a lot of advice for people who are already professionals, because I’m sure we all have similar experiences. I think, currently, one thing that is a big topic, among my colleagues is interoperability with other systems that that’s really a key to your data integrity, and just to making your workflows easier for everybody in the institution, or in the company that you work for. And I would say, people who are coming into this, that, you know, you you find yourself doing a lot of the work on your own. There are a lot of hours to setting things up and determining a taxonomy and coming up with the keywords and all kinds of things, applying metadata. But really, when it comes down to it, while you’re also worried during all this, what you really need to be doing is interacting with your colleagues a lot and really listening to what people need, what they expect, and how your system can respond to kind of the culture that the institution or the company needs. You can reflect their acronyms. You can see how people search you can. Are they looking for something really specific? Are they looking for more browsable topics, that kind of thing, and really build something that responds to the needs of the institution.
Henrik de Gyor 7:59 Well, Thanks Susan.
Susan Wamsley 8:00 Thank you for inviting me to be on your podcast.
Interview with Giovanni Benigni about Digital Asset Management
(Duration: 10 minutes 40 seconds)
How are you involved with Digital Asset Management (DAM)?
How does the Vatican Museums’ Digital Transformation project involve Digital Asset Management?
What are the biggest challenges and successes you have seen with Digital Asset Management?
What advice would like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM
Henrik de Gyor (0:00): This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Giovanni Benigni.
Henrik de Gyor (0:08): Giovanni, How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (0:12): Well, before starting, I have just to say that I’m speaking on my own, of my personal experience in the Vatican. All the opinions expressed not necessarily reflect ones of the institution.
Giovanni Benigni (0:32): That said, I started working for the Vatican Museums at the end of last century. And in the early 2000s, I directed for the Governorate of Vatican City State several software development projects related to image storage and retrieval systems. But such projects, unfortunately, at the time had no fortune for several reasons that would be too long to say here, and went into oblivion. Moreover, since coming to Museums, I dealt with several software systems used to catalog and store images, without any direct connection to our CMS. Also, since the advent of digital high-resolution imagery had just been conserved on file shares, without any way to retrieve it, other than using [file] path and file names. So since then, my obsession has been to put all the information we had in a single system to get to a single access point directory of everything. This is shortly how I started my involvement with DAM in the Vatican.
Henrik de Gyor (1:50): Giovanni, how does the Vatican Museums’ digital transformation project involve Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (1:57): The digital transformation project of Vatican Museums started some years ago with a larger, seemingly never-ending, technical renewal project involving all our seven kilometers [~4.35 miles] of galleries and working spaces, and all the systems from communication to remote surveillance, access control, networking, and so on. In this framework, we started several projects as, for example, the 3D scanning project of all said spaces, that is now completed, and a long-awaited scanning project of our historical pictures on glass plates strongly wanted by our new director, Dr. Barbara Jatta. It appeared immediately that for the pictures we needed both a new cataloging system and long-term storage to accommodate forever their digital copies.
Giovanni Benigni (2:15): And fortunately, I had a good experience with what we shouldn’t do. We looked for solutions offered by big tech, but it seemed not likely to be valid ones, because although they were flexible, and metadata rich, generally stored the images on database blobs. And I had a good experience with blobs and I knew that were not good for large files that we needed to store. That’s why we started to search for a solution that wouldn’t store large files on a blob, but just on disk on shares, on other support, but directly, physically on disks. And we identified among a large number two possible products, [a] commercial one and an open-source project.
Giovanni Benigni (3:47): The first appeared to be more aimed at companies that had to manage images for commercial purposes, while the open-source seemed built for research institution libraries, and for sure, museums, because, also, it was validated by the Musées de France. It gave us a good perspective to be able to use it satisfactorily, and, most important, being an open-source platform, it was inexpensive, which is a word always loved by management.
