Helen Hockx-Yu is Program Manager, Digital Product Access and Dissemination in the Office of Information Technologies for University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA


Digital media are frequently produced and widely used at the University of Notre Dame (UND) to support education and research, and to document campus activities and athletic competitions. UND’s media products range from photographs and simple sound or video capture to sophisticated footage appropriate for national broadcasts. UND’s video assets are presently estimated to measure ~2PB.

As part of a project aimed at developing a common solution for managing Notre Dame’s video assets, we gathered and documented requirements from a wide range of stakeholders on campus and used these to assess Digital Asset Management (DAM) software.

DAM software vendors seem to have picked a very broad term for a relatively small software products segment. DAM systems (DAMs) in general have a much narrower focus than the collective name suggests. Different variants of DAMs are difficult to differentiate, making it hard for organisations to select the right product.

DAMs are a breed of software that manages specific types of digital information within a specific organisational context. DAMs are mostly intended for multimedia or rich media, such as photographs, videos, animation, graphics, logos, and marketing collateral. DAMs emerged in the private sector to support digital media creation, marketing, publishing, and brand management.



The work of digital asset management connects with that of information management professionals such as digital librarians, digital archivists and digital curators. Expertise from Libraries, Archives and Museums (LAMs) is considered relevant, transferrable and critical in structuring, describing and providing access to digital assets.  

The convergence between the DAM and LAM communities is evident in the advocacy by DAM consultants and practitioners on behalf of librarians, in the presence of LAM professionals at DAM conferences, as well as in dedicated courses on DAM as part of many Library and Information Science programmes.[1] Some businesses now employ “Digital Asset Librarians” and “Digital Archivists” to oversee digital assets and take overall responsibility for DAM systems.

DAM vendors have already been taking advantage of LAM practices. Terms originated in the LAM disciplines, such as catalogue, collection, gallery, metadata, index, library and archive, are frequently used and built into DAM software. However, these concepts may not necessarily carry the same meaning. For example, “DAM Library of Photo Archive” is the name of a category of DAM system [2] - it is hard to envisage what this might be, due to its mixed metaphoric reference to library and archive at the same time.

The different understanding of “Archive” (both as noun and verb, singular and plural), one of the key terminology differences discovered by the project, may be the underlying reason for creating the term “library of archive”.

The Society of American Archivists uses Laura Millar’s words to define “Archives” and makes a distinction between archives and Archives: the former refers to permanently valuable records and the latter to organisations dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group [3].

Archiving in DAMs is the process of identifying inactive files and moving them from one tier of the storage system to another, typically from smaller, more expensive spinning disk storage to cheaper tape storage of much larger capacity. Cost-effectiveness is the main driver for archiving, or more accurately “archiving to tape”. Despite being less responsive, it is possible to store more data on tapes, costing much less. So infrequently used files end up in the “(tape) archive”.

Archiving (with a capital A) for the long term comprises a series of activities including appraisal, accessioning, processing, preservation, and providing access (to archived records) and is not to be confused with “archiving to tape”.


While the corporate sector developed and practiced DAM, the field of digital preservation emerged and evolved, with strong involvement of LAMs and academics.  This development somehow escaped DAM vendors’ attention. DAMs are generally designed without functionality intended to ensure long-term accessibility of digital assets.

DAMs nevertheless contain inexplicit, overlapping functionalities, meant to support different use cases, which can also be found in a Digital Preservation System (DPS). Examples include:

