A DAM survey

In conjunction with MCN’s 2005 conference in Boston, ClearStory distributed a technology survey on current practices and outlooks in digital asset management in museums. While one presumes that ClearStory gained some nifty insights into one of their potential markets through the survey, they gave back to the community by raffling off an iPod Shuffle (Peter Guss of the Whitney was the lucky winner), and by summarizing the findings from their 40 respondents in a short whitepaper. I don’t see the paper linked to anywhere on their website, but after filling out a form, you should be able to download it here.

Some select findings (in my own words):
- 40% of respondents claim they are in the early stages of a DAM project, while 28% are busy weighing implementation options.
- 63% of respondents use cross-departmental committees to cut through the fog of DAM issues
- Digital asset management was identified as the area of IT spending with the highest expectation of a spending increase in 2006
- The most important consideration in deploying a DAM for museums is the integration of the DAM with the CMS (Collections Management System) (cited by 78% of respondents)
These results don’t seem very surprising, and they confirm my hunch of how prevalent the DAM discussion currently is in museums.

What fascinates me about the whitepaper is how it blurs the line between DAM and digital preservation – for starters, the authors chose to call their document “Museum Digital Preservation Initiatives,” and towards the end of their paper, they declare that “a DAM solution can serve as a singular platform for digital image preservation, collections management, marketing communications, and exhibit innovations.” I understand the need for ClearStory to highlight the many benefits of DAM to their audience, yet equating asset management with digital preservation seems to seriously underplay the additional complexity involved in the latter.

I would chalk it up to an issue of semantics (i.e. their understanding of digital preservation is different from mine, which is heavily colored by library initiatives in this arena), yet the survey curiously also includes questions about the Open Archival Information System (OAIS). ClearStory knows enough about what incredibly sticky kind of a tar baby they are talking about to include one of the large-looming standards in the field, and so do 47% of the respondents, who consider OAIS conformance as a “very important” feature of a DAM.

I personally remain very skeptical that a DAM can or should be thought of as a digital preservation system (in the sense of a trusted digital repository) – managing assets for everyday institutional use and managing them for the long term seem sufficiently distinct challenges to deserve their own dedicated solutions. While having enough control over digital files to efficiently track and share them is a huge step towards maintaining access to those files, Digital Preservation writ large in addition demands a host of preservation services which probably go beyond the scope of a DAM. Furthermore, only a subset of preservervation issues is addressed by technology – any technology has to go hand-in-hand with policy and institutional commitment. I’m curious to see how this discussion will shake out.

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  1. A large part of the ECHO DEPository project here at UIUC is to evaluate various open-source repositories, such as DSpace, Fedora, etc., in the context of OAIS and digital preservation. We’ve adopted the RLG Audit Checklist as a framework for what we’re doing. This will not be a rigorous benchmark test of the software, but an informal qualitative review.

    I share your concerns about how well a DAM will meet the guidelines layed out in the Checklist or OAIS. Lots of people I talk to (especially outside LIS) still confuse basic digitization activities with “digital preservation.” Folks still seem to be looking for the black box that will solve the problem without considering the larger socio-technical environment that digital preservation needs to be successful.

  2. It’s actually quite surprising how little people outside of those directly working with digital preservation understand about the issue. In one situation which will remain unnamed to protect the innocent, someone who ought to have been knowledgeable in the area made a comment to the effect that we didn’t need to do anything more ensure long-term preservation because the repository software had support for LOCKSS (never mind that the repository itself wasn’t doing anything…).

  3. Thanks to both of you, Richard and Tim, for your thoughtful comments. I think there always is a slow trickle-down effect of knowledge from those in the thick of the issues (those who “know” digital preservation) to the community at large. Especially in the museum community, my sense is that by now, everybody seems to have an awareness of how important long-term thinking is with digital media – that’s excellent, we’re much further along than we were even a couple of years ago. However, that awareness doesn’t yet seem to translate community-wide into knowing what the appropriate measures are to ensure access over time.

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