Getting Started with Digital Asset Management
DAM education materials used to be scarce. We had Peter Krogh’s now legendary DAM Book, but the book’s “Digital Asset Management for photographers” subtitle left a sizable portion of would-be DAM professionals feeling left out. (Even though they should have read the book anyway.) There were a few other books, but they were either a. also for specific audiences or b. were so old that one had to wonder if, by press time, DAM’s best practices were still yet to be invented.

Things have changed. 

There are now several more books of relevance to DAM professionals, we have accredited universities offering courses about or related to Digital Asset Management, we have an industry #LearnDAM initiative designed to help people more easily find and advertise quality DAM materials, and that’s not all.

Let’s take a look at some of the options available today for DAM education.

DAM Books

I think the best place to get started with DAM is by curling up with a good book on the subject. I don’t say this because I authored a DAM book; I authored a DAM book because I believe this to be true. It might be tempting to start out by reading some of the scores of free white papers available on the subject but don’t discount the more in-depth discussion a DAM book can offer. This is particularly important for someone just getting into the field.

Fortunately for the readers of the books I’m going to mention, there is very little overlap between content. But because each book was written from a very different perspective, you gain the same holistic value you might get by asking for parenting tips from a child psychologist, a teacher and a parent too.

DAM Survival Guide

I wrote DAM Survival Guide after having seen way too many people buy DAM software that was either wrong for them, poorly configured for needs they didn’t fully understand or was completely unnecessary in the first place. The problem I found was that people didn’t know what they needed to know. They didn’t know what was important and they didn’t know where they could turn to learn it all.

DAM Survival Guide is a 200-page “here’s what matters most” based entirely on my personal experience, having been involved with this industry since 1998. I cite no studies, nor did I conduct any special research for the book. DAM Survival Guide is what you’d hear from my mouth if we were to sit for a few hours and you asked me to tell you the story of Digital Asset Management.

The book’s protagonist is you, the reader. The antagonist is all the “Free Webinar!” and other misinformation you’re likely to stumble upon while you learn about DAM. Downloads, webinars and software demos might be free but your time has a value associated with it -- don’t waste it.

DAM Survival Guide is available from Amazon.

Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order out of Media Chaos

In contrast to my own methods, author Elizabeth Keathley approaches her book from a more researched, academic perspective. This is the DAM book to read if you want to know that what you’re reading is more than just someone’s personal opinion. Her topics are diverse and complete. Upon first seeing her table of contents, I was thrilled to know that important topics absent from my own book would be addressed elsewhere.

Ms. Keathley offers abridged audio recordings of her chapters available for free listening. You can also buy her book on Amazon.

The DAM Book

If you come from a photography background, Peter Krogh’s DAM Book should be your first read. But so much of what Krogh includes is pertinent to DAM in general, it’s a shame that some non-shutterbugs think this book is for someone else.

Whereas Elizabeth and I speak of DAM from altitude, Peter puts you right in front of the computer, helping you to make smarter decisions about the realities of file formats, metadata standards and tagging practices. And though this is particularly valuable for photographers, anyone involved with the planning of a DAM needs to know this stuff.

The DAM Book is available from Amazon.

The Librarian’s Skillbook

Here’s another wealth of useful content that might go unnoticed by those not looking for it. You’re not a librarian, so this certainly isn’t for you. Right? Actually, DAM is all about practices that are native to librarians and other information professionals. You might not be looking for a job in the Library Sciences industry but would it hurt you to know a thing or two about what a Library Science professional should know?

Co-authors Deborah Hunt and David Grossman are speaking to a specific audience here but they’re having a conversation that’s worth listening in on. It’s a quick 200-page weekend read that will have you returning to work on Monday with a whole new perspective of ways you can make DAM better.

The Librarian’s Skillbook is available from Amazon.

The Accidental Taxonomist

When I first saw this title from author Heather Hedden, I was confused by how anyone could possibly go on about the topic of taxonomy for almost 500 pages. This, of course, was because I was an idiot who really didn’t appreciate the depth of the topic until I started reading Hedden’s works.

I used to cite “misconfiguration” as being one the primary reasons for DAM system failures. Only later did I realize that at the root of most poorly configured DAM systems was a horrible taxonomy or metadata strategy. Bad organization strategy is not solved by DAM software, it is compounded by DAM software.

Though not specific to DAM software, this title will get you thinking about how a DAM system should be configured. If you’ve ever been frustrated by something as common as a poorly organized website, you already appreciate the value of a good taxonomy -- even if you don’t yet know it.

The Accidental Taxonomist is available on Amazon.

DAM Guru Program

This resource has really become a no-brainer for anyone involved with DAM. You join for free and, if you have questions about DAM, the program finds you a DAM mentor willing to help. Conversely, if you have DAM experience to offer, the program matches you with people who need your help. It’s all free and there are currently more than 450 members from around the world.

DAM Guru Program also enables its members to provide webinars on the topics they know, and it profiles a different member each week on its website. An ongoing job fair is available so that members can make their expertise known to employers, and it also provides a members-only LinkedIn group that enables the membership to discuss DAM topics without the “try our software!” intrusions so common in other LinkedIn DAM groups.

