Emily Kolvitz

Digital Asset Manager

Having experience managing over 4 million digital assets in a single project, Kolvitz has the understanding and knowledge to drive all DAM projects toward successful outcomes.

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

I have worked as a digital projects archivist at the Oklahoma History Center in the Research division, where I helped manage a DAM project involving over four million assets.  In that project, all of Oklahoma’s historic newspapers from the 1840s to the 1920s were digitized, indexed, cataloged, and made available online at the Gateway to Oklahoma History website.  It was an enormous project and a great experience in organizing, sorting and grooming assets for production outside of a formal database in a shared network drive environment, surrounded by other information professionals.

In my current role, I am a DAM professional at the JCPenney corporate headquarters, where I support marketing production in a works-in-progress DAM environment.  Coming from an archivist’s perspective, managing assets in this environment can be chaotic at times, but the underlying theory that is present in LAM institutions can also apply in the corporate environment.

In my role I work not only as a DAM SME but as a workflow automation specialist.  I also advocate for better information management and better knowledge management practices by sharing information, advocating for it, communicating the need for it, and extensively documenting any workflows and any information pertaining to our DAM.  Problem-solving and building are two of the most satisfying parts of my job.

The hardest part of my job is navigating through the complexities of a corporate environment where the culture sometimes discourages knowledge sharing unless it is on a need-to-know basis.  Mostly I pretend I don’t know about that.  Ask for forgiveness right?

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I generally keep it very simple and tell people that I help manage an image database or library for photography assets.  People’s attention spans are short, so I try to be succinct in this arena, but I guess that’s kind of a boring way to describe it, isn’t it?  If pressed, I will tell them that it is about getting the right assets to the right people at the right time, and protecting the integrity of the digital files.  Of course, DAM is a novel, not two sentences.  It’s kind of like trying to summarize the Game of Thrones novels into two sentences.  Well–it’s kind of about dragons and Westeros.  Mostly it’s about the quest for power, wine-drinking, and revenge.    Now you have people’s attention, which brings me to another point.  Make it exciting for them–not everyone shares your passion for description, organization or workflow automation.  Some people even find it off-putting.  Even when you are telling people about what you do for a living you are advocating for your DAM.    Please don’t mumble, “Well I um, apply metadata and organize things and automate stuff” in a monotone voice when you introduce yourself to a group of people who know nothing of DAM.

DAM is a battleground for the single point of truth, of combative laggards who hate change and make you want to drink wine at the end of day, rogue assets out of place, and sometimes victorious cheering when you take revenge on those rogue assets by cataloging the hell out of them. DAM can be about the quest for power, wine-drinking, and revenge too.   It can also, at times, all come together in the way that you choreographed it, but most of the time it’s much more exciting than that.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

Learning DAM has been a combination of self-education, LIS coursework, mentorship, and on the job immersion.  It’s interesting that we all take different paths into DAM and have such varied backgrounds.  Some people have been doing DAM for years and they don’t even know it!  It’s no secret I am a fan of sharing– I owe a lot of my DAM education to online, open, and freely available resources.  Before I even started graduate school, a good friend, Adam Hess, who has worked as a DAM professional at Yale and also the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum recommended DAM Survival Guide to me.  I had a mentor before I even realized it, and I think that is so crucial that we share our knowledge with others and help guide people when they enter into the world of DAM.

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

No one has all the answers, and there are multiple ways of accomplishing the same task.  Good governance rules need to be established for your DAM, but sometimes work and building the DAM is happening in tandem with the establishment of procedures and policies.  Be prepared to climb a mountain for years, not sprint to the top of a hill.

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

Law librarianship, corporate archives, art museum archives, or information management consulting.

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

My vision for DAM is that the business rules that govern the DAM will always inform the logic that is used to construct workflows, control permissions, and reign in chaos.  There are unique opportunities for DAM search sophistication to improve, especially in terms of semantics, Did you mean? suggestions/spell-checking, as well as autocompleting search.    If DAM is there to support getting the right assets to the right people at the right time, then I want to have multiple ways to discover built into the UI–navigational, faceted, federated, browsing, suggestions based on popularity or rating to name a few.  Maybe the future of DAM utilizes image mining techniques to populate description or show like-assets.  Maybe future DAMs mine their own analytics data to make suggestions to users of good candidates for re-purposing (for example, non-selects that have been abandoned by art directors, never to see the light of day.)

Ultimately, my vision for DAM is that it becomes more elastic in what it can do, more clean-cut in it’s appearance, and more data-driven in regards to ROI, use, and reuse statistics.  Basically a DAM that calculates ROI for you, looks clean like Google Docs, and leverages third-party open source tools for the betterment of the users, the industry, and the business it is supporting.

I think of current-state DAM as a bucket–a very sophisticated bucket, but the content is what we are all interested in, not the container.  People will move to the technology with the least amount of barriers to access and the greatest return on investment.  A shift in the way we think about the technologies surrounding DAM, or even the technologies surrounding a very simple problem can often open up new solutions that were not apparent previously.  I’ve heard people say things like “In the future, maybe assets will describe themselves and we will just be around for a human qc spot check or where a subjective decision is required,”  but that’s not so far-fetched.  If the data used to catalog the assets has already been entered into a disparate system before the asset was created, then you have a situation in which assets can “catalog themselves” by linking together metadata fields from the original database and the image repository through an automation tool or script.

There’s a wealth of data that can be used to populate metadata fields for images, especially in marketing production environments where extensive planning has gone into the front end of creating the asset which can then be used to describe it, and from there, an even richer description can be appended to the asset by a human cataloger.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

In the past, I approached DAM advocacy in the wrong way.  I thought an essay on the need for DAM and a policy could help enact change, but none of that matters if you can’t tie it to immediate business needs.  People want to know how it affects them now and specifically what problems it helps solve in the weeds.  That has been a hard lesson to learn, but so important.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Having upper management buy-in and a strong, supportive direct supervisor, both of which allowed me to have enough freedom to re-engineer processes and help grow our DAM.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I’d like get really good at a specific programming language to help with workflow automation, but I know that’s kind of a full-time undertaking to get really good at one.  I’d also like to learn more about system integrations with DAMs, not only how systems can communicate better, but about good governance rules for maintaining authenticity and integrity of assets when they leave the DAM.

This interview originally appeared on DAM Guru on Mon, 09 Jun 2014. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.

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