DAM Ready Reference


Librarian Tips for DAM Managers

DAM Ready Reference

by Deb Fanslow, MLIS

Often, DAM professionals are the sole information managers at the helm within an organization, tasked with ingesting, cataloging, managing, securing, distributing, preserving, and providing access to a collection of digital assets. This involves juggling a multitude of responsibilities, some of which are centered around designing and maintaining the information architecture of a DAM system:

  • Designing and maintaining metadata schemas
  • Developing taxonomies and controlled vocabularies
  • Customizing search functionality
  • Designing, configuring, and developing user interfaces

Digital asset management also involves many behind-the-scenes administrative tasks that are essential to keeping a DAM system well oiled and running, such as:

  • Curating, cataloging, and managing digital assets throughout the digital asset lifecycle
  • Developing, monitoring, and customizing workflows
  • Monitoring, reporting, and analyzing DAM system statistics
  • Creating and maintaining user accounts and permissions
  • System maintenance (upgrades, bug fixes, upgrades, testing, patches, rebuilds, etc.)
  • Planning and overseeing system customizations and integrations

Of course, beyond customizing and maintaining the DAM system and its information architecture, there’s also the not so trivial responsibility of determining and meeting user’s needs, including:

  • Creating, documenting, and reviewing policies and procedures
  • Providing technical support
  • Developing and delivering training programs
  • Designing web portals for internal and/or external user access
  • User testing and feedback

Last but certainly not least, there’s the DAM program itself and the requisite ongoing planning, responsibilities, and maintenance that cannot be neglected, such as:

  • Governance (metadata, taxonomy, workflow, rights management, distribution, storage, etc.)
  • Digital preservation (asset integrity, storage management, disaster planning, etc.)
  • Program management (strategic planning, staffing, budgeting, etc.)
  • Advocacy and promotion campaigns

With this wide range of responsibilities on the digital asset manager’s plate, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. When faced with a DAM challenge, where’s a digital asset manager to turn? If you’re lucky, you can consult with a librarian, archivist, records manager, knowledge manager, or other information professional on staff who may be able to help you with burning questions such as:

  • So many metadata standards, so little time…which fields do I really need?
  • How can I integrate our enterprise taxonomy with my DAM system’s search platform?
  • What steps can I take to best preserve my company’s digital assets for the long term?

However, if you’re the only person steering the DAM ship (or you just want to extend your personal learning network), another option is to tap into the knowledge base of those who have experience dealing with the management of digital collections and thorny information management challenges…the Library and Information Science (LIS) community.

First, the good news: the LIS community maintains a longstanding culture of sharing and publishing research, case studies, best practices, and lessons learned throughout its 50+ year history of information management (built upon knowledge organizational principles dating back to antiquity). Over the past two decades, a significant body of knowledge related to curating and managing digital asset collections has been amassed and published within the library, archival, and museum communities. Now for the bad news: not all of this information is freely available. Due to the longstanding publishing and tenure models within the scholarly community, access to a large portion of LIS knowledge sits secured behind scholarly database walls. However, thankfully there are many passionate info pros who also freely disseminate their wisdom on the web, just ripe for the picking.

Exploring the Virtual Reference Shelf

Below are links to some of my favorite free resources created by info pros who are involved with digital asset management within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors:

General DAM resources

DAM implementation


  • Metadata (Marcia Lei Zeng, 2011): this website is an online textbook companion, which is worth browsing for its comprehensive reading lists and appendices of resources.
  • Cultural Objects Digitization Planning: Metadata (Janice L. Eklund, 2012): if you’re planning an image digitization project, consult this guide from the Visual Resources Association to learn about questions to consider, minimal metadata requirements, and best practices.
  • FADGI Guidelines: this set of guidelines from the Feds includes frameworks, methodologies, and technical recommendations for digitizing still images and audiovisual works.
  • Video metadata modeling for DAM systems (Tom Bachmann, 2010): this article provides thorough and detailed coverage of metadata schema design for video.
  • Descriptive Metadata in the Music Industry: Why It Is Broken And How to Fix It (Tony Brooke, 2014): this comprehensive report identifies the need for descriptive metadata standards specific to the music industry, along with a proposed metadata schema standard.


  • Taxonomy Fundamentals Workshop (Marjorie M.K. Hlava, 2013): this presentation covers taxonomy basics, how to leverage and access taxonomies, and relevant standards to be aware of.
  • Using a Taxonomy for Your Database or Website: A Look Behind the Scenes (Marjorie M.K. Hlava, 2013): this brief article balances technical information with well placed visuals to describe how taxonomies and thesauri are stored and associated within various types of databases.
  • Taxonomies in Search (Marjorie M.K. Hlava, 2011): if you’re looking to learn more about how information retrieval works and how taxonomy drives effective search, look no further.
  • Success Factors in Building an Enterprise Taxonomy (Stephanie Lemieux, 2014): this brief article lists several factors to consider before embarking on your next enterprise taxonomy project.
  • What is Facet Analysis? (Ian Matzen, 2014): if you need to create a faceted classification system, this brief article presents a good introduction, along with examples and informative references.
  • Taxonomy Bootcamp: for the past couple of years, presentations from this conference have been available for free online. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Digital preservation

Reference services

User Experience (UX)

Semantic Web

  • Linked Data for Libraries (OCLC, 2012): Got 15 minutes? Although this video is presented within the context of sharing bibliographic data, most of the concepts and visuals are universally applicable.
  • Linked Data: Evolving the Web into a Global Data Space* (Tom Heath & Christian Bizer, 2011):
    This free eBook provides a brief explanation of the concepts behind the Semantic Web and Linked Data, then progresses quickly into a highly detailed technical introduction.

*Although the following resources are not free, they are worthy of mention here. There are many additional books in the Synthesis Lectures on the Semantic Web: Theory and Technology series that are worth exploring, as well as those in the Information Concepts, Retrieval, and Services series. For those interested in the history, concepts, and implementation of taxonomies, I strongly recommend Marjorie M.K. Hlava’s Taxobook series.

Going Underground

Now for some tips on discovering more elusive gems from within the academic LIS community. If you’re willing to spend a little time digging, you can always partake in one of my favorite activities…mining resources offered through DAM related academic courses and professional communities. It’s like being a student without the interminable loans and tests! Here are some tactics that have proven effective for unearthing all sorts of educational jewels:

  • Examine a few syllabi for DAM related courses and topics, and you will often be rewarded with links to seminal research articles, recommended reading, blogs, conferences, presentations, and more. This can also be an excellent way to quickly profile and monitor DAM related topics, as well as identify relevant researchers, industry leaders, publications, terminology, issues, and challenges. Over time, you can even discover trends within the disciplines and fields themselves (assuming the institution you’re researching updates their curricula frequently in response to industry demands). Here are some of my favorite sources to start with:
  • Discover pearls of DAM wisdom within scholarly hubs and open access publications such as:
  • Take advantage of free or low cost DAM related resources and education available through LIS organizations, including:
    • ASIS&T (Association for Information Science and Technology)
    • LITA (Library and Information Technology Association)
    • SAA (Society of American Archivists)
    • AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists)
    • MCN (Museum Computer Network)
    • SPECTRUM DAM Resources (Collections Trust)
    • VRA (Visual Resources Association)
  • And of course, don’t forget about national libraries, many of which are involved in setting standards and best practices, exploring emerging technologies, and sharing educational resources.

