Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When Archivists and Digital Asset Managers Collide: Tensions and Ways Forward

When Archivists and Digital Asset Managers Collide: Tensions and Ways Forward. Anthony Cocciolo. The American Archivist. Spring/Summer 2016. [PDF]
     The article looks at tensions in an organization between archivists and digital asset managers. Archivists maintain the inactive records (paper or electronic) of permanent value for an organization. A records manager’s role is to manage active records, and records with permanent value are transferred to the archives when they become inactive. Digital asset managers often see their role in  creating repositories of assets that can be easily and efficiently reused by staff. This accompanies the attitude that digital files will never become inactive.

This study is limited because it provides at a single instance that may not apply to other organizations that have both archivists and digital asset managers. It looks at tensions that can exist between archivists and digital asset managers which mostly come from digital asset managers and archivists not recognizing the different role each plays. 

For archives, the unit being managed is a record (“data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference"). In digital asset management, the unit being managed is an asset (a kind of record that individuals can readily reuse in future work products). Archivists are interested in the record not only for its content and aspects about the record itself, such as historical and social implications. Digital asset managers are more focused on the content and the legal rights to reuse, and are more like libraries in their approach.

One tension between the two groups is that if a file was deposited and permanently preserved in the DAM, there would be no reason to deposit it in the archives. Other tensions are
  1. Users, Files, and Where They Get Stored
  2. Differing Work Practices
  3. Approaches to Digital Preservation
  4. Communication
  5. Differing Approaches to Planning
The article states that archivists and digital asset manager differ in the view of preservation planning, fixity checking, formats accepted, and how to respond to file formats once they became obsolete. [Not all digital asset managers are as 'short term' as implied. cle]  However,  digital asset or content management systems are “not adequate for long-term digital preservation because [they include] no mechanisms for reliably assuring authenticity and intelligibility of digital documents for fifty years or longer.”   Also, another problem is that many things are called an “archives” which can be troubling for the archivists, who must contend with staff who believe that they are keeping archives and may view the DAM as yet another archives.

The article recommends that items deemed assets be deposited both in the DAM system and in the digital archives. In the digital archives, the asset will be grouped with other records of the same provenance and metadata will be attached to the file to make it more find-able. The archivists will document the activity of the institution for researchers. Since the purposes are not the same and the user groups do not overlap entirely, it is sensible that assets appear in both places. This is not wasteful because digital preservationists because multiple copies can increase object safety.  At a minimum, references to the assets in the DAM should be added to the archives intellectually if not physically. Asset management systems should not replace the need to create digital archives that document
institutional activity.

It is also essential that digital asset managers and archivists respect the different roles they play and not try to undermine each other. Each should focus on their own missions:
  • digital asset managers: creating a collection of digital assets for effective and efficient reuse by staff members. 
  • archivists: documenting institutional activity through records of permanent value in whatever format they may occur for use by staff and public researchers.

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