Giovanni Benigni (4:18): So we started a test and we had a nice surprise. It appeared every day more and more suitable to contain every information we already had. And a new possibility arose. Finally, get to a unique access point for every artwork-related information in our possession. It was my dream coming true. So, in brief, we started migration. First moving existing CMS data to the new catalog, followed by images and all the other conservation and historical data we had. Today, we are still ingesting images, the last 100,000, more or less, audio files, conservation and analysis reports, and we are planning to ingest also videos starting from the most recent digital, going back to older on tapes. Here we could open another chapter, talking about formats no more easily readable, like Betacam.
Henrik de Gyor (5:20): Giovanni, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (5:26): We have a very ancient museum. Our history starts a few centuries ago, more or less. You can well imagine how much information we have accumulated in such a long time. One of the biggest challenges is being able to digitize the answer pictures and documents in our possession. Their quantity exceeds any idea you may have, for sure. And this reverses in time necessary to do the scanning because the items must be handled with extreme care, must be cleaned, and so on. Moreover, you know, it was 1997, and I had just joined the Museums, when I first heard about a project for scanning our ancient photos on glass plates. Well, we definitely have been able to start such a project only in 2017. Twenty years later. And although the scanning job is being practically completed today, the curator still has to check all the archival information related to them and this takes a lot of time. We are going a bit slow in this moment. Really for we have moved objects, entities, and all the assets into a unique system, where everything is directly related to inventory items with meaningful relationships, now searches are simpler and more efficient, although people have had to get used to a new way to enquire. The new CMS uses Lucene syntax, and there’s a faceting capability, so people today, unlike before, when they had to ask our inventory to make searches, now they are able to make top-down searches and, listen, they are able to find for themselves what they are looking for. And this is a really big step forward, together with the capability to see in a glance the documents, pictures, analysis, and so on in a single application. Finally, I can say that the new catalog has made possible a true collaboration between departments that today they can easily share information of every kind about inventory objects without printing paper or sending emails, but directly inside the catalog using the sharing capabilities of the system.
Henrik de Gyor (7:59): Giovanni, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Giovanni Benigni (8:05): Well, I think that if you want to get out alive from a DAM project, you must build your project on a strong metadata base. So take your time to think and rethink and rethink it as many times as you need to be strongly convinced it will work. Really, this is not as hard as it seems, because the hard work to reduce data to a common structure will be limited to no more than 15 metadata [fields], but you must take it into consideration very seriously.
Giovanni Benigni (8:44): Second, you must define DAM and long-term preservation policies. When I say DAM policy, I say policy about ingestion, about acquisition, about tagging, about descriptions, and so on, also about vocabulary. This is crucial, to pass onto people the concept that they must follow the rules. Otherwise, you will have a fantastic system filled with objects without any capability to find what you’re looking for.
Giovanni Benigni (9:23): Third, drop an eye to interoperability, because for sure you will need it internally to develop products based on your assets. For example, our system has a built-in IIIF server, which makes it possible to superimpose more than one image and then, for example, we have visible light, infrared, X-ray images, and we can superimpose and look to particulars by switching immediately from one layer to another, and this is very useful. Very useful for curators, for restorators, and also for the public. So, interoperability, I think should be a must. And that’s all.
Giovanni Benigni (10:20): Indeed, if you are crossing over troubled water, feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Jennifer Sellar discusses Digital Asset Management
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 Sellar. Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer Sellar: [0:10] I’m good, thanks.
Henrik: [0:11] Jennifer, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Jennifer: [0:14] I am the Senior Digital Image Archivist at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I’ve been here almost nine years. I started out working in more traditional archives. I’m working with photography and film collections. I have an MLIS. And then, a job opened up, when I moved to New York at MoMA. They were looking for someone to organize the workflow and the digital images they were taking in the imaging studio.
[0:43] When I came in, they were originally working with the Excel Spreadsheet, some basic metadata that they were adding in, while they were shooting images. My job was initially to organize the studio, and get all of their workflow, so that it was set up, so that they weren’t using [laughs] spreadsheets. We’re able to track all their images. At the same time, the museum actually started the processing of getting a DAM System, and had chosen one using a committee through various people at the museum.
[1:13] Once that was established, I was the primary person to the front-end of the DAM at the museum. I work with all of the different departments, working with their workflow, and getting their materials into the DAM. Then, I work with a committee and various people through the museum, primarily in IT, so that the DAM is running on a daily basis.
