Sarah Saunders


As both an author and Director of DAM, Saunders makes sure things are done right when it comes to her digital asset management systems.

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

I have worked for a large number of clients over fifteen years, including not-for-profits, corporate companies and museums. My main focus now is on museums; but I can help any kind of company. I am a specialist in still images and their management, including data workflow, retrieval and embedded metadata. Recent clients include BBC Worldwide, Deutsche Bank, National Galleries of Ireland, Historic Royal Palaces and The Art Fund.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

It’s about organising your images, videos, and data so they can be found again. Many people don’t know what DAM is but they do know they can’t find anything!

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

On the job. Bitter experience. All my clients learn from the others. I was a photographer to start and had to organise my own material. I think it’s the attitude you start with that counts. In my field, the photographic knowledge is very important – too many IT people who organise DAM systems have too little knowledge and experience about image technology. That applies also to metadata. I have learned a lot being a member of the IPTC Photo Metadata Working Group, and from working with my colleague associates  who specialise in digital imaging technology, scripting, keywording and vocabulary management.

For information on digital imaging and metadata see which contains our material on metadata and digital imaging. See also the IPTC/CEPIC Metadata Handbook which I authored, downloadable from My website and blog holds material on a number of other DAM related issues.

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

The most important thing is to have an awareness of the skills you need to buy in to help you make good decisions about your DAM system. Some of those bought in skills will help you plan the enormous amount of work that generally needs doing before you upload your material to a new DAM system. It makes sense to use the experience of people who have been through this process, and to buy in expertise in the relevant image or video technologies, data management and retrieval.

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

Trying to run a picture library—which I have done in the past—and getting frustrated at the amount of meetings and office politics you have to deal with.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Greatest challenge is getting organisations to deal holistically with images and data, when they are often set up in silos. Create once and use many times is my motto, but it is not often possible. If a client presents me with a box of old negatives and some filing cabinets of transparencies I am happy. Then we can get things right from the start. Most clients have entrenched systems that work against coordination and productivity. But dealing with that is the fun of the job too.

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

In five years, the workflows will be much more automated, and in some respects probably too much so. Retrieval will probably need refining by then as some of the data mining activities bring too many non relevant results. There will be much more connection to the Internet via linked data, and to authoritative—we hope!—sources of information online, including controlled vocabularies.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

My biggest mistake, meaning the one I learnt the most from, was in underestimating the importance of client side project management, and allowing project drift as a result. I structure projects more tightly since then, and try to always stay ahead of my client.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Probably Historic Royal Palaces. We were able to set up data structures and a DAM system from scratch. There was an enormous amount of legacy data and image work to do, and everyone was working against other pressures. The new image library site is soon to launch and it will be a great achievement for everyone involved.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

More about the underlying technology. I am an imaging professional and work with IT people to assess that part of a DAM offering; but it would be good to understand more about the IT aspects.

What do you most enjoy about working with DAM?

I like working with a team of people to get the best from the resources they have. My work involves both consultancy and training, and it is very satisfying to pass to clients the skills they need to move forward and help them assess where to outsource services and what to do in house. The reality of DAM is pretty daunting for clients. No one who has not been through it can grasp the amount of work to do. So one of the roles I enjoy is project management—breaking the tasks down to manageable proportions and encouraging the clients to keep going.

What aspect of DAM are you most passionate about?

Aside from the project management aspects which I’ve mentioned, my big thing at the moment is the need for attribution of images shown online.  As a photographer, I care deeply about creator copyright, but it goes further than that. Many museums have images on their sites which can be control-click downloaded but there is no attribution or informative metadata embedded. This is perfectly possible, and the museums who are pioneering making their images available to the public, like Rijks Museum, National Gallery of Art Washington and British Museum Picture Library, do have embedded metadata. This can be used by educators and the public in practical ways. It makes sense of the images and preserves provenance.

See my blogs on the issue:

What do you most fear about the future of DAM?

That in the effort to process large amounts of material, the process of editing and selection will be forgotten, so good material will be hidden. I’m hopeful however that user behavious will be a means to bring interesting quality material to the fore.

This interview originally appeared on DAM Guru on Mon, 02 Jun 2014. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.

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