6 Steps to Cataloguing for DAM

April 11, 2017 mallindine

6 Steps to Cataloguing for DAM

Organising your data is part of the preparation for DAM. Remember the 80/20 rule? (Yes, it’s 80% preparation to 20% implementation time!)


It pays to think about your metadata in advance, so you know the software you choose will be up to the job. Some DAM systems have limits on the number of fields, or on the number of custom fields available for keywords. You need to make the software fit your data, not the other way around.


But creating a metadata schema is not a one-person job. Your users and interest groups will need to be consulted about the information they want associated with the image, and about the way they want to search.

What’s the process and who’s managing it?  If you’re importing data from a collections management system, are you clear about where the authority lies? Generally, ‘collections management’ is considered the authority, but what if the picture library researches and adds additional data? Should that data be fed back up the line, and who will check it? That needs discussing with colleagues, along with any technical requirements for API links between two systems.

How do your users search? For most users, the critical questions is – how do I find the images I need? Research among your user groups can help you understand what they are looking for and how they search. Your solution will depend on their needs, and the resources you have for keywording and captioning, as well as the way the software works. Some collections rely on free text search on words in the description, but this has many shortcomings, as it relies on descriptive terms, doesn’t retrieve synonyms and produces false results from data irrelevant to the search.

Consider keywording experts to help. Abstract concept keywords are interpretations of the image by human operators who should ideally understand the needs of their user groups.  Automated data and image analysis, while making huge progress, is not yet able to consistently infer human abstract concepts like sorrow or corruption or courage from objects in the image. The human eye is still required!

Use a thesaurus to enhance keywording? Use of an image library thesaurus produces links between terms which create pathways to images. The user can add any term or its synonym, singular or plural, to get a relevant result.  Professional keyworders use thesauri for keywording, but having the capability within your system means you have more control.

Explore other options if you’ve limited resources? For smaller collections with limited resources it is worth looking at commonly used broad categories which may be enough to retrieve images with a few well-chosen tags from an authority list.

Start with a pilot schema. There’s a lot to think about, but one of the key tasks before uploading images to DAM is to create a pilot schema off-line and start cataloguing.  How long does it take, and will you have the resources to populate the fields you have chosen? Have you thought about data formats and search methods?

Once you’ve played around with your data and consulted your stakeholders again, you will be ready to specify the metadata behaviour of your DAM. Then you can get going!

Sarah Saunders

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