Henrik: [1:36] Jennifer, how does a modern art museum use Digital Asset Management?
Jennifer: [1:41] We use it as a workflow for all of our images. Actually now, not just imaging materials, but all sort of multimedia materials in the museum. We started out, as I’ve said, in the imaging studio, because the imaging studio’s responsible for taking all the images of the artwork. Those are used for publications, retail or anything at the museum. We would use it for the website.
[2:11] Once we got that established, we started using it for all imaging. It’s been slowly growing, retail, graphics, the conservation department. All of their images are also in there and fully searchable. Everyone at the museum has some sort of access. Most users have a basic access to be able to download a JPEG from the [DAM] system.
[2:36] We actually have our rights management outsourced to two companies. One is Scala, which is in Italy, the other one is Art Resources, which is based in New York. They oversee our Rights Management, but that flows through my department and through me. They are able to use the DAM System, to be able to find what we have for their researchers. It allows them to do research, where we don’t have to do it on our end, and then they’re responsible for overseeing the rights, and getting the images out to other people.
[3:07] We also use it as a workflow to get our images to our main museum database, TMS, which is used throughout the museum world. That also allows the website to be able to get images as well. We are now recently using another new system in the museum called “The Digital Repository for Museum Collections” which we call DRMC, which is basically a system archive and preserve any original digital artwork in the museum. They actually are providing access copies of those works that are available in the DAM for users. If a curator wants to watch one of those, they’re able to watch those in our DAM System.
[3:45] We, primarily, pull a lot of our data from the TMS System automatically. We put that in place. The TMS System has rights in regards to the artwork and uses in any of those documentation.
[3:57] That’s pulled into the Asset Management System. Our resources in Scala will be able to see what the images are, if they have any issues. Again, we’re providing the image. If a person is using that, they would actually go to the artists’ estate or the artist themselves, and then get their additional permission. It’s fairly complicated.
[4:18] We’ve actually looked into some additional rights system, because you’ll hear from a lot of people with DAM Systems. One DAM doesn’t usually fit everything perfectly. Rights seems to be a big issue. We have some basic rights information, but obviously, as you get into things like video, which we just started pulling in, rights gets much more complicated than with just one artist. It becomes very complicated.
[4:45] We’re looking at different ways of putting that in through using a documentation that would be attached with the asset, versus it necessarily being searchable directly as a field in the DAM. That’s one thing when you’re working in a museum, especially in modern museums. Somewhere like The Met, someone that’s dealing with stuff that’s out of copyright, it’s a little bit easier, but we have to be very concern about how our permissions are set.
[5:08] A lot of times, people don’t realize all the rights involved, when you’re working with people. They want to go ahead and use the image [laughs] , if they have full access to it or are able to download it very easily without going through a process of someone with checks and balances. A lot of that is set through permissions.
[5:26] Primarily, there are very few people in the museum who have full access to be able to download. Those people tend to be people who are working in departments who would understand rights, so publications obviously, they understand that they can’t just take an image and automatically use it.
Henrik: [5:42] Jennifer, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with DAM?
Jennifer: [5:45] For us, and this is a challenge, no matter where you are, people are producing so much content at this point. I’ve been in the studio. We’ve seen the number of growth images we do. It’s massive, the amount that we do now, compared to what we did eight years ago. Again, same thing with video and audio in the museum. Every department is producing more and more materials, honestly with less people.
[6:13] It’s very difficult to get people to buy into being able to put, to give us the information or materials in a way that will actually work in the Asset Management System. Also, a lot of times, the people we work with don’t necessarily even have the ability to do it. In the studio, we have great resources. We have Photoshop. We have Bridge.
[6:34] We have all of these ways to put in metadata, and set up metadata to automatically go into materials. There are a lot of people working in the museum who can’t even open a TIF image [laughs] on their machines. A lot of times, they’ll look at a disc from an outside photographer, and they won’t be able to even to do anything with them.
[6:53] A big goal for us is to try to figure out a good space, where those people can view enough information and have workflows that they can get that material to us in a way that it works in the DAM. It’s finding that sweet spot between that, which always very difficult.