Collectively, these resources enable the DAM community to learn from itself, free from commercial influences.

DAM Guru Program was created by and is sponsored by Picturepark, but the company’s participation is in funding only -- no Picturepark sales operations are permitted in the program. The DAM Coalition website published an extensive three-part series about the program, entitled, “DAM Guru Program In-Depth.”

Learning Opportunities

University Programs and Certificates

When searching for university programs about DAM, I found that in most cases it would take less time to actually take a course than it would to learn about it online. The fact is -- and forgive me for saying so -- these schools simply don’t know how to build websites. So, rather than waste your life trying to sift through their disjointed HTML nonsense, I would recommend you take a brief look at each site to establish general interest and suitability with regard to your goals, and then use Google to find humans with whom you can speak about these programs.

Of note is the recently announced “UBC Award of Achievement in Digital Asset Management,” which comes from a partnership between The DAM Foundation and the University of British Columbia. According to the website, this program is geared toward professionals and it’s entirely online. That bodes well for those who need to learn about DAM without quitting their jobs.

#LearnDAM Initiative

Each Google search will result in exactly one page of links that matter -- the first page. Most people don’t venture past that first page when looking for information, so the websites that are best optimized for the search term used get the traffic. Unfortunately, well optimized websites are usually under the control of marketers, not educators.

The #LearnDAM initiative was launched to help DAM educators cut through this Page 1 of promotional messiness. The idea is that by adding “#LearnDAM” to materials that are truly about DAM education, those searching for true DAM educational materials can more easily find the content.

Unfortunately, some content producers who do offer quality DAM materials don’t use the tag. This gives a weighted advantage to those who do. #LearnDAM can be searched on Google or any other social network but the most diverse results are currently returned on Twitter.

White Papers and other Sponsored 'Stuff'

Whether a company is selling software or training or consulting or analysis or tradeshow admissions -- they’re all selling something. For this reason, I’m always skeptical about the “educational” materials offered by a business. And in virtually all cases, I’m not surprised by what I find. Most of it is pure garbage that’s designed to get your email address, not educate you.

It’s not that the content offered in these documents isn’t true -- in fact, most of it is. The problem is that it’s usually little more than regurgitated content they’ve pulled from one of the DAM books mentioned at the start of this article. Let’s face, when Brendi from Marketing is “super excited!” about her company’s “awesome!” new DAM white paper, and you find that Brendi has been involved with DAM since, like, last summer, you have to wonder.

What our industry needs is a neutral and qualified source that reads these papers and offers some unbiased evaluation of their content. In the meantime, you might want to point your browser to for one-stop white paper shopping that’s managed by the DAM News team. While there are currently no white paper reviews on the site, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen in the future. DAM News is exactly the sort of team I would like to see providing such reviews, so I will keep my hopes up.

Once you've been involved with DAM for a while, you’ll get to know the players to watch -- the people who really know something about DAM and who really do provide valuable content. When these people author documents, you’ll know you can trust what you read and that what you read comes from personal experience and not conventional wisdom.

Some content authors whose works you can always trust (in addition to the authors of the books mentioned at the start of this article) are David Riecks, John Horodyski and Irina Guseva.

Websites of Note

In addition to -- which you’ve already discovered -- there are a few websites to keep an eye on.

DAM News Properties

There is a small team of DAM writers in the UK that has taken the industry by storm and, in some cases, by the naughty bits. The DAM News team provides more than a news feed of what’s going on in the industry. They keep us abreast of what’s going on and they help to decode the marketing spin that can be so liberally applied to press releases these days.

Seeking to expand on their core service of no-nonsense news, the team has published a set of other websites that each provides a valued service to those learning about Digital Asset Management:

  • -- This site provides the industry’s only means for comparing DAM software using a consistent set of parameters. If specific features are important to you, or you just want to see what one solution offers over another, don’t miss this site.
  • – The DAM industry comprises many buzzwords and terms that are uniquely defined for DAM’s own purposes. This site provides a nicely presented searchable database of the lingo of Digital Asset Management and it provides useful associations between the terms. (Test: Do you know what it’s called when terms are presented in relation to one another? If not, read this term on the site.)
  • – The DAM News team’s latest offering is a white paper buffet that enables users to download as many white papers as they want, all for a single signup. As mentioned above, the papers included in the archive are not at this time rated nor recommended by the site. But I can’t imagine this ambitious team won’t address that sometime in the future.

Teaching a branding lesson to the marketing teams that so often find themselves on the business end of DAM News team content, these folks have built a brand for themselves that is both respected by the community and feared by those who produce more noise than value.

In addition to a nice repository of articles, includes a user forum that has more than 1,000 members. There is a wealth of experience in the forums, and the site’s proprietor, David Riecks, is one of DAM’s “good guys.”

Riecks is a professional photographer so the site is rich with photographer-focused content. But the site’s core focus is metadata, which is universally applicable to Digital Asset Management.

Title image by david vadala (Shutterstock)