Breaking down digital asset management

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From 15 years in education to Metadata Technician, discover Todd Bratt's unexpected journey into Digital Asset Management (DAM) and its vital role in safeguarding our cultural heritage.

Todd Bratt
Todd Bratt
Metadata Technician | Iron Mountain Media & Archive Services
April 26, 20237 mins
Asset Management

I recently learned that many of us have taken an unconventional route to work in Digital Asset Management (DAM). I actually worked as an educator for fifteen years - teaching everything from 2nd grade to 6th grade English to 7th grade history. My passion ignited when I created and taught the curriculum for a new high school video production class. I quickly became the resident archivist, of sorts, and began digitizing old photos and VHS tapes of our school’s special events. Over time, I had accumulated quite a collection, so I created a DVD library for the school. I cataloged each title into an Excel spreadsheet and included descriptive and technical metadata so teachers could be sure that the videos they were searching were appropriate for the age and subjects they taught. I barcoded the discs, scanned them, and entered the titles and metadata into an Access database. Teachers were assigned borrowing cards that they needed to scan to check out the videos – just like a real library. A couple of years ago, I decided that it was time for a career change and enrolled in a DAM certification program to continue my education on metadata, data governance and how digital asset management and systems integrate. I wanted to do more in archival work and help preserve more moments of our shared cultural heritage.

But, what exactly is Digital Asset Management? How does DAM help organizations? And what kind of duties are involved in DAM?

Digital asset management is the practice of making digital content accessible and available for everyone within, and even beyond, an organization. It involves administering, organizing, and distributing media files. Digital content surrounds us and is produced at lightning speed. DAM software enables brands to develop a library of photos, videos, graphics, PDFs, templates, and other digital content that is searchable and ready to deploy. The process of digitizing the physical assets and ingesting them into a system is often a big part of DAM as well. Any editing process that involves media should offer a searchable index of content. Saving, organizing, classifying and retrieving files can be challenging.

And that’s where Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services comes in and the work I do as a Metadata Technician.

As the Metadata Technician at our Little Falls, NJ studio, I wear many hats. I start the inbound process for new boxes by taking a lid lift photo of them with our overhead camera. Since it is best practice to always make sure any work that goes into the digitization and preservation process is reversible, having these reference photos can be very handy to ensure that the box maintains its original integrity and assets are returned in the order in which they came once the work is completed. These photos can also help document any noticeable issues in the way the assets were packed or received.

Next, I scan each box into the database and go through them to get a feel for what type of assets we will be handling. As the first point of quality control (QC), I am vigilant about spotting anything that looks damaged or may be experiencing signs of decay and is in need of triage. If the client has used any kind of paper or storage containers that pose the risk of exposing their assets to mold or acids, I rehouse them into archival-approved sleeves, bags, or folders. I remove any staples, paperclips, or other metal fasteners and replace them with plastic clips. This not only avoids or prevents further staining and deterioration from rust to the asset, but it also makes it easier for our photographer to capture quality images of each page. Any signs of damage or rehousing efforts are noted in the condition field of the metadata.

I organize assets into folders and/or sleeves that maintain the integrity of how they were originally grouped. For clients who specify that they are not concerned with receiving the assets in the order in which they were packed, I organize everything in the box by similar asset types to make the capture process flow more efficiently. The folders/sleeves are given unique barcode labels and are scanned into the database. I enter manual capture counts and any identifying information, such as dates, names, and dimensions into the database or proper metadata fields - much like I did when creating and maintaining the school video library. Boxes are carefully labeled so anyone handling them can see their unique identifier numbers, asset types, and stage of completion. They are stored overnight on shelves in our secure vault with signage that specifies the client name and what phase of the workflow has already been done and still needs to be completed.

After the content of a box has been fully captured and edited in post production, I begin the QC process. I ingest the images into our database. I then compare the physical assets to their digital surrogates, paying close attention to make sure the shot counts match and that everything meets the high standard of quality that the client expects and deserves. On the rare occasion that a shot is missing or is in some way defective or of subpar caliber, I mark it in a QC log and give the original asset to our photographer with detailed notes for reshooting. Once all of the assets have met the quality control standards, a final photo of the box is taken from our overhead camera station. The box is then outbounded and spends the rest of its time in our secure, temperature-controlled vault until it is shipped back to the customer or returned to the client’s private Iron Mountain storage space.

One of the most critical learnings in my role thus far as a Metadata Technician, is the importance of straightforward and continuous communication with the customer. It is vital to discern what information is a priority to the customer. This helps strike a balance between not having enough, and wasting precious time on too much metadata. I would also advise everyone - not just our customers - to take a look at how they store their own valuables and priceless keepsakes. In the long run, the sleeves that hold baseball cards or comic books, plastic bags that house important documents, or paper used for photo albums or scrapbooking may do more to damage these assets than preserve them.

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I’ve been at Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services a short time and have already had the privilege of working with a diverse mix of content, ranging from old legal manuscripts from the 1860s to signed rock concert posters from the 1960s. All of us at Media and Archive Services understand what a great responsibility managing digital assets and their metadata is and take pride in knowing that we each have a hand in ensuring that these assets will be secure, available and able to be reused for generations to come.

We really have the best DAM jobs. (Come on, you were waiting for it.)

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