[7:10] We have the luxury of being able to implement our DAM fairly slowly. We’ve been able to go to departments and realize when they’re ready and when they’re not [laughs] , because if not, if people just throw you materials, it doesn’t work very well with the DAM, because while you can put them in there, they’re not usable if they don’t have their correct data or organization with them. I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge for us.
[7:32] It’s being able to handle all the materials that are coming in with the amount of people working. We’ve had a lot of success. Because of that issue, we’ve been really successful of being able to integrate any systems that were available already, which I talked a little bit about TMS. We are able to pull a lot of data from that database, because it’s really rich.
[7:56] There are people who are working with that full‑time, who really know the art, the artists and all that information. It makes sense. We can do that with artwork. We have an object ID that’s unique. We’re able to pull all that information about the artwork automatically in every day. Also, we’ve been able to do a workflow, where we’ve been able to automate pulling and approving the materials.
[8:19] As we go along each step, we’ve been able to automate more and more. A curator has to proof an image, and it goes automatically to the database into the website, without them having to do a lot of work. That’s been a great success. Also, just putting the materials into the DAM System has allowed us to see overlaps in different departments, because departments tend to not necessarily always speak to each other.
[8:43] There were some departments who are taking similar images of each other, so that they could actually realize that they didn’t need to rehire a photographer to shoot something, since we already had it. They’re able also to understand a little bit more at the front end that rights are important. There used to be a lot of handshake agreements [laughs].
[9:02] They realize now if they’re going to pay an outside photographer for images that it would be great, if we can get the rights for those, and get people to sign off releases. It’s helped the museum realize that kind of thing that will help in the long run for these assets to be used more than once.
Henrik: [9:21] Jennifer, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Jennifer: [9:25] For people who are trying to go into the industry, I would say there is more and more course work raised on DAMs, but there is so much out there, if you are already working, so I wouldn’t go a more traditional library field. There are things, like the DAM meetups in New York, which are great. It’s really amazing. You can meet people. You can learn about the industry. It’s a great place for contacts, any meetups.
[9:46] I was going to the other day, there’s a meetup for that, if you need to learn about scripting, if you need to learn about taxonomy. Those are amazing groups, and they’re great resources. Now, there’s so much more material on the Web.
[9:59] I was looking at film and video. It’s not my strong suit and background, NYU has a film archiving program. They put all their syllabus online now. You can see all the course material. A lot of times, there’s links. Sometimes, there’s lectures.
[10:18] It’s really amazing from when I went to library school 15 years ago, what is out there and free. There is so many more ways to network than there were 10 years ago even. Just use every kind of person that you can go out there.
[10:32] I would also recommend getting internships. We always have interns. I’ve gotten a couple of interns actually from the DAM meet up for people who are interested. Some people were like adult returning students, and not necessarily who would have originally started out in that background. If you’re in a city or anywhere, there’s Asset Management Systems in every field. It’s a growing industry.
[10:51] For people who already work in Asset Management, for us the largest success for us is to look through the museum and see we don’t have a large staff. That’s very common, especially in non‑profits and museums. We’ve been able to collaborate and use other departments to get a lot of things done. That’s what I look at. That’s been successful here for us.
Henrik: [11:14] Thanks, Jennifer.
Jennifer: [11:15] Thanks.
Henrik: [11:16] For more on this and other Digital Asset Management topics, go to anotherdamblog.com. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. For this and 150 other podcast episodes, including transcripts of every interview, go to anotherdampodcast.com. Thanks again.
Henrik de Gyor: [0:00] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Douglas Hegley. Douglas, how are you?
Douglas Hegley: [0:10] I’m good, thank you.
Henrik: [0:11] Douglas, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Douglas: [0:14] Currently, I sit at the executive leadership level in a major fine art museum in the Twin Cities. I would be the ultimate decision maker. The Digital Asset Management systems would be operated underneath my responsibility.
Henrik: [0:27] Douglas, how does a fine art museum use Digital Asset Management?
