Throughout the year, SAASC will be running an ongoing series of blog posts that provide a brief glimpse into our lives as students and professionals. We’ll be writing about our classes, field experience internships, Pitt Partners Placements, job searches, and much, much more. Check back weekly for new insights into the life of a student in the APRM track at Pitt! 

In this post, you’ll see a glimpse into the life of Mary McMahon, SAASC’s business manager, member of the Pitt MLIS, Archives, Preservation, and Records Management Class of 2013, and Pittsburgh Partners Program participant.

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Entering the DAM World

During the first week of class, I started my Partners Placement with the University Marketing Communications (UMC) at the University of Pittsburgh. Although I had been told a brief description of the project I’d be taking on this year during my interview, all I really knew was that it involved determining a way for the department to better find and access the digital photographs they use for the many publications and websites UMC produces… I was about to enter a whole new world.

If you’re inquisitive enough (or bored enough), you may have seen the little blurb in the Officers section of this page, and thought—Mary was an Arts Management major, surely she knows a little bit about marketing. That would be a fair assumption. I knew enough to realize how important the assets of a marketing department are, and to know that they’re not worth much if you can’t get to them. That’s where my experience at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Dauphin County Library System and my education here at Pitt enter the picture.

The term “Digital Asset Management” (DAM) was new to me, but the goals of a DAM system (DAMS) weren’t. It’s one part collection management, one part access system, and in many cases another part e-commerce. The DAM world has players that emphasize these aspects differently; they also handle certain types of media better than others. For UMC, the goal was to find a system that can handle multiple users and different user types, that focuses on image handling, while still managing video and document files, and it needed to be user-friendly.

To begin our project of finding and implementing a DAM for UMC, Carley (see Officers page) and I worked with a rudimentary FileMaker Pro database that was meant for the very short term. Through our time spent in this database, we learned what the department wants, and what we require from the preservation and metadata creation end. We took our experience with the pilot database and conversations with other members of our team to our product research phase of the project. In this phase we took a list of over 60 open source and proprietary DAMS, and narrowed our list down to 14. This was a crash course in industry terminology and adspeak.

Our courses echoed and added to the work we were (and are) doing at UMC. We have much greater understanding of metadata than we did only a few months ago—to the point where we feel comfortable explaining the term and concept to various constituents. The more we searched and narrowed our vendors, the more discussions we had regarding features, functionalities, and the realities of working in the DAM world. We debated open source vs proprietary solutions, installed vs hosted, and determined essential properties along with those that would merely be nice to have. 

 Throughout this project, I’ve become enthralled by thesauri and controlled vocabularies, but have questioned authority control that comes from outside the user’s environment. Of course, the next challenge in that realm is how to best serve users now along with the users of the future. Most significantly, I’ve looked at this project as one of digital preservation, of learning the record keeping systems of today, in order to ensure informed archival actions tomorrow


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