Whether you work alone as a DAM Superhero or as part of a DAM team, the practice of digital asset management presents many universal challenges across all industries, as well as more specific strategies and solutions that can likely be adapted within diverse environments. When you’re faced with your next DAM challenge, don’t reinvent the wheel…leverage the collective intelligence of the entire DAM community!

About Deb Fanslow

Deb has over 7 years of experience in information management within the library, museum, and education fields. She specializes in Digital Asset Management (DAM), which is informed by working in the trenches for 13 years as a graphic designer within the publishing industry. She participates in the DAM industry as a Board Member of the DAM Foundation, the founder and head curator of The DAM Directory, and a co-organizer of the NYC DAM Meetup. Deb is a contributing writer for DAM News, and has also worked behind the scenes on various DAM educational initiatives, including DAM Guru Program and the #LearnDAM initiative.

Deb has been a DAM Guru Program member since February, 2014. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

Guru Call: USA

USA FlagLooking for a Guru in Chicago, IL. Member seeking some advice on digital asset management industry.

DGP member’s inquiry is about how an MLIS degree could help them advance a potential DAM career. Looking to speak to those who have an MLIS and have achieved a position as a DAM manager in the industry.

Available DAM Guru members who are able to help may reach out to their program manager for more details.

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Best DAM Practices: A Digital Asset Management Philosophy

By Adam N. Hess, MFA | MLIS Echoing

David Diamond in his kick-off article for this series, although it is now possible to learn DAM on the job with software and new technologies, simply “managing a DAM doesn’t make one an information professional.” Those who are successful in DAM are embedded in the culture, aware of the values and trends, and able to digest and incorporate all that information into sound management of their own system. In other words, successful DAM implementation is not just reliant on the software or hardware used, but on developing a strong organizational philosophy on digital asset management. The components of DAM best practices are in many ways philosophical. Taken together, this series, Librarian Tips for DAM Managers, presents a strong foundation for developing a DAM philosophy that will be effective for your institution. The information and advice comes from seasoned information professionals with their own philosophical approaches to DAM, shaped by years of experience and contemplation. There is no one official guide or book on DAM management; there are many, and this is a good thing. Perhaps the best practice is to consume multiple resources to develop a well informed ideology for your DAM that is not pigeonholed into any one policy, standard or solution. It is more important that your DAM fits with your organization and mission, rather than into an existing model. Not all approaches are the same, and not all advice is applicable; but there are several common philosophical themes that tie DAM best practices together.

Librarians understand assets

In her article earlier in this series, Linda Rouse said it best: “Librarians understand assets.” Archiving and creating access to assets is part of every librarian’s philosophy. Hiring a librarian for your DAM project is wise; but preferably you want a librarian with cataloging and database experience, since not all librarians understand the intricacies involved in cataloging or user interfaces. As other articles in this series have addressed, metadata and controlled vocabularies are no quick venture. Cataloging a wide variety of assets is something librarians do well, as they are experienced in everything from evaluating and incorporating standards to updating existing schemas. It is rare to find a librarian with strong IT experience, but experience with databases and applications management is also essential. Understanding how applications work, being able to configure your tools, and being able to communicate with the vendor are essential to keeping your DAM alive. Content housed in a DAM is not any more useful than information spread across hundreds of CD-Rs. Therefore, intellectual value needs to be added to the assets in the DAM, whether it is in the form of metadata and controlled vocabularies, or application and user interface customization. Librarians are well prepared to add this essential value needed to make your DAM really dynamic. Further evidence that the philosophy within librarianship fits well with DAM can be found in one of the discipline standards. The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the professional organization for thousands of academic librarians, publishes the Information Literacy Framework, a guideline for information literacy instruction at the university level. This framework has been around for about fifteen years, with a few iterations, and this latest one is perhaps the most progressive. Of note is Frame #3: Information has value. While this framework was designed for college students, the overarching concepts fit many industries and settings. Outside the library, DAM initiatives are almost always centered on the concept that a company’s digital assets have value that needs to respected, preserved, and made accessible to the best of their abilities. That concept has been embedded in librarian philosophy for as long as there have been libraries, and further proves why you need a librarian to run your DAM.

What Do You Want To Do?

A common question librarians will ask patrons when a vague reference inquiry comes to their desk is, What are you really looking for? In librarianship, it is well documented that a patron’s initial reference question is usually not their actual research question. To get to the real request, the librarian must dig in and ask a lot of questions on what the patron is trying to research and what he or she is trying to do. Only after investigating a bit will the reference librarian get to the heart of the research inquiry. This step in the reference process is crucial to moving forward in the right direction. It follows, then, that before any RFP (Request for Proposal), before any software or hardware considerations, and before any full DAM committee meetings, the organization must ask themselves what they want to do with digital asset management. Just as with the reference interview, this step is essential before anything else can happen. This is that big philosophical moment where you ask those deep questions – Who are we? What do we want to do? Where are we going? – before drilling down into specifics, like investigating software packages or planning your metadata schema. Do you want to centralize all digital assets into one location in an effort to reduce duplications and redundancies? What assets will be included or not included? Do you need to create a job-ticketing module or integrate into an existing one? Or do you even need ticketing? How will users in the company interact with the system, and will they all need to use it? Contemplate the how, what and why, as well as functions and tools that make sense for your organization, and don’t focus too much on what others are doing. Too often, DAM planning starts with a look at what is out there and at what solutions other companies in your industry are using. Take a moment and forget what is physical and think in the abstract. Dream a little bit! What if you had a full computer lab with endless technology and skilled staff literally giving you the resources to build something homegrown and totally custom? What would this amazing system look like? What would it do, who would interact with it, and how? While maintaining strong vendor relations is critical for the health of your DAM, you should also have bigger vision for your DAM and be able to articulate that to your vendor. Once these big-picture questions begin to have answers, heavy documentation must follow. While this is a digital discipline, there is no greater value than having a physical governing document that explains the who, what, where, why and how. A solid DAM governing document or policy is detailed and granular. It explains roles from administrators down to basic users; it defines asset types, metadata schemas, and naming conventions; and it should document all workflows. If a decision was made, if a process or workflow was defined or updated, it needs to be documented. Once this documentation is generated, treat it as a living document, and review and update it annually.

If You Build It (For Them), They Will Come

Spending the proper time planning an ideal DAM solution for your organization should naturally lead to employees using the system. Designing solutions with everyone and their workflows in mind should ease any issues that surround user adoption, and help you avoid comments like, “It doesn’t do what I need it to,” or “That isn’t for my department.” If planning was not successful, it’s likely that user adoption won’t be either. It is therefore critical that no matter the DAM project, every user’s needs are considered in terms of how he or she will interact with the system. Marketing and promoting your DAM initiatives is also a fundamental but often overlooked step in successful implementation and user adoption. If there is a general lack of knowledge about DAM initiatives and happenings within your organization, this will work against gaining user buy-in. It is not uncommon to hear employees mention that they did not know there was a DAM solution, or they didn’t know what it could do. If the employees in the institution don’t know what the initiatives are, or what the systems can do, or are unaware of an in-house base of knowledge, then it will be an uphill battle to educate and grow user adoption. As the DAM manager, you really need to “sell” the DAM. Just like a salesman, know your product inside and out, be aware of your users’ philosophies and values, and find connections that show departments the increased value and benefits that await them. Another common misstep in some DAM implementations is assuming that every employee will need or want to use it. A need should be articulated or defined; otherwise, a department can stick to their old processes. The hidden message there is don’t force it. Resourceful and successful DAM managers don’t spend all of their time thinking up creative ways to get all departments into the DAM. Instead, they focus on thinking of creative solutions and finding connections to increase value. User adoption and training are only part of the equation in terms of leading to a successful DAM project. Solicitation of user feedback is crucial for the growth and development of your DAM. After all, DAM managers are rarely the ones who are actively searching for and using assets within the DAM, so they need input from the people that utilize the system regularly. This is something libraries and librarians do well, since most libraries are obsessed with how patrons (users) access the library’s resources. Most libraries have a rolling program for assessing how their patrons interact with library tools and information resources in the form of surveys, data gathering, and in-person interviews. The information collected drives updates, generates new features, helps to solve problems, and generally leads to the development of services and resources that are truly needed. DAM programs need frequent user trainings and workshops, but they also need channels for feedback and user study initiatives in order to properly develop.


A final philosophical message is that DAM is a dynamic organism that needs to be nurtured, educated and respected. Above all, DAM needs room to grow and evolve. DAM is rooted in technology, and as such, it is subject to becoming obsolete quickly. Solutions and workflows put in place today are at risk of starting to decline tomorrow. What this means, ideologically speaking, is that as you create solutions that work for your organization now, develop these strategies with an eye toward the future. Good examples are metadata schemas and standards. The development and implementation of a metadata schema can be a monumental task, as was written about in an earlier article in this series. However, the implementation of the schema is only one aspect of the larger metadata picture. The schema needs to be evaluated for effectiveness, controlled vocabularies need to be continually vetted, and new needs have to be adopted and anticipated. Treating your schema as a living entity will only benefit you in the long run. The same effort applied to keeping your metadata processes up to date should be applied to all of your DAM initiatives. Again, this is not just about software and hardware updates, but rather it is about utilizing your DAM philosophy, exercising the values you documented in your DAM policy, and making sure you are meeting goals. If the goals become stale, those too may need to evolve. There is very little in DAM that is concrete, including an established and well developed DAM policy, so it is vital to be able to grow, adapt and change your DAM philosophy.

About Adam N. Hess

From capture to arrangement to discovery, Adam N. Hess has managed or consulted on many types of digital collection projects, with the proven ability to develop sustainable solutions and workflows for varied constituencies. Currently, Adam is an Assistant Professor & Digital Resources Librarian at Arcadia University (Glenside, PA), where he manages the university’s institutional repository, as well as liaisons to the departments of Art & Design, Theatre Arts, and Media & Communication. Adam also teaches First Year Seminars, University Seminars, and Studio Arts courses. Adam earned an MFA in Studio Arts (2008) and an MLIS (2010) from Louisiana State University (LSU), where he also taught art and worked in many roles for the LSU Library System. In 2011 Adam was named the Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship at Yale University. Before returning to academia in 2014, Adam was the Digital Asset Manager for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Adam has been a DAM Guru Program member since July, 2014. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series » LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

Leveraging In-house Expertise for DAM

by Collin Rickman, MLIS

You drum your fingers against your desk, nervously anticipating the news you’ve spent years waiting for: The latest iteration of your organization’s digital asset management strategy—an elegant and complex system of people, processes, and technology crafted for machine-like efficiency—has gone live.

One final time, you race down a well-trodden to-do list in your head, sifting for possible weaknesses. Are the user guides comprehensive, yet concise? Is our governance policy strong enough? Are our DAM cheerleaders dispersed strategically and ready to make waves at a moment’s notice? How is everyone’s internet connection looking today? Taxonomy tight? Metadata managed? Interface intuitive?

But those thoughts vanish as your inbox explodes with accolades, and your phone starts ringing off the hook. A grin dances on your lips. Sinking back into your plush leather chair, you laugh hysterically and pour yourself a glass of champagne—no, two glasses! When in Rome. Your work is finally finished!

Or not.

DAM is a living, breathing organism—a constantly evolving concept that demands the utmost attention from its practitioners. Long after the confetti is cleaned up and integrators have moved on to new projects, things inevitably change or go wrong.

Maybe your team supports clients with business needs that change often, and you need flexibility to rapidly meet and support those needs. Perhaps your organization is acquired by another, and your user base multiplies overnight, requiring increased capacity and performance that your system doesn’t possess. What is the solution when a critical server fails on the eve of an important deadline day, delaying access to important assets at the worst possible time?

While the answers to these questions vary from organization to organization, and depend on whether your DAM solution is self-hosted, SaaS, or a hybrid of some kind, chances are high you will be acting as a liaison by leveraging in-house expertise to meet your team’s technological objectives. The synthesis of stakeholder needs, IT department objectivity, and the practical realities of your day-to-day DAM operation can be challenging alchemy.

Luckily for you, librarians (and this writer) have a few tips to offer:

1. Translation. A typical librarian, like a DAM Manager, has expansive reach into many areas of an organization, as their jobs require them to wear many hats out of necessity. Most people don’t get this opportunity and, as a result, interdepartmental communication can sometimes be strained and counterproductive. Thus, being able to translate the needs of stakeholders (who may not occupy technically-focused roles) into terminology that makes immediate sense to IT allies is crucial. And the reverse is important too! Translating tech-speak for stakeholders is important so that they are aware of information that applies to their parts of workflow, and have emotional investment in the process. Exercising this muscle is not unlike going through what librarians call a “reference interview,” where the librarian seeks to isolate and articulate the essence of a patron’s request regardless of its appearance at face value. So, call upon your love of words, an interest in technology, and a desire to see disparate groups of people collaborate effectively, if you want to avoid misunderstandings. Not only will you maximize efficiency, stakeholders will grow to appreciate your connective problem-solving abilities.