Douglas: [0:31] What’s interesting, I think, what might be a misnomer for some people, the Digital Asset Management in an art museum is actually a business driver like it is in any business. Art museums have art objects. Those objects themselves have data records for them, and those are kept in a different system.
[0:47] But we do need a Digital Asset Management system for keeping photographs of those objects, and often there will be many of those. Various angles, raking lights. Sometimes x‑ray, other spectrometer those kinds of things, as well as images of people and parties and the history of the institution. It goes on and on and on.
[1:06] I would say at this point that museums are still sticking mostly with still images in terms of Digital Asset Management. We haven’t fully embraced media asset management. We’re producing videos and that production is accelerating. I don’t think we’ve really faced some of the struggles we’re going to have, similar to the ones we had with digital photography 5 or 10 years ago.
Henrik: [1:27] What are the biggest challenges and successes with Digital Asset Management?
Douglas: [1:31] There are many. One of the biggest challenges for us as an industry is that our metadata models are not mature. There are many different standards for the way that you would record what is in that picture. The built‑in metadata is easy enough ‑‑ date and file sizes and everything else.
[1:53] For us, since it’s often object centered photography so we’ve taken that three‑dimensional sculpture, we’ve taken it to the photo studio, lighting it, shooting it.
[2:02] How do you attach that asset to the record that’s in a different system that describes that object? We struggle with moving data back and forth, mirroring data, coming up with better methods of attaching the digital assets themselves to all of the other kinds of content that we have about an art object.
[2:22] Then, I think for us, being non‑profits, being small, being very tight funding models, affording a fancy Digital Asset Management system is a bit of a struggle. Then the first foray into digital photography that museums took beginning about 10 years ago, we had a tendency to over buy. We would be sold very fancy Digital Asset Management systems that could do lots and lots of wonderful things.
[2:48] None of which we ever took advantage of.
[2:49] We kept paying the fee every year, and throwing the assets in, and struggling with metadata models. Not really making much progress. The success is that when I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the photo studio went digital. Within about a year, they had amassed an enormous closetful of CDs.
[3:09] How do we go back and find those images that we shot a year ago? If there’s a success that’s clear it’s in the capacity to locate, download, relocate, reshoot when necessary the assets that are actually needed. It’s not a manual process anymore. We can have multiple users log into a system, find the image you’re looking for.
Henrik: [3:25] You can more rapidly search, find, use, reuse, repurpose.
Douglas: [3:30] I think that was a clear business win. I also think it’s aged a little bit. That win really took place…at the Met it probably took place about 2003, 2004. I’m currently at the MIA. They had a system that’s about the same age. The systems are, in essence, aging because they’re becoming full of assets, and because the metadata model, as I mentioned before, is really not mature or specific enough.
[3:54] Really not mature or specific enough. We have issues with overflow of result set. People go in and they search on something like “Rembrandt.” They’ll get thousands of returns. Many of which are place‑holder records. They are old black and white study photographs. It’s not clear which one I’m supposed to use for my marketing campaign.
[4:15] I go and start asking my friends. Now we’ve blown it out of the water. The reason they have an asset management system is so that anybody, even with a cursory knowledge of what they’re looking for, should be able to come in and get what they need.
Henrik: [4:28] True. Let’s use that example of searching for Rembrandt and you get documents and records, and then maybe some photos of the Rembrandts that you may have. Can’t you filter down to, say, “paintings of” from the thousand records for the sake of argument?
Douglas: [4:41] Again, when you over buy a system of course that functionality is there. Users need a lot of training to understand how to use it.
Henrik: [4:49] Add that information in all fairness.
Douglas: [4:50] Right, exactly. The only keyword on the photograph is Rembrandt. I should say the photograph on maybe 700 photographs. There isn’t a really good mature metadata model. Now, maybe the photographers remember because they know that only Charles would be shooting the master image. He shot those paintings about in 2007.
Henrik: [5:12] At high resolution blah, blah, blah with the proper lighting.
Douglas: [5:14] They can go in the system and they can say, “I only need things shot by Charles. I want them 2007. I want them only the TIFFs.” They can get that for you.
