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Digital Asset Management

Getting IT and Libraries on the Same DAM Page

Despite being a strategic priority for IT, digital asset management has been a slow process at Smith College. Here's how IT and the library are working together to meet their DAM goals.

IT-library collaboration

Like many liberal arts colleges, Smith College (MA) has found progress on digital asset management (DAM) infrastructure slow going. "We have been talking about it for almost eight years," said Thomas Laughner, director of educational technology services (ETS). DAM gained a higher profile four years ago when it was listed as one of eight priorities on an IT strategic plan. "That really got the ball rolling," he said.

That strategic plan noted some key goals:

  • Provide holistic and consistent approach to digital asset preservation across the college (Museum, Library, Sciences, etc.);
  • Make digital resources more accessible to faculty and students for integration into coursework;
  • Create alignment with students' expectations for quick access to information; and
  • Provide the opportunity for Smith students to experience the technologies that will be prominent in their chosen careers.

Yet although DAM was a key strategic priority for IT, the library had traditionally led the implementation of policies and infrastructure around digital asset creation and preservation. Recently executives in both organizations realized they would have to create new virtual teams to tackle issues involving funding, standards, workflow and governance.

Working Together

"We knew we needed a partnership between IT and the library," Laughner said. "We already have worked closely together. The director of libraries, Chris Loring, and I would meet once a month, yet it was a very hard relationship in terms of finding collaborative opportunities. We would put all our people together in a room and say, OK, now collaborate, and nothing came out of it."

In 2013, Loring reorganized the library in a way that made it easier to collaborate. He created a director of digital strategies and services position; added a new director of teaching, learning and research; and brought in a new director for the archives and special collections. "All of those people have a technology interest and background," Laughner said. "Since then, those lines of collaboration have become stronger."

Elisa Lanzi, the director of digital strategies and services, stressed that the need for a stronger partnership has increased with the importance of digital assets to the teaching and learning mission of the college. "As the teaching and learning tools and assets are now digital, faculty are working with more digital products in their teaching," she said. "We have this problem of not only creating [digital assets] in consistent ways so that they will be preserved for the long term, but also providing access to them in the short term in different venues across the college: in our learning management system, on the Web and in the library catalog."

Policies for Collaboration

To begin creating policies around digital assets, last year Smith created a virtual bridging organization called the Collaboration for Technology Enhanced Learning (CTEL).

"One of our accreditation reports a few years ago talked about our faculty needing pathways to services," Laughner explained. "We have so many services spread across the college that it is hard for faculty to find out what any of us is doing." CTEL brings together people from across campus working with faculty on technology issues, including copyright and digital asset management. Members from the Art Department's Imaging Center, ETS, the libraries and the Spatial Analysis Lab meet regularly to pool their expertise and evaluate emerging technologies. Laughner said they have also visited other colleges and private-sector enterprises to see what they are doing in regards to digital assets.

As the IT strategic plan states, Smith executives have to make decisions in areas such as rights and licensing, privacy, fair use, metadata standards, storage and dissemination of data. "It is important to develop a strategy that covers the complete continuum from creation to delivery: storing the digital objects and their related data; supporting on-line searches; enabling users to retrieve the appropriate version of a particular digital resource depending upon their interest and/or access level; keeping track of rights restrictions; and limiting access to verified users," the strategic plan notes.

"One thing we need to talk about is how to govern such a cross-campus collaboration," said Lanzi, who was previously director of Smith's Imaging Center, where she worked on building digital collections and tools for teaching and learning. "Although we have a collaborative urge, casual collaborations don't always get off the ground. You need some type of structure and buy-in from stakeholders on campus."

Putting the Technology in Place

One of the first decisions was choosing a technology platform. "We are right on the cusp of building our new digital repository for faculty and student creative content," Lanzi said. "We have evaluated platforms and have concluded that Fedora is the best of breed for our purposes. We also use ancillary tools like Omeka for creating exhibits in a digital humanities context," she said. "With Fedora we have the opportunity to be part of a broader community of like-minded colleges working on issues of DAM and preservation. Our consortial colleagues at UMass Amherst and Amherst College have already developed Fedora repositories. We'd like to leverage that experience within our Five Colleges consortium."

Although Smith is still working on DAM guidelines, it already has experience working with faculty on the collections they use in teaching. One faculty member in the Religion Department had a personal collection of stereographs showing scenes of religious practices in India, Lanzi recalled. "We worked with him to digitize that collection and he helped with inputting the metadata," she said. "As we build our institutional repository for faculty content, there is a vision to implement more self-service tools."

Lanzi sits on a Five College Digital Library Future Task Force that is studying the benefits of sharing local unique digital content and special collections. "We are looking at how we would get them to connect: putting everything in one system or developing another strategy where we open up our systems and put tools on top so users can experience them," she said.

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