2. Documentation. Sometimes, things get lost amidst the onslaught of details, meetings and challenges inherent in any large project. It is easy to let dreams run ahead of drudgery. It’s a good thing librarians have extensive experience in documenting and preserving information. Naturally, DAM managers can emulate this when creating an IT governance policy. You will make massive inroads in your IT relationship if you have an established guide to your DAM’s technical construction and operation. This includes, but is not limited to, a complete roster of any and all hardware; a list of employees involved with DAM operations along with their job titles, departments, contact information and DAM responsibilities; and troubleshooting procedures complete with scenarios and step-by-step instructions on what is necessary to resolve issues. Your integration team will likely need to play a role in this activity, and it’s likely an ongoing writing process—you will discover more quirks as time goes on. But having forethought and research at your disposal is a godsend for IT staff who are often expected to divine solutions with little to no information.It’s an important albeit mundane responsibility that makes all the difference in the world when the other shoe drops.

3. Distillation. Librarians are experts at squeezing out every possible drop of budget in order to maximize resources. After all, being able to prove a library’s usage rates and value are an important part to keeping the doors open year after year, whether in a busy urban public library or a special library. This same pragmatic approach is a natural fit in a DAM environment. IT sees system upgrades and customization in purely ROI terms—what the bottom line is, given that budgets and agreements are hammered out far in advance. This may conflict with the expectations and desires of some stakeholder groups for how they feel DAM should operate. Some requested features and solutions require hours committed to conceptualizing, testing and implementation that may prevent limited resources from being spent on additional issues. Other solutions may be great for large organizations, but unfeasible for smaller ones. Others, still, may be wonderful ideas, but only beneficial for a small subsection of the entire user base. Paring down high-level concepts into practical analysis will make it easier to arrive at informed solutions. This will also be the difference between overcoming unexpected setbacks and becoming mired in them. Have you truly delineated the must-have solutions from the nice-to-have solutions? The inverse is also true: Knowing when to stick to your guns and push for important solutions that others may hastily appraise as unnecessary can be a lifesaver later on.

4. Coordination. In the ensuing inconvenience that accompanies any major maintenance activity or upgrade, digital asset managers must be adept at ensuring that all participants and moving pieces are attuned to each other. Much like running a busy library or archives requires a librarian to be on top of scheduling and coverage during a time of crisis, a DAM manager must constantly analyze workflows to devise workarounds that minimize impact to business, bottom lines, and their stakeholders’ patience. Are upgrades being done at a time when the office is closed? Will this planned outage affect any imminent deadlines? If something goes wrong, is there enough time to diagnose and fix before business resumes? Is there a temporary system to facilitate requests, so as not to impact normal business? Keeping things humming along is not easy, but being caught off guard is even more difficult.

5. Preparation. Even the most dedicated librarian occasionally prioritizes to create some kind of order amidst chaos. The IT world is no different. When working with IT to isolate glitches and deploy solutions, a little groundwork and attention to presentation goes a long way. This is especially important if your team does not have a dedicated support staff, which is often the case. If a user discovers a bug, make it a point to augment your support tickets with enhanced information that can help narrow focus to possible solutions, speed up response time, and present themselves as well-founded and cohesive. These could be in the form of screen shots. Or an especially crafted step by step guide on how to reproduce an issue. Reference-ready contact information for other stakeholders required for collaboration is always helpful. Depending on how comprehensive your reporting services are, the exact times, conditions and environment of the incident at hand could be key to solving the problem. Or throw in some freshly baked cookies. Whatever separates your issues from the slew of other frustrated, cryptic missives that are sometimes received is a sound investment not only for your DAM project, but your own relationships with your IT colleagues.

Of course, these are only a few pieces of advice from a long line of librarian lore. But with some extra attention, using these fundamentals to your advantage can keep your customization and upgrade processes on solid ground. And as a member of DAM Guru Program, a friendly librarian is only an email or phone call away.

About Collin Rickman

Collin Rickman earned a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Technology & Culture at Washington State University, and his Master’s of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University.  His career began in archives, special libraries, and film preservation; but a twist of fate led him to sunny Southern California and his current position as an assistant DAM manager for Oakley. When he’s not lost in DAMworld, his interests also include net neutrality, information secrecy, e-waste recycling and gamification.

Collin has been a DAM Guru Program member since August, 2014. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

Guru Talk: Emily Hale – AbbVie

Digital Asset Librarian - Emily HaleEmily and her team understand proper training and maintenance is an integral part of a successful DAM system implementation.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

My DAM experience began in 2006 at the University of Chicago Press, where I worked as a Project Manager. Here I used the DAM to search for cover art for our many academic journals. Using a DAM piqued my curiosity about what happens behind the scenes so I began looking for a job in which I could learn and be more involved with the day to day maintenance and activities.

My current position at AbbVie, a Bio-Pharmaceutical company, is Digital Asset Librarian. I’ve been the Digital Asset Librarian for about a year and a half. While at AbbVie, I have really gotten into the thick of Digital Asset Management. I was involved from the beginning with the implementation of our DAM and subsequent integrations with other systems. I also assist in building all training materials, execute ongoing user training, calculate metrics, support our customers, and perform system administration, maintenance, and cleanup.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

One of the first questions I am asked when meeting someone new is usually, “what do you do?” I try to sum that up in a few sentences. I explain that I work for a pharmaceutical company, helping to manage the company’s digital assets, such as commercials, website materials, and app code. Our digital asset management system is called Compass. I work with marketing, agencies, admins from other integrated systems, and project managers. A big part of my job is sending out assets, helping users locate and download assets, performing system maintenance (such as keeping assets current), and desk-side refresher training.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I have a fantastic mentor at my current position. I would suggest finding someone who knows DAM well and ask every question you can think of, no matter how small. Every DAM is different but the underlying concept is relatively the same. I would also recommend the book DAM Survival Guide by David Diamond. It is written in layman’s terms so it is a great place to get started. It’s important to stay current. Reading blogs and attending conferences are great ways to keep up, and they also offer the added bonus of networking with other DAM users.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

I have small business called Soapily Ever After. On the weekends, I make soap, shampoo and conditioner bars, perfume, lip balm, etc. My workspace smells fantastic! I would enjoy doing that full time. I also love to travel. If traveling the world counted as a job, I would be all in!

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Training! After spending months rolling out training, we spend countless hours on the phone with our help desk line. Between the revolving doors at agencies, users not paying attention during training sessions, and marketing managers being reassigned, it seems we are always offering additional training or refresh sessions.

Would you like to be a DAM Guru Program featured DAM professional? Signup now (for free) or contact your DAM Guru Program manager.

