DAM Champ: Tracy Wolfe
Tracy Wolfe, otherwise known as the Mod Librarian, is a DAM Champ with a library background and unsurprisingly, a love for metadata. She has managed digital assets for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Seattle Public Library, and currently is a search editor for Getty Images.
DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety in DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.
You have a lot of experience with digital asset management (DAM). You are currently focused on metadata at Getty, so let’s start there.
Metadata and taxonomy can seem very similar to DAM newbies. How do you explain the difference?
Taxonomy provides a framework for metadata. Taxonomy is a set or sets of controlled vocabularies – lists of words or phrases – used to populate metadata fields. Taxonomies can be hierarchies or flat lists used to populate different facets. A structured taxonomy promotes consistency for metadata resulting in more consistent search results.
I just read a great analogy for a taxonomy involving organizing spices in the kitchen. The taxonomy drives how the spices are organized (alphabetically or by subject or description). You may divide the spices into sweet and savory for instance.
Metadata would be used to more specifically describe the spices within the taxonomy – for instance, cinnamon might have metadata fields describing the brand, amount, flavor, whether it is organic or not and so forth.
Taxonomy and metadata go hand in hand. When planning a DAM system, remember to pay attention to both – the best metadata in the world is less effective without the guiding structure of taxonomy.
Metadata is a key part of keeping a DAM system well-organized and digital assets findable. For people without an information science background, determining a metadata scheme can seem overwhelming. What is step one to determining metadata?
Start at the by considering the types of assets you will be organizing and the ways people will want to find them. Keep in mind that different asset types require different systems. For instance, with photos there are several metadata standards that can be useful as a base scheme such as IPTC, Dublin Core, and VRA Core.
As with anything good, less is more, so working out a metadata scheme and deciding on fields before getting too far into applying metadata is key. If an existing scheme like Dublin Core will work for your assets, by all means use it and carefully follow the suggestions for populating fields.
If your DAM system allows for custom metadata fields as well, you will want to incorporate strategic custom fields for things that are specific to your company. When I worked on a system for a the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we devoted a field to Area of Focus – a foundation specific classification covering subjects like Agricultural Development, Family Planning, Education and many other topics that covered the work of the foundation.
Remember to create a data dictionary no matter what scheme you end up with. A data dictionary is basically a chart which can be in the form of a simple spreadsheet which lists the required fields, optional fields and how each field should be populated. This is invaluable when multiple people are creating or editing metadata.
You refer to yourself as a Cybrarian in your LinkedIn profile – an awesome term. You have experience working in a physical library as well as managing digital collections. What are some of the differences and similarities to physical and digital libraries?
Digital assets are less dusty! Otherwise, organizing the record for a physical asset is entirely parallel to creating the metadata for a purely digital asset. Fields like subject, creator, title, description and a unique identifier (like a call number) in a catalog record are basically metadata fields and require the same considerations as digital objects.
Naturally, different metadata fields are important for physical objects versus digital. Dimension is one example. For a physical object, it means actual dimensions, but for an object like a digital image, height, width, and resolution must be entered. Things like the file type are important too.
Back to your current role as a search editor at Getty. It sounds like you focused on findability, and a lot of that is done via metadata.
How do know that your metadata is good and helps people find what they need?
There are standards and guidelines for the metadata provided our vendors and contributors. Our team ensures that those standards are applied and that metadata is accurate. We also receive continuous feedback from customers and other teams at Getty regarding how search is working. This input drives metadata application. We pay attention to trends for fashion keywording, for instance, as well as new creative or lifestyle trends, like hipsters with beards wearing flannel – lumbersexuals. Search log data is referenced and analyzed, too.
You were the Digital Asset Manager at Corbis, focused on the Gates Foundation collection. Can you talk a little about what kind of assets you managed and who the users were?
Our team managed the creation and production of photo and video assets documenting the foundation’s endeavors around the globe. The main users were the communications team at the foundation and their global affiliate, both at the foundation and at various creative vendors and NGO partners. We employed a custom controlled vocabulary for keywording assets and many custom metadata fields for searching and filtering in the DAM.
What is the best thing about digital asset management?
I have a long history in creative fields. I worked for many years at a number of advertising agencies in Seattle where designers were pulling assets from a central server or even in some cases off hard drives and discs. Digital asset management centralizes the assets resulting in less duplication, fewer mistakes in terms of rights and clearances and greater efficiency and consistency overall.
As a career, I love DAM because the digital asset manager owns so many pieces of the puzzle – a little bit of project management, metadata and taxonomy, system customization, reporting, search, user training, being an evangelist for the system and technology in general. Though I am focusing on one area currently (metadata), it is with the hope of taking my experience back to a more traditional DAM role someday soon.
What do you see a the biggest challenge when it comes to digital asset management?
Selecting the correct system to meet user needs. There are so many choices out there right now compared to even five or ten years ago.
Secondly, a big mistake and one I have helped fix in the past is deciding to load a bunch of assets into a system and then worrying about the framework and metadata later. This can be a challenge.
What is the key to a good DAM implementation?
If you have the luxury of planning before beginning ingestion, set your taxonomy, vocabularies, and metadata fields first. Make sure users and stakeholders agree. Starting with a solid plan saves headaches later on even though things are flexible and grow or change over time. Good planning creates almost immediate results in terms of efficiency and helps solidify the benefits of the investment in the DAM system for the business.
With your experience in DAM and your background in MLIS, let’s talk a little about digital archives. It seems like there has been an international boom in digital archives the past year, at least.
As online collections grow, do you think the demand for Cybrarians will grow or change?
I think (and hope) that the demand for Cybrarians will both grow and change. I think that traditional libraries are recognizing the importance of devoting staff to the creation and maintenance of metadata and to digitizing collections.
Also, many different businesses from e-commerce to real estate to media realize the value of having information professionals managing their assets and content in a variety of positions – content management, search, taxonomy, information architecture, and digital asset management.
Do you recommend any DAM or information science news sites or resources (in addition to Mod Librarian, of course)?