Henrik: [5:22] To your point, you can search for the TIFF, or you can search for the file type, meaning, “I don’t want a .doc of Rembrandt’s about the insurance record, or the transfer record, or the purchase record or whatever. I want the TIFF or the raw file or the JPEG or whatever.”
Douglas: [5:39] Although, to be clear, we’re not currently in the DAMs that we have storing any .docs. They could, I suppose. We’re not doing that.
Henrik: [5:45] Or PDF, for that matter?
Douglas: [5:46] There may be a few PDFs. That’s not really the core business case right now. The core use is still images, high res, primarily objects. Secondarily, events, people, activities of a museum being recorded.
[6:02] We also have an archive dating back 130 years, but it’s a physical archive. A few of those things get digitized now and then because there’s some need for them in a publication or something, so some of those things in there. Right now, it’s mostly just still image.
Henrik: [6:19] What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals, and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Douglas: [6:23] It’s a really good question. First of all, I don’t consider myself the world’s expert on answering this question. I would say that in the museum arena, which is the arena I know best, museums are in need of people to come into our world and help us adapt best practices, help understand how businesses are running in this way.
[6:48] One of the core differences, in a way, is that we’re all looking at Digital Asset Management systems as if they are at their core set up to be persistent electronic archives. We’re not a for‑profit vendor who is creating products for which there are seasons and catalogues and websites to be made, and campaigns to be run, advertising, marketing, press, everything else, and then a year later it’s all new products. It doesn’t matter what happens to the photos of the shoes from last year.
[7:18] For us, every time we take a photo, there are a number of things. First of all, I’d say it’s a fine work of art. You’ve moved it from its safe storage space into a photo studio. Any time you move something that old and that fragile, you’re damaging it. Maybe it’s not obvious, but you have micro‑fractures, or you’re exposing it to different atmospheric conditions, or different lighting conditions, whatever it may be. You’re actually not doing good by the artwork.
[7:46] I don’t mean to belabor that point, because people are very professional and very careful. Accidents almost never happen, but it’s still a fact that it’s a risk. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to move this work of art into a studio, light it, shoot it, let’s do it at the absolute most professional, highest resolution that we can.
[8:07] Let’s get as many angles. Let’s get as many types of spectral photographs that we can manage right now so that we put that wonderful and rare and unique object back into its secure storage space and don’t touch it again for years.
[8:20] What we’re doing is we’re capturing these incredible photographs, but we’re amateur in then what we do next. We have a very professional production process, followed by a very amateur archival metadata process.
Henrik: [8:36] Does the workflow fall off? Is that your point?
Douglas: [8:39] Workflow falls off a little bit. The folks who are doing it are probably the photographers themselves, and/or relatively junior people, probably not a strong metadata library background. I don’t mean to single anyone out. There are certainly people there who are skilled. If any of them were to leave their positions, it’d be hard to replace them.
[8:58] It’s specialist knowledge. Even with that specialist knowledge, what’s missing then is some real world experience of having run this kind of system, where it’s a really rapid fire production environment.
Henrik: [9:10] You’re embedding the information, to your point. That may be missing because most photographers don’t like adding metadata to their files. There’s a lot of value to finding it again if they add a lot more than just the word Rembrandt, to your point earlier.
Douglas: [9:24] You’re right. There’s been talk here at the Henry Stewart DAM New York about having workflows that would capture data that would then automatically become metadata. That’s terrific. There you get subject and photographer assigned, and all these other kinds of things that can happen automatically.
[9:41] In the use cases that we’re seeing, though, whether it’s internal. In the internal, you would have content creators, writers, editors, people working with the press, marketing, whatever it may be. They don’t think in those more academic, scholarly ways. They want the hero image of “Lucretia” by Rembrandt, and they want to be able to get it right now because they’re on the phone with someone who wants to do a story.
[10:03] We need keywording in a very…
Henrik: [10:07] Consistent way?
Douglas: [10:08] It’s consistent, but it’s also natural language. We have keywording that says things like in the acrylic on canvas.
Henrik: [10:18] Which you probably have a few.