DAM User Adoption and Training

by Margie Foster, MLIS, Information Management

This is the story of two DAM systems at two different companies.   The companies shared many similarities.  In both cases, the digital asset management system was relegated a home with the design team, where the managers understood the need for a searchable collection of assets that could be reused at significant cost and time savings.

At Company A, user adoption was a key consideration from the outset.  Before choosing a system, they formed a team that included likely power users, and they secured an executive sponsor. In addition, key users (tipping point people whose adoption would best promote success) were added.  Research and the eventual RFP proceeded from there.  The two best systems were brought in for a test period.  Volunteers from the user group completed a set of basic exercises. After each exercise, the user was asked to rate the experience on a scale of 1 to 5.  The results were tallied and shared with the team.  The stronger system was chosen.

At Company B, however, users were never much of a consideration. The design manager persuaded the next level manger to include a DAM in the next budget cycle, with the understanding that the system would be rolled out to the rest of the company a year later.  No users were involved in the selection.  No systems were tested in-house.

Which DAM system was successful: Company A, with user buy-in, or Company B with not a user in sight?

Certainly, Company A scored the initial success; but the story doesn’t end there. User adoption is not a one-time event. Early adopters can fall away, becoming disenchanted over time, while others leave the company as new users come onboard.  Company A had to find a way to support those early adopters and grow more. The challenge at Company B was more obvious, and not unlike trying to climb Mt. Everest in a lead snowsuit during a blizzard: It could be done—maybe—but the odds were not good.

Both Companies hired DAM librarians who developed user-training programs, with the goal of user adoption and retention. User training brings the traditional talent of a librarian—that loves-helping-people orientation—to the fore.  Every librarian knows that different users prefer to learn in different ways, so it is a standard best practice to have multiple paths to the training:

  • Some people want to dialog every time they need assistance.  (This usually comes from the infrequent user).
  • Some need custom finding aids that address their specific needs.
  • Others are good with screen shots in an email.
  • Few rarely have time to read blog entries about a new features until they need those features, so the blog doubles as an FAQ.
  • Certain power user groups are best updated in their team meetings as part of a regular round table.   (Those often prove invaluable feedback sessions as well.)
  • And there are those whom, no matter how much training is available, simply will not use the system directly—they must have research done for them. (Company B initially had far more in this last category.)

In addition to the measures already listed, the DAM librarians instituted benchmarks, audit-ability, metrics, and reporting. Success was defined and measured.  Goals were set.  At Company A, the analytics were utilized to justify system upgrades.  At Company B, the analytics could not save upgrades from being cut out of the budget.

In the end, Company A’s DAM fell victim to advancing technology outside its system. The search engine was no match for Google and dissatisfaction grew among the users. DAM system updates were never as advanced as they needed to be.  Before long, another team was assembled to begin exploring a replacement system.  But the users never questioned whether a system was needed.  In this case, user adoption and training worked to keep the user engaged and a DAM deployed.

At Company B, the system was adopted officially, but never in actuality by the power users.  Despite all the types of user training made available, and an actual rise in the number of users, the power users persisted in keeping stashes of images on their hard drives. In the end, they had a system of last resort, and a lot of duplicated assets in various silos.  Worse, the system software was not upgraded consistently; its hardware was never replaced or migrated to the cloud.  Gradually, even the occasional users dropped off, opting instead for direct research requests to the DAM librarian.  Unfunded and unused, any current DAM version had to be retired by the software vendor before Company B would grant funds for an upgrade.  Despite the lobbying efforts of the DAM librarian, the opportunity to replace the system was squandered.  Its chances of successful adoption were not improved.

There are no guaranteed successes in this story—no special tricks or tips to be employed.  DAM systems are vulnerable to budget shortfalls, top-down mismanagement, the limits of their own technology, and whether or not the users have a better, faster workaround.  But a DAM system with user buy-in, and a DAM manager willing to work to retain that buy-in, stands the greater likelihood of initial adoption and solid retention. Users who know how to best use the DAM particular to their specific needs, whose searches consistently return with high precision and low recall, are much more likely to express satisfaction. As every good DAM librarian knows, the combination of strong, measured, user-adoption rates and training is a far, far better thing, whatever the circumstances, and sometimes the user’s only hope.

About Margie Foster

Margie Foster began her career in Digital Asset Management while working as a photo editor for an educational publisher.  As the need for digital asset management grew alongside the surge in electronic publishing, she became an advocate of enterprise wide systems development.  This culminated in her role as Manager of Intellectual Property where she led a group responsible for image research, digital asset management, and project file archives.  It was also during this time she earned her Masters of Library and Information Science degree.  After the birth of her twins and a brief hiatus, Margie took a position with Freescale Semiconductor, where she is presently employed as the DAM Librarian.

Margie has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »


DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

Controlled Vocabulary for DAM

by Tracy Wolfe, MLIS

One of the ingredients essential to a successful digital asset management implementation is a controlled vocabulary. A controlled vocabulary (CV) is simply an established group of terms used to describe assets in the DAM. Controlled vocabulary can help users search more effectively. Most importantly, a controlled vocabulary lends consistency and ease for anyone adding assets to the library.

Controlled vocabularies are used for websites all the time, especially to enable search on e-commerce sites. Employing the same techniques for DAM makes sense, as many users expect the DAM search experience to mimic the internet.

What is the best way to create a controlled vocabulary? Whether you need a couple hundred keywords to describe your content or several thousand (or millions), the steps to initiating the vocabulary are similar. Depending on the complexity of the filters and metadata fields you choose to utilize, you may construct more than one CV to back-up your DAM system.

This article explains the basics of creating a term list. These steps can be repeated to create multiple lists for use in facets, filters or hierarchies forming the basis for a DAM taxonomy.

  1. Before collecting terms, first consider the content you need to describe. Do your assets focus entirely on one product or initiative or many? How do people in the organization talk about the content?
  2. Who will be responsible for maintaining the CV? Will the DAM manager add or change terms, or will multiple people share this responsibility? Either way, write down instructions or guidelines for adding or changing terms.
  3. Think about the users. If your DAM is internal and everyone in the organization shares the same language surrounding the assets, you will require fewer terms that may be very industry specific. If you will be serving both internal and external users (like vendors or travel agents or franchise owners, etc.), the keywords or terms will need to be more universal.
  4. Is there an established vocabulary available to provide a starting point? There are quite a few vocabularies available as examples or models depending on the subject matter. From Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), librarians have compiled trusted standard vocabularies for many domains.
  5. How does the DAM system handle tagging or keywording? Are hierarchies allowed or will your workflow be more streamlined if the keywords are attached to files prior to ingestion? Should the vocabulary be a text file, Excel file or built in some other way?
  6. Okay, now the fun part begins. If you are building the vocabulary from scratch or adapting another vocabulary, you will collect terms from various sources. Decisions will be made regarding the final set of terms and all of this work should be documented for future reference.

