It’s been a week packed with info sessions, as last week not only brought together moving image archivists from all over North America at the AMIA conference, but also featured a smaller scale workshop in the Metropolitan New York Area. 55 archivists from various domains gathered at NYU for the NY Archivist’s Round Table on Digital Asset Management. A topic that’s not merely talk of the town, but an issue that every institution actively has to find its way around with these days. Here at WITNESS we have day-to-day discussions on how to exactly fit each piece of incoming or outgoing information in the data puzzle of digital extraction and cataloging, so it was more than helpful to take a look at the struggles and solutions neighboring institutions came up against.

NYU's Kimmel Center's wonderful view on Washington Park.

Managing your institution’s resources through digital assets is what it’s all about, reminded us Leala Abbott, who opened with a brief introduction on where to start if you want to implement a D.A.M. system. Her golden rules were: standardize your metadata, do not home build and always, always, always think of the end user you’re setting it all up for. Rules that seem very logical, but can get lost in the process of arguing about file naming discussions and the likes.

Next up was Einar Brendalen from the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, who gave us and insight in the system the MET implemented for managing their vast photo collection and sent shivers down our little film archivist’s spines when on a side note he mentioned they once destroyed all their nitrate negatives for safety purposes. That hurt. But nonetheless they seem to have driven this mastodon project home, at least, as they are hoping and expecting, for the next 7 or 8 years – an expectation frame that’s always challenging, as we’re never sure how long each separate digital technology will last.


Up next was Suny Yoon, coordinator of CUNY’s Digital Resources, who talked about the background of Institutional Repositories, online repositories for collecting, preserving and making accessible a collection of a specific institution. In comparison to other web applications, the I.R. will be more focused on taking care of its metadata, the content usually is a product of academic research and has a focus on preservation. Her division of the two reminded me somewhat of the YouTube/WITNESS Hub division. Where the first is a general repository where video’s get deleted as easily as they are deposited, the second is becoming a specific repository for all video’s Human Rights related, making an effort to bring in as much background information as possible, offering security for those who post video’s and showing a long-term commitment to keep access to this content possible.

Sunny Yoon's Talk
Sunny Yoon's Talk

The talk concluding the day was most appealing to us, as the situation Jonathan Marmor and David Rice from from Channel13/WNET came to describe is most akin to WITNESS’s smaller scale production/archive environment. You can read more on this topic in Grace’s post on the AMIA conference, as their lecture was given there a couple of days later as well. Jonathan came up with some beautiful allegories, such as when he first came to the job with a massive daily output and backlog to archive, he felt like having to archive “water
drops at the foot of a waterfall.” David stepped in for designing an automation process, based on systems that parse the information that’s beheld in the video stream. He has an extraordinary mind and it’s a pleasure to see him scoop out little series of numbers out of a big pile of what seems like digital gibberish, and making it have some sense.

All in all, we enjoyed an thorough overview of how the challenge of bringing in these Digital Asset Management systems leads every institution to finding its own solution and work flow. The time and financial investment needed for these systems are significant, but they do open a door towards better access from both a front and back end stand point. That together with the stimulation of the AMIA conference gives a lot more framework to the work we’re doing in our vaults, and it’s been good to see that there’s a community of people out their who are all looking for their own solutions but that in the process are not afraid to reach out and share their experiences.

– erwin v.

Your loyal WITNESS Archive intern and coordinator.
Some of your humble WITNESS archive servants.

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