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Why your DAM Needs an Asset Librarian

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My career managing media archives has given me the chance to create and evolve systems—for both clients and employers—that manage assets and ultimately transform how these assets are searched, accessed and repurposed throughout an organization. At National Geographic, I led an effort to digitize the video library assets and make it accessible via a new, web-based digital asset management toolset.  This made the video archive transparent to the user community and provided users with desktop access to thousands of hours of video holdings.  

Today, I’m managing an ever-expanding set of news assets for a client that is a global media organization; both DAM and library best practices have been critical components of the projects on-going success. Regardless of the systems I’ve built or who’s been my employer, good librarianship has always been a necessity for delivering what my clients need. In fact, given what I’ve seen in my career, I’ve concluded that DAM projects should not be considered exclusively technology projects. Librarians and a library-centric approach to DAM and the organization of assets are the linchpin for successfully managing digital assets and these digital implementations.  

Across industries, from media and manufacturing to oil exploration and law, businesses have requirements that librarians are best suited to meet. Organizations want employees, authorized third parties and clients to easily access corporate assets (e.g., media, documents, designs, graphics, etc.) through a DAM system. Making that happen requires knowing how to sort and classify content, create, manage and govern metadata and construct workflows. It also takes someone who can survey power users and understand the use cases and context for employees’ work and access preferences. Librarians have the skill to bring order and consistency to these systems so who better than an experienced librarian to configure a DAM?

Laura Fu, the newly hired DAM practice lead at EMMsphere, a provider of DAM managed services, says her road to becoming a DAM expert began before earning her master’s in library science, while working with news organizations.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago without a job that I realized how hard it was to find work as a media-news librarian without a library degree,” recalls Fu. “I went back to school and stumbled on a DAM job at a national retailer, which I started in 2011, while I was still in grad school.”

Fu and other DAM managers understand the significance of the librarian’s role with DAMs, but the composition of these teams and systems seems to belie the intent.

“I know of DAM systems that have been running for months or years, frustrating users who can’t easily (or ever) get what they need from the tool,” says Fu. “Companies will sometimes task a marketing professional, or even an intern if it’s a small firm, to oversee digital asset management; the company thinks all they’re doing is entering data and helping people find stuff.”

Fu says this kind of thinking about DAM is a dead end. Instead, she says the right person for the job is a digital asset librarian; someone trained to identify a taxonomy and metadata. This breed of librarian is parsing data and arming the DAM system with the intelligence it needs to meet users’ queries efficiently, reliably.

As to where DAM librarians are best suited to work in an organization, Jenny Irving, a DAM librarian working for a large financial institution, says “I see a dotted line to marketing, but they’re part of a data, analytics and reporting group. Possibly even in the systems area.”

Irving began her professional career years ago as a production artist, putting together InDesign and Quark Express files. She’s worked with many of the file types inside DAM systems. 

“I’m now a DAM manager and a librarian,” says Irving. “Learning on the job, I suppose I’ve gotten an honorary degree in library sciences.”

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