Where can you find terms for the controlled vocabulary?

  • Does your organization have a website? Check out the site map and the search logs to find words that users use to search.
  • How do people in the organization describe what you do? If you sell a product or products, will you need a list of brand names? What departments will be supported by the DAM? Will the users search on things like color for design purposes?
  • Are you describing photos, videos, audio files or more? Consider the differences in describing two-dimensional versus moving images and the breadth of additional terms that could enhance findability of all types of media files.
  • Look at similar organizations. Competitor’s websites, trade journals, and articles on the internet can all provide ideas for a term list.

At this point, you probably have a list of many words. It is time to organize the terms, establish hierarchies if applicable, and to decide on preferred terms and synonyms or variants. A standard way to go about this is to designate broad terms and narrower terms.

In this example, we will look at the term Handbags and the broad terms (BT) and narrow terms (NT) related to Handbags.

(BT) Accessories

(NT) Bucket Bags

(NT) Crossbody Bags

(NT) Totes

Naturally, this type of work is sometimes challenging in a group, so agreeing upon the decision making process, primarily which keywords will “win” or be included, is the most crucial step at the outset. Like any document, the vocabulary can be edited and altered over time, but finalizing the initial list will allow it to be tested and used to inform these updates.

Once a controlled vocabulary is in use, reviews and updates are always expected, but the main advantage of having created the vocabulary in the first place is consistency. Maintenance of the CV can be ongoing or the vocabulary can be reviewed and refined periodically. Make sure to include the controlled vocabulary in the overall best practices and standards for the DAM.

The best thing about a controlled vocabulary is the improved findability of assets. Knowing what to expect by having a framework for describing assets helps both when adding assets and when performing searches. The time invested in building a controlled vocabulary will provide a huge return and positively impact the experience surrounding the digital asset management system in your organization.

About Tracy Wolfe

Tracy Wolfe worked as an advertising producer for 13 years and managed a digital asset management system at DDB. Tracy pursued an MLIS at San Jose State University as a result, focused on emerging technologies and has been working in DAM or search ever since. Tracy managed a DAM at Corbis Images for a high profile non-profit client and is currently working in Search Strategy at Getty Images. Ms. Wolfe’s interests include taxonomy, helping creative users find assets, and streamlining pretty much any process. Tracy has been involved with digital asset management for almost ten years.

Tracy has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013. Connect with Tracy on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

DAM and the Art of Governance

by Tracy Wolfe, MLIS

Governance is defined by Dictionary.com as ‘government; exercise of authority; control.’ In a digital asset management scenario, the most basic definition of governance boils down to which users have access to which assets and why. A solid governance strategy stretches beyond this to encompass the parameters of the system itself, as well as the information traveling with each asset within that confine.

Naturally, different DAM systems handle user governance differently with permissions on an asset level or more commonly, by folders or galleries in combination with user groups. Sound complicated? It can be, especially if proper planning, communication and documentation is lacking.

Do you really want the design studio preparing the annual report to have access to the photos of your company’s CEO at the holiday party? Are there rights managed images in your DAM and would it be costly and embarrassing to be slapped with an infringement for usage on the web if the licensing is for print only? Does this all make your head spin when you multiply the number of DAM users by the number of assets and possible combinations?

If so, do not fret. There are ways to simplify governance and to ensure that the proper folks have access to only the assets needed, no matter how your DAM system is structured. And, while a ton of articles mention that governance is important in terms of best practices for DAM, not many discuss how to actually implement a governance strategy, to discuss the topic with DAM users and stakeholders, to manage the inevitable changes and how to retain your own sanity in the process.

First and foremost, a governance strategy for digital asset management should be distinctly different from the IT governance plan for the organization overall. When developing a governance strategy for a DAM system, take into consideration the following things:

  1. What is your organization’s organizational culture? If the culture is somewhat loose, as in many creative agencies, simplicity will be key in establishing governance practices.
  2. If the DAM system will be used by multiple departments, set up a governance committee at the outset with members representing each user group and IT. Meet briefly and frequently – communication is key.
  3. Decide who will apply metadata, how will it be applied, and who will create the metadata. Will it be partially a result of embedded fields like IPTC or will there be a set of pre-defined elements or a standard employed like Dublin Core?
  4. Is there an established taxonomy or controlled vocabulary? If not, can you collect data to establish a controlled vocabulary? In conjunction with the vocabulary, can you utilize a single taxonomy or classification hierarchies organization-wide?
  5. Do you need a retention policy and retention schedules? Do your assets expire or lose relevance over time? Is there a need to archive assets after a certain point? Document all of this, no matter how minute or obvious it may seem now.

Whether you are launching DAM for the first time in your company, reigning in a system that has been in place for some time, or simply revamping the policies already in place, governance strategy should be well documented. A good DAM manager, like a librarian who is differentiating between reference-only items and circulating materials, will keep records. These may take the form of spreadsheets or flowcharts in a secure location delineating user group permissions, asset restrictions, metadata fields both required and optional, workflows, controlled vocabulary terms and taxonomy structure.

Additional tools can be used to store user logins, manage taxonomy, and automate metadata application, complementing and contributing to the governance strategy.

The most important aspects of the governance strategy are the organizational buy-in on the policies for digital asset management and the documentation of these rules. The benefit will be the ease of decision-making enabled by an established governance plan. Don’t worry about how formal or official these policies may be – the value is in having the discussions leading to the creation of the governance plan and simply in having it all written down.

About Tracy Wolfe

Tracy Wolfe worked as an advertising producer for 13 years and managed a digital asset management system at DDB. Tracy pursued an MLIS at San Jose State University as a result, focused on emerging technologies and has been working in DAM or search ever since. Tracy managed a DAM at Corbis Images for a high profile non-profit client and is currently working in Search Strategy at Getty Images. Ms. Wolfe’s interests include taxonomy, helping creative users find assets, and streamlining pretty much any process. Tracy has been involved with digital asset management for almost ten years.

Tracy has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013. Connect with Tracy on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.

How DAM Guru Program is Managed

How DAM Guru Program is Managed

New case study offers behind-the-scenes view into management system

Many questions come in about how we managed DAM Guru Program. Some assume we use an automated matching algorithm that connects members based on interests and experience. In fact, no DGP operations are automated. Every member match, GuruTalk profile, member webinar, tweet and DAM job post are considered by program managers to ensure they will offer value to members.

When you consider how hit-and-miss the “maybe you know this person” suggestions are on social media, you can better appreciate that effectively connecting and promoting our members requires the actions of people who know our membership and understand what they’re trying to do.

DAM Guru Program membership data is managed using Picturepark digital asset management software. This won’t surprise those who know that Picturepark created and continues to sponsor DAM Guru Program operations, but “we got the DAM for free” wasn’t the reason we chose Picturepark as a platform. After all, the management of people is more typically done using a CRM, like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics. We consider those systems and more, but Picturepark has one thing that other DAMs and CRMs lack: Adaptive Metadata schemas. As it turned out, this made Picturepark the best candidate for managing our “human asset” members.

DAM Guru Program’s Picturepark instance has been featured in an in-depth case study. See how the system was designed by program managers and DGP member, Deb Fanslow. Learn what worked and didn’t work so well when it was launched, and see the potential if offers for future DGP member opportunities.

Read about the DAM Guru Program Picturepark system »

Standards and Metadata

by Lisa Grimm, MA, MS-LIS

While librarians love global standards and useful metadata, even within the traditional library, we can be confronted a less-than-consistent institutional approach to those standards, and even wider variation in the tools used to maintain good metadata. That’s especially true in the DAM world, where things like Dublin Core or MeSH can sound like mysterious codes, or even foreign languages, to someone who didn’t attend library school. And if you’ve come into the field from a ‘straight tech’ or marketing route, you may feel you already know everything you need to about metadata – it’s always been important for search and SEO, and few people knew or cared about standards there, right? On the flip side, degreed librarians may throw their hands up in dismay at how different DAM vendors approach metadata management – those global standards can be difficult to implement, even with the best of intentions. Let’s try to clear up the picture.

Types of Metadata

As a DAM professional, you already know the value of good metadata – you can’t find or properly manage your assets without it. You’re already using a variety of flavors of metadata within your DAM – some of it is descriptive, to help power your DAM’s search capability; some is administrative, so you can track an asset’s usage and rights, while those free-text fields may serve as a catch-all for everything that didn’t quite fit – or as a workaround for something your system doesn’t do without considerable tinkering. NISO likes to add a third broad category for structural metadata, but that’s (usually) less relevant to a DAM – it may be called upon to drive display or layout of a page, printed or otherwise. If you’ve spent a lot of time working with XML or ePub files, you’ll know what structural metadata looks like, but it’s less generally applicable to your images, illustrations and videos, at least within the DAM itself – they may certainly end up being called or described in those files in the wild. Whether you knew it or not, you have an in-house metadata model, and you may want to refine it or change it altogether.

Controlled Vocabularies & Benefits

Librarians love controlled vocabularies, and tend to wax lyrical about their favorites, like the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). But for our purposes here, a controlled vocabulary can be as simple as a picklist in a dropdown menu.

If you can pre-populate your DAM’s metadata fields with commonly-used terms and names that make sense for your DAM, you can reduce the scope for user error, thus ensuring that you keep your assets easily findable – no typos or three different names for the same agency or product (though more on related terms in a moment). Of course, that may not be as easy as it should be with your system – but we’ll look at some strategies there in a moment as well.

Another benefit of going with an existing standard is interoperability with other systems;: if your DAM ties into other systems, be they for rights management, HR, licensing or translation, using the same internationally-recognized standards for your metadata model may make everyone’s lives easier as digital objects travel across your technology ecosystem.

Existing Standards

First off, there are a lot of standards out there. Committees have spent unpaid months and years creating and refining them, and most of the time, they’ve ended up with a pretty sensible set of terms for their given brief – no matter how specialized your assets are, one of the existing standards is probably a good fit, at least as a baseline, so there’s no need to start from scratch. We’ll look closely at the more generally applicable ones, and then mention a few specialized options.

Dublin Core

Dublin Core or, more fully, the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI), has been around in one form or another since 1995, when it was first mooted to help give more structure to web resources to make them findable – something any DAM professional can empathize with. The ‘Dublin’ in question here isn’t the one in Ireland, but rather, Dublin, Ohio – the initial workshop, sponsored by OCLC and NCSA. OCLC, known by its initials to any library professional, maintains (among other things) WorldCat, the global catalog that stores data from more than 170 libraries around the world. NCSA produced the first widely-adopted browser, Mosaic, which would eventually be reborn, phoenix-like, as Mozilla Firefox – but we digress.

Getting up to speed on Dublin Core is easy. (There are regular webinars on the DCMI site, but they may be more in-depth than what you need if you’re just beginning to implement some basic metadata standards.) You can learn a lot just by looking at some Dublin Core in action, whether it’s expressed in XML or in the metadata fields your DAM has already.

The beauty of Dublin Core is that it’s nearly endlessly extensible, though its core of 15 top-level categories, known now as the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, are broadly applicable to almost any digital object. They will look like (at least vaguely) familiar metadata fields to most DAM users. Indeed, some systems have nothing much further than free text fields with these labels when they first arrive, out of the box:

  1. Title
  2. Creator
  3. Subject
  4. Description
  5. Publisher
  6. Contributor
  7. Date
  8. Type
  9. Format
  10. Identifier
  11. Source
  12. Language
  13. Relation
  14. Coverage
  15. Rights

But these fields, and the large variety of other Dublin Core descriptive terms available, may be used differently in different DAM solutions. And not every field, even of the core fields, is relevant to your particular assets. So it’s all about customization; we’ll dig into that below.


On the face of it, XMP sounds fantastic – you can embed (much of) the metadata you need right into your digital object! You can even use Dublin Core or another existing standard as the starting point. But actually implementing XMP as a standard for your DAM can be tricky, unless you have total control over the creative process from start to finish, since XMP is generally embedded via Adobe Photoshop or Bridge (XMP began life at Adobe, after all). Getting agencies to understand and follow your ‘rules’ isn’t always as straightforward as it should be, and while some DAMs do let you add XMP to assets, often, you need to rely on whomever created the file – and even then, it may not apply itself to every file type.

Another question to consider is whether your DAM’s search can index XMP – is that information being used by your system, or is it lost in the ether? That said, XMP can still be useful, even if it’s not powering your DAM’s search results. Licensing and other rights information can be built in and tracked throughout the asset’s life cycle, provided, of course, the XMP actually travels along with the file as advertised. As of this writing, there is certainly potential, but it may be more trouble than it’s worth for most time-crunched DAM administrators.

Other Standards – MeSH, ULAN, AAT, etc…

Even if you do opt for Dublin Core (or a Dublin Core-light) approach, you may want to seek out some of the more specialized options that exist. If your DAM supports medical or pharmaceutical assets, MeSH may be useful. For art-related collections, ULAN and AAT are incredibly thorough. There are many other unique standards, and in most cases, you can use them as a sort of ‘bolt on’ to your main underlying metadata model.

Customization and Implementation – the ‘How’

Once you (think) you have settled on a model, the real work begins – figuring out how to actually get your chosen model into the system, and how you want to approach applying it to your assets, whether they are newly-imported or legacy files. And while some DAMs will let you test and preview changes within the system, that’s more the exception than the rule, so we’ll assume for our purposes here that much of the upfront work will need to be done outside the system – then we’ll move on to implementation.

1. Analyze existing data:

  1. Does your DAM store user search terms, abandoned searches and user journeys through the system? This is wildly useful in refining your model, especially if you want to use, say, Dublin Core, but you notice that your users don’t seem to employ terms like Creator or Contributor. If collapsing those two fields into something more like ‘Agency’ or ‘Photographer’ works better, that’s great information.
  2. Are there metadata fields that are left consistently blank? It may be that you don’t need them, or that their purpose isn’t understood and that they need to be re-labeled.
  3. Do you have free-text fields that would be better served with drop-downs (e.g. list of agency names, products, countries)? Make note of them before you move on to the next stage.

2. Avoid metadata overkill:

  1. More isn’t always better. Not only do you need to make sure your fields are properly filled out, but if you have too many search terms, you may not get granular enough results.
  2. Just because a field exists in Dublin Core (or another existing standard) doesn’t mean you need to use it, or to use it in the ‘preferred’ way. If something else works better for your organization, feel free to make changes; just be consistent in your approach.
  3. Consider the maintenance ramifications if you do use a large number of fields – what happens if you need to modify them? This may be only a minor consideration for some DAMs, and a huge lift for others.

3. Plot out your proposed changes:

  1. Hit the spreadsheets! Before doing anything else, list your current metadata fields and any controlled vocabularies (whether they are in a dropdown or maintained elsewhere).
  2. On another tab, list your would-be changes, and note how they map to, or replace, existing fields. Color-coding can be very helpful.
  3. On a third tab, list any fields you want to remove entirely. If you know how many assets they may apply to, add that information. Also list net new fields. You may have this listed on your second tab, but it can be helpful to see it at a glance, especially when you move on to the next phase.

4. Get feedback:

  1. Talk to your users! Take time to walk through your proposed changes with some key users, and modify your spreadsheets accordingly.
  2. Card sorting exercise. You can do this in person with some of your users, or conduct a virtual card sort if your team is spread out geographically. There are a number of sites that offer free trials to their card sorting tools, or, if you have the budget, it can be well worth exploring in more depth. Knowing how your users categorize your assets – at least in very high-level groups – can tell you what you need to improve about your model. It will also highlight areas of confusion, and is a great way to test whether a particularly field is of any use at all, or if it needs to be re-named. You can use your spreadsheets as a starting point.

5. Test & Implement:

  1. Get your new fields and drop-downs into your DAM, but keep it to a staging environment at first. Again, this step may be minor, or a very complex exercise, depending on your software and configuration.
  2. Perform user acceptance testing (UAT): ask users to test drive the modifications to the system to see if your hunches about useful terms and fields were correct.
  3. If UAT went well, and the metadata mapped to your existing assets as expected in your testing environment, you’re ready to push those changes live!

6. Communicate:

  1. Let your users know that change is afoot – give them a heads-up in advance, and as the changes roll out. Whether that’s with a notification in your system, an email alert or a personal communication let them know that you’re working to make use of the DAM easier for them.
  2. Ensure it’s a two-way street – do they have an easy way to let you know they need help, or if they have suggestions for your next round of changes?

But My DAM Won’t Let Me Change It (Easily)!

It’s all well and good to think about how your metadata model will work in an ideal world, but you may have a DAM that makes such changes hugely cumbersome. You are not alone. While some DAMs have been thoughtfully designed with the user—administrative or otherwise—in mind, others make changing your metadata model extremely difficult.

If you’re one of the lucky ones, adding or modifying metadata fields can be done through your user interface – you’ll just want to ensure you have a governance process in place so that only administrators (or other trusted users) can make changes to your fields. You may even have a handy taxonomy management tool built in that will let you create related terms, ensuring that your users who search for ‘soccer’ also find ‘football’ if that’s what they were expecting. Many systems even let your users add their own tags to assets, and you can ensure good metadata hygiene by regularly reconciling these crowdsourced tags with ‘approved’ terms.

Other forward-thinking DAM vendors let you edit metadata in bulk. While it seems that this should be a standard feature, it’s noticeably absent in quite a few solutions, so it adds to your slate of maintenance projects when you need to do it manually (or if you need to write a script to make it happen). Adding a field that needs to be applied to thousands of assets, or modifying one that’s already in use with an equally-large number, is very straightforward in some DAMs. But can be a huge project requiring considerably IT support in others.

Most seem to sit somewhere in the middle: in many DAM solutions, it may require a bit of front-end scripting to make those changes, or even a full-blown dive into back-end programming. If you’re managing one of the more cumbersome systems out there, and making changes is something that needs to be its own project, you’ll quickly run into an even-more-pressing need for governance. Which leads us to the next potential problem (or opportunity).

But I’m Always Making Changes!

Regular maintenance is the key. You’ll find all manner of best practices, but you’ll need to decide what works best for your DAM. Do you have quarterly reviews of your metadata model? Are you constantly adding new keyword terms to keep up with new content types or products? Could you group those more efficiently in a standard field? Are they not easily findable as they are tagged now? Most importantly, what terms do your users actually employ?

In short, you’ll want to come up with a variation on the following steps:

  • Create a metadata governance team – build in a regular cadence to meet with key users and stakeholders, and keep communication lines open.
  • Stick to your review schedule – don’t let maintenance become eclipsed by other projects.
  • Determine technical challenges – if changes to your model are always going to be a high level of effort, can they be coupled with other technical projects (e.g. upgrades, UI changes)?
  • Test and re-test with your users: yes, it takes time, but it’s always a worthwhile exercise.
  • Communicate: let your users know beforehand if you’re making major changes, and make sure you help them navigate them when they go live.

Parting Thoughts

The perfect metadata model is always a moving target. But even as an ongoing work-in-progress, using existing standards can help simplify the process of determining your core fields, and how you want to use them in your DAM. But never be afraid to deviate from a standard if it simply doesn’t make sense for your organization, as long as you maintain a consistent approach. You can create your own in-house standards when no others fit the bill, but you can avoid reinventing the wheel for a goodly portion, simply by exploring the metadata standards landscape. It’s partially a well-signposted journey, but certainly requires some traveling off the path!

About Lisa Grimm

While in grad school for archaeology, Lisa Grimm fell into a career as a web developer (back before HTML had tables), and bounced from London to Silicon Valley, then on to NYC and Philadelphia, focusing ever-more on content and digital assets as she worked in tech, government and publishing. Midway through her career, she went to library school to obtain an MS-LIS degree, and left ‘straight’ tech to work in DAM for a number of libraries, archives and museums. She’s back on the corporate side now, serving as Content Librarian for GSK, where she oversees the company’s DAM ecosystem, taxonomy and metadata standards.

Lisa has been a DAM Guru Program member since February of 2014. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

LearnDAM-Logo-75x75DAM Guru Program recognizes this article as worthy of the #LearnDAM designation for materials that provide genuine digital asset management education without sales agendas. Search #LearnDAM on Google for more materials.