  • Checksum: A checksum is a calculated string of fixed length associated with a piece of stored or transmitted digital data, as the result of running a hash algorithm. Comparing checksums before and after data transmission or at regular intervals is a common method to detect error and ensure bit-level data integrity in digital preservation systems. Checksums can be generated automatically or manually in many DAMs but the main use case seems to be de-duplicating files, rather than ensuring ongoing data integrity.[4]
  • Metadata: Many DAMs automatically extract rich (technical) metadata from the media files and are flexible in customisation of metadata fields. This allows for the implementation of any standard metadata schema but unlike a Digital Preservation System, DAMs do not provide any built-in templates of metadata schemas such as Encoded Archival Descriptor (EAD), MODS, Dublin Core.
  • File formats: File formats define the internal structure and encoding of digital objects. They become obsolete when we lose the ability to interpret and render them in human-accessible manner. File formats play an important role in digital preservation as they allow characterisation of digital assets and the assessment of digital preservation risks. DPSs make use of authoritative file format registries and include functionalities such as format identification and validation. They also support the workflows related to format migration. DAMs can interpret common media file types, provide access to, and use this information for sorting, browsing and searching digital assets. DAMs also support transcoding, which involves decoding and re-encoding already encoded audio or video files, changing frame size, bit-rate, codec, or audio signal. The main use case for transcoding is to turn large video files to codecs/formats most suitable for users’ or viewers’ bandwidth and devices, often using lossy compression - something considered unsuitable for archiving and preservation.


Single Source of Truth has been cited as a key benefit of DAMs. Regardless of whether this means storing every data element just once or for a DAM to act as a central repository, achieving it in a Higher Education Institution (HEI) environment is extremely challenging. This has to do with the diversity of our activities, with devolved or distributed organisational structures, but also with how software in general is designed and built.


When we consolidated campus stakeholders’ workflows, a full lifecycle picture of video assets emerged. Stakeholders typically perform one or more processes without getting involved in all lifecycle activities, or working together. This also applies to the software - there is multiple, and purpose-built software in use for almost each stage of the lifecycle. These tend to be self-contained, end-to-end systems, often based on very different technologies. Under the hood, however, each of these monolithic systems requires a core management function related to ingesting, storing, organising, describing, locating and controlling video assets, which is duplicated in all others. As a result, in order to get the tightly bundled specialisations that supports one or more of the surrounding (or peripheral) processes, organisations pay multiple times for the core functionalities and end up with separate systems.

In addition to providing the core management functionalities, any system that specialises in managing digital content, regardless if it is media, documents, web content, learning material, should also support the peripheral processes. Many DAMs are moving in the right direction. Some integrate non-linear editing tools, some support lecture capture and publication to Learning Management Systems or social networks, some offer hosting options and allow end-users to access digital media. The gap, however, seems to be archiving and preservation, the processes vital to the longevity of our digital assets.

Moving things to tape storage, even with regular monitoring and auditing, does not deal with the risk of technological obsolescence. How can DAMs be the truth of source without ensuring the ongoing availability of digital assets? If they are only destined to deal with the usable value of digital assets, how should they interact with archives and digital preservation systems which are considered sources of truth over time? What are the things that need to happen while digital assets are still in active use to meet the downstream archiving and preservation requirements?

Lifecycle support for digital assets is not an advocacy for DAMs or Digital Preservation Systems to include more functionalities or become bigger monolithic systems. This is a modular approach instead, whereby the system of solution can be decomposed into a number of components that can be mixed and matched in a variety of configurations. Storage and interface or presentation layers for example are components that are commonly accepted should be separated from other system logics. Perhaps the modulariation can go further and separate out the core assets management function, with self-sufficient modules that specialise in one or more peripheral processes, capable of connecting, interacting and exchanging resources with the core logic, and if required, with each other.

Authoritativeness or truth is embedded in the many types of digital assets possessed or stewarded by the University, both current and historical. For this reason, there is no single source of truth, just as no single system exists that will meet all requirements or manage all digital assets (as broadly defined by UND). We can however achieve aggregated truth, from many sources – in this context, “open architecture”, “open standards,” and “APIs” become highly relevant. It would be desirable to see more support in DAMs for archiving and preservation – an obvious thing to do is to extend the existing functionalities related to checksum, metadata and file formats, which drive the main digital preservation processes, or ideally archiving and preservation modules which can be plugged in and work on top of different digital assets and documents management systems, regardless of the formats. This would offer the best of the DAM and LAM worlds and provide true lifecycle support for digital assets.

[1] http://damdirectory.libguides.com/dameducation/liseducation-programs

[2] https://www.widen.com/blog/types-of-digital-asset-management-systems

[3] https://www2.archivists.org/about-archives

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