- Digital Asset SymposiumMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, April 25, 2008
The term digital asset management is one that has hovered on the periphery of the moving image archiving profession for over a decade. The term has generally been reserved for studios and other commercial entities that have had a greater financial incentive than their public sector counterparts to invest in the management of digital assets. As we continue to move into the twenty-first century, it is becoming increasingly apparent that digital assets are playing as vital a role as traditional physical assets in the success of any moving image archive. Digitization methods have become more affordable and prevalent, allowing archives to provide increased access to their collections. At the same time, born digital [End Page 86] moving images have continued to proliferate and work their way into the collections of many public sector archives. It is not uncommon to find archives budgeting for increased bandwidth and server space in addition to physical vault space. For these reasons, it is important for members of the archival community to share ideas and to discuss the challenges of managing digital assets throughout their entire life cycle. The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) Digital Asset Symposium was established for just such a purpose.
The 2008 Digital Asset Symposium allowed over one hundred members of the community to converge on New York’s Museum of Modern Art for a daylong session of case studies presented by an extremely varied group that ran the gamut from major media conglomerates to grassroots news organizations. Both the number of attendees and the variety of presenters are testament to the importance of digital asset management to the profession. Cochairs Linda Tadic from New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program and Tom Regal from NBC Universal organized the symposium into five presentations, split between two parts, one focusing on metadata and its prominent contribution to the life cycle of digital assets, and the other on the functional means of capturing, preserving, cataloging, and providing access to digital assets.
After a brief welcome, the audience was treated to a digital screening of Robert Bench-ley’s 1933 short film, Your Technocracy and Mine. In the film, humorist Benchley bluffs his way through a presentation on the importance of technology to society, concocting imaginary statistics and pointing to nonsensical charts to illustrate his point, or lack thereof. Opening the symposium with this film was appropriate on several levels. Not only did it give those in attendance a firsthand view of one of Universal’s digital assets, but it showed, in a humorous context, just how difficult it can be to present such information to an audience without the risk of becoming bogged down with technical jargon. I thought back to Benchley’s charts more than once during the presentations as we were shown images of labyrinthine flowcharts outlining the path that digital assets and their accompanying metadata take through the various organizations. Unlike Benchley, however, each presenter did a terrific job in justifying the need for such charts when constructing a digital asset management work flow.
Following the Benchley program, Peter Kaufman, president and CEO of Intelligent Television, provided a formal introduction to the symposium. Kaufman’s introduction focused on the concept of commons-based peer production and the ever-transforming modes of distribution available for digital moving images. Of particular interest was the notion that, due to the increase of legal peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and digital open education initiatives, today’s copyright laws may be unenforceable by the year 2010. The question then becomes: What role do moving image archives play in a society in which moving images are freely distributed and available for repurposing according to any given user’s needs? Initiatives such as the Internet Archive have successfully proven that it is possible to provide free and open access to archival moving image content that actively engages the user in the description and distribution process. Kaufman discussed several other enterprises, including NYPL Labs, the WGBH Sandbox, and Intelligent Television’s own Open Education Video Studio, which are actively engaged in researching the use of digital...