As holders of the entire history of the United States navy, the US Naval Institute provides a sneak peek into some of the world’s most noteworthy current and historic events. Collecting 150+ years of photos, veteran interviews and other audio clips, the organization has amassed hundreds of thousands of physical assets in an on-site archive. In 2016, USNI began a project to digitize this archive of 200,000 (and growing) assets. A critical component of this project was finding a DAM solution that would make these assets more secure and discoverable.
We were thrilled when we got the opportunity to speak with Emily Hegranes, the Digital Archivist for USNI, and hear her insights and lessons learned around managing a historic archive in a DAM, executing a metadata strategy for thousands of assets, and ensuring the secure use of historic images.
To start us off, can you please let us know a bit about USNI and your role?
“The U.S. Naval Institute was founded in 1873 as an open, independent forum for naval professionals to discuss issues relating to the Navy and maritime services. USNI decided to publish their meeting minutes as a periodical titled Proceedings for greater dissemination of the information and issues discussed. Proceedings is still published as a current naