Adam Hess


Digital Asset Manager

With the understanding that digital asset management is completely organic and needs to be able to grow in a natural progression, Hess has been able to find success with many types of DAM systems in his career.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I started as a DAM professional in graduate school, during a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts program at Louisiana State University (LSU). For three years, I digitized oversized materials such as maps, posters and fine art prints, for Hill Memorial Library Special Collections and the main library, Middleton, as well as the Cartographic Information Center within the Department of Geography and Anthropology. What started as a simple technician job grew into a full DAM position, as I was generating, cataloging, and providing access to these digitized collections.

When I graduated I was contacted by the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Studies at LSU to manage a grant funded project to digitize a collection of 35,000 color transparencies of the Gulf of Mexico ocean floor. The project took roughly 9 months, and was a great chance to work on a single project and see it to completion. When the grant ended, I was still at LSU teaching art and was contracted by the Special Collections library to continue to lend my expertise to digital projects. As a part time job, I was also working for Baton Rouge Public Radio, WRKF, where I was a weekend board operator and was digitizing and archiving their audio for a few years.

For the last two years I was the Digital Asset Manager at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. While the institution was not new to DAM, they had not had a person managing their DAMS. Therefore, I had a lot of work ahead of me in regard to bringing more users online, as well as creating smarter workflows and efficiencies. The first task was to design and implement a standardized metadata schema, which was followed by a massive reorganization of the assets. By the time I left, we had more users and departments online than ever before, including a few “departmental content managers” that had been trained to manage their own assets with little oversight.

Currently I am back in academia as the Digital Resources Librarian at Arcadia University. Arcadia, like many institutions, has an institutional digital repository containing the scholarship of their community. The repository was launched just a year ago and it is in the initial phase of growing its collections. My goal is to centralize all scholarship done at the university, and hold as much of this research in our open access repository. Along with building our collections, I am educating the faculty and students about open access, author’s rights and copyright, and new opportunities in scholarly publishing. The goal is to launch a Center for Scholarly Communication within the year.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

Typically, I like to describe digital asset management as the collecting, storing, searching and retrieving of digital assets, such as images or scholarly articles. I liken it to most information jobs – we are storing and preserving items for future access and dissemination.

Like most in our profession, I tend to say that I manage a database of images or digital objects. Since I have managed many types of databases, I usually just say, “I am an information professional and database administrator.” It sounds more important when you say “information professional” – at least that is what I tell myself. Though we do so much more, most understand and even use a database of some kind, so I like to use an analogy that is practical to everyone’s daily lives.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

As cliché as it is, I learned DAM on the job. In fact, for the first few years of working in the Special Collections library at LSU, I had no idea that what I was doing was digital asset management. As I am a photographer, I was already experienced in generating quality digital images. At the library, I started to build on those skills with cataloging, documenting workflows, and creating access points via digital libraries and other resources. By the time I finished my tenure at LSU Libraries, I had grown into a full digital asset manager.

I do not have any recommended sources other than the open Internet. There are heaps of articles, general guidelines, and communities that have immense value. There is no one resource for DAM. The other suggestion is to network and find fellow DAM-ers, and even a mentor in the field.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

There is no one, correct way for DAM; it is completely organic; it needs to be able to bend and fit within your organization, and needs to be able to grow in a natural progression. No one can just copy a DAM plan initiated elsewhere; it won’t translate. However, the best foot forward is to look at what others are doing—all others. Survey the field and learn some lessons others learned the hard way. Digest as much as you can, connect with as many as you can, and identify others in the trenches with you.

Above all, the seed for DAM—its initial implementation in any organization—needs to be planted by the organization’s upper management. These people need to be fully educated and vested so they are not asking, “how has DAM improved productivity?”; but rather they are asking, “what more do you need for DAM to continue to make an impact here?” Too often the “yearly review” with the CEO is usually another round of educating and advocating for DAM, and not updates on the impact DAM has had on the institution.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

I’d be teaching photography. Photography is my first love, and it laid a solid foundation for my career with DAM. When I started my MFA program, I was planning on teaching art; but that all changed when I began building experience in the libraries. That, or opening a coffee bar, because I can never have enough coffee! Oh, or selling hotdogs at baseball games—just seems like fun.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Educating and advocating for DAM with upper management. There can sometimes be a disconnect between upper management and DAM. In most institutions, upper management does not utilize the DAMS, though they are the one’s with the decision-making power. Therefore, it is vital that these decision makers fully understand DAM and all it’s pros and cons, how DAM will function within their institution, and what the missions and goals are. Upper management needs to be a key stakeholder, and that is a huge challenge.

The other biggest challenge is documentation and policy development. When working in a digital environment, there can be resistance to taking the time to write down all the details of workflows and other solutions. This is crucial for standardization and evaluation of these solutions. Above all, developing a DAM policy document is essential to framing any DAM initiative. The “why are we doing this?” mission statement needs to be developed and adopted by all key stakeholders, as well as concrete goals that everyone is working towards together.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

Total open source DAM solutions, and a wave of agreed-upon standards. Right now there are just way too many DAM software and hardware solutions, and not one of them does the same exact thing. There are very sophisticated “enterprise-level” solutions that are almost too complicated for daily DAM activities. These systems are trying to do too many things, watering down the essential functions like the search and retrieval of assets. The lower-tier, open-source solutions are great. They are simple to use, easy to adapt to address specific needs, and they come with a community of users interested in one thing—advancing the solution and making it better for all. I see these open source solutions winning out over expensive, enterprise-level DAM software as more and more information professionals are looking to solutions they can adapt to their environment and not fight with a vendor about a certain function or place an “engineering request.” (ugh!)

I also see a DAM world with better standardization. Metadata schemas alone vary greatly, yet we would all love to be interoperable with all systems. Of course there is no one schema that will rule them all, but the DAM community can come together and make a few sweeping agreements about IPTC, Dublin Core, VRA Core, etc., that will benefit everyone.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

Policy building and metadata schema creation were the two areas I would say I made a few missteps. Developing an official DAM policy was very important to me early on but it failed to gain any traction with upper management for the most part. Instead of championing the cause, I regressed and decided it was not as important as I thought it was. I was wrong—a proper DAM Policy is vital. In fact, I would say a DAM policy needs to come before investigating software solutions.

Metadata schema creation was not so much a misstep as it was a longer process than it needed to be. I tend to overthink and over prepare, so my initial metadata schema at the Guggenheim was over 30 fields. After a few months of evaluation, I realized the schema only needed to be about 12 fields, and we could build on from there. In the end, I wish I had started off with a few fields first, as it felt like it took a long time to get to where we needed to be.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

The biggest success would be bringing the entire Education department at the Guggenheim “online” to the DAMS. Before I started working with the department, almost all of their assets were on local and networked file shares. This meant loads of emails, copying of assets, and lost images in the shuffle. Working with the department, I reorganized all their content in the DAMS, and had them develop their own controlled vocabulary to use with metadata application. The final piece was training a group of 10-12 departmental content managers who are now fluent in using the DAMS to load and organization assets, as well as apply metadata. This department is now essentially serving themselves, with some oversight for larger projects. The department is still working on their legacy collections, which are still on networked file shares, but all new content is now being loaded to the DAMS directly.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I want to learn more about the technical side of DAM—server management, database construction and programming, software development, and systems integration. I have a solid foundation in the management side of DAM but I lack a deep understanding of the technical framework we all work in. Like any professional, I want to know everything I can about the tools I use daily.


This interview originally appeared on DAM Guru on Mon, 04 Aug 2014. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.

Share this Article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *