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Asset Management | Viewpoint

Digital Visual Asset Management Beyond the Library

DAM: Academics can now curate and maintain image collections that will complement their institution’s digital assets.

Visual imagery is inundating us: Everyone, it seems, has at least a mobile phone with a camera. The photos don’t stay on the phones of course, but flood out on the Internet through e-mail or social media and end up in photo archiving applications like iPhoto or Picassa, or in Web-based photo archives like Flickr. Images are becoming as common as text-based artifacts, yet in academia the expertise and systems to organize visual images into properly managed asset collections have been limited to a few people in a few departments. And that can mean that potentially valuable visual digital assets are at risk.

It’s not merely the location of image collections or who “owns” them that can put the future of these assets in question. Metadata and procedures for maintaining collections can help ensure their ongoing curation and enable sharing both now and far into the future—whereas a lack of an asset management strategy could eventually render them inaccessible.

Individuals and groups on campus need to be able to maintain their own image collections in ways that both protect their digital visual assets and benefit the institution as a whole. If every person or department on campus is using an idiosyncratic approach to maintaining their own image collection, it’s hard to share images and may be unlikely that the assets will be maintained over time. But individuals and groups should be able to manage their own collections in a manner that reflects the institutional asset management strategy.

Will digital asset management (DAM) systems become more widely available and the interfaces made simple enough so that digital visual image collections can be developed and maintained by individuals or groups outside of the library or a media department? Who will support the efforts of individuals to curate local image collections that could be of enormous academic value to their institutions? And how can institutions promote the integration of collections and sharing of resources?

DAM for the Many

Even within the world of the library, metadata schema for digital visual images are not well established (unlike the cataloging for books or journals, where an ISBN or ISSN number can consistently guide one to a given published work). A few commercial solutions have appeared and are in use at higher education institutions—products such as Luna Inscribe ( and EmbARK ( Non-profit organizations have also produced systems that libraries use, such as OCLC’s CONTENTdm application ( or James Madison University’s Madison Digital Image Database ( But these systems are built for specialists and so have not often been extended to non-expert faculty, researchers, or students who need to organize their own collections.

The non-profit group that produced the digital image library ARTstor ( recognized the need for a non-expert DAM solution on college and university campuses. During the past three-plus years, ARTstor developed a derivative non-profit service called SharedShelf ( that aims to address the emerging—though some would say increasingly urgent—need institutions have to offer a simple, affordable way for academics to manage their own visual assets. The result is an enterprise solution with a Web-based user interface designed for the DAM non-expert.

Reaching for the Highest SharedShelf

What are the key attributes of a highly useful non-expert DAM system? We asked James Shulman, president of ARTstor, why he thinks SharedShelf will succeed: “Part of it is that the time is right. Building a system like this—a cloud-based system—when the Web services environment has developed so much, is the right timing. We can call upon existing authority files and draw upon all the lessons learned from building shared services in a Web 2.0 world.”

At Colby College, Director of Libraries Clem Guthro points out that SharedShelf is inherently flexible when it comes to metadata: “SharedShelf has a built-in metadata scheme (VRA Core 4.0)… The system also has the flexibility to allow you to develop your own metadata schema for an individual project—for example, if you had biological images and wanted to use the Darwin Core metadata schema you could do that, or you could choose to devise one completely on your own.”

Megan Battey, visual resources curator at Middlebury College, notes how SharedSelf and ARTstor can be easily integrated: “With SharedShelf, students and faculty can access ARTstor images plus our local [SharedShelf] images seamlessly through one interface. It’s also an ideal way to share images beyond our institution with the scholarly community at large.”

The easy availability of visual imagery, especially once visual asset management tools have been extended to non-experts, could add new dimensions to just about any learning practice. An easy-to-use DAM system can open up access to valuable—and potentially otherwise lost—resources that benefit the entire institution and support scholarship across the disciplines.

About the Authors

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: E-mail: [email protected]

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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