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Flattening Files: Harmonizing Content in the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System

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Smithsonian Institution
Other authors: 
Isabel Meyer, Gwynne Ryan, Crystal Sanchez
Presentation type: 
panel session
1 Oct Thursday
Start time: 
1 500
Grand Auditorium

In 2007, charged with managing digital content at the Smithsonian Institution’s (SI) nineteen museums and libraries worldwide, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) assumed responsibility for a four-unit pilot Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) and with building it into an enterprise-scale system. The system has gone through multiple application, database, and hardware upgrades and is now the Smithsonian’s enterprise digital repository serving the majority of museum, archival, and library units.
However, meeting the needs of digitally caring for a broad spectrum of collections materials is a process of continual discovery, evolution, and challenge. From the source code for video portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and earliest oral history audio of Native Americans at the National Anthropological Archives, to conservation documentation, digitized analog video, and born-digital video artwork components from artists such as Nam June Paik, the wide array of audiovisual collections materials at the world’s largest museum make use of a ‘one-DAMS-fits-all’ solution massively complex.
This panel brings together stakeholders and media collections managers from several Smithsonian units to discuss challenges, solutions, and practical workarounds. How does the Smithsonian’s singular DAMS deal with the complex needs of artworks vs archival collection materials, documentation vs. collections, art museums vs. history museums vs. archives vs. research outposts, preserved analog A/V content vs. born digital complex works. Flattening files means targeting various challenges with separate policies and solutions, but also standardizing and learning from each other to enact practical solutions to complex problems.
The SI’s DAMS Branch Manager Isabel Meyer will provide background on the practical politics, history, and need for centralized digital repository to service all Smithsonian units and some of the early measures put into place to build an effective solution. OCIO’s Video and Digital Preservation Specialist Crystal Sanchez will address workflows and policies that arise due to the ‘flat’ DAMS structure—both solved, and yet-unsolved. The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Media Archivist Walter Forsberg will speak on the tasks association with building and digitally caring for audiovisual collections at the SI’s newest museum and his work using the DAMS. Gwynne Ryan will talk to the work being done to target the different challenges inherent in both the audiovisual components of collection artworks and the audio and video based conservation documents including recorded artist interviews.