Douglas: [10:19] Yeah. Oil on canvas, oil on copper, terracotta, these kinds of things, which are very important and they are the fact.
Henrik: [10:26] Yes, the medium.
Douglas: [10:27] When your press agent is on the phone with a reporter from the New York Times, they don’t go to the system and type in terracotta.
[10:34] They are on the phone, they’re talking, they’re trying to type to try to type things like clay, pot, Africa, bead work and you do desperately trying to find the image, like, “I am trying to find it for you right now, Mr. such and such.”
[10:47] Because we don’t have that piece in there, it makes the system of much less use to them. So instead what they’re doing is emailing somebody, like a photographer, their friend, saying, “What do you have that pot for Africa with the beads?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, sure” and so two people get involved in the work when it really should just be one.
Henrik: [11:03] It is really tied to, in part, institutional knowledge.
Douglas: [11:06] Here is what I want, because I am not a Digital Asset Management worker, expert, it is not my training, but if you had an organization that was constantly feeding stories to the press. So whatever that may be, there must be folks out there who do sports photography, something like that.
[11:28] They got to be uploading those things quickly, they got to be tagging them with the kinds of words that sportswriters are going to use, like “World Series Game 3” and you better have it or no one is going to use your images.
[11:36] We don’t have that discipline, is a weird word for it because it is kind of lightweight, but it’s so absolutely necessary to make the asset findable across a much broader swath of people.
[11:49] If I were to tie it back to some of the strategies that we’ve been talking about in the art museum world anyways that we have been in an industry that for 150 years has been in the kind of, if you build it, they will come mode.
[12:04] We’re great, we’re fancy, everyone should come. If you’re not coming, there’s something wrong with you.
[12:10] This was the old model, the old elite model in having an art museum. What you’re seeing art museums do in the last, I don’t know, 10 years, maybe a little bit more and say, “No, no, no, no. Look, this is important. Art education being gutted in this country, creative thinking gutted, innovation gutted.”
[12:27] You can’t get this kind of stuff in school anymore. You should come to a museum. That makes museums need to be more engaging, more embracing of different points of view.
[12:38] Instead of saying to someone, “Welcome to the museum, you must be very proud to be here,” we have to say, “Welcome to the museum, we are really glad you are here. How can we help you have an experience that you will never forget?”
Henrik: [12:49] To your point, even with DAM, it needs to be more accessible. Once they are more accessible, then people can obain it. Hypothetically in the virtual museum sense, I’ve worked with some that are doing that piecemeal. That’s the future challenge, I assume, with some.
Douglas: [13:07] That’s the tactical implementation of a philosophical point. Let’s say our PR marketing hire a couple of young social media folks. They want to throw together a Tumblr site or a Pinterest or Instagram. They want to grab some photos from the collection.
[13:23] They go into the system and start saying like, “Give me an exciting photo that shows women having fun.” The system doesn’t have anything like that in there. It has like Matisse “Bathers,” but that is not what a 28‑year‑old social media manager is looking for.
[13:38] I know we’re a little bit, I’m beating the horse to death here, a little bit, but it is a metadata model is less about this sort of deep scholarly academic information and more about, “Hey, guys, what exactly do we have here?”
Henrik: [13:49] That could be controlled but that could be a taxonomy, because of those events, to your point earlier, happened regularly in the kinds of activities that happen in the museum, because there’s only so many things that will happen in a museum.
Douglas: [laughs] [14:00] There is a lot of things that will happen in the museum.
Henrik: [14:01] That are permissible in a museum.
Henrik: [14:05] If it’s a fundraiser, or…
Douglas: [14:08] It is funny, we’re beholden to our own approach when I worked at the Metropolitan. There were years when there were almost 20,000 events on the event calendar in 365 days.
[14:18] Now I am at a smaller regional museum, but the number of events still is in the thousands for year. Now that’s counting things like tours and school groups coming in, but each of these things happen and we are slaves to our own success in this way. We do not want to stop doing all of that.
[14:36] It is a little overwhelming, there’s photography of all a lot of it that nobody can find and that is the whole point of having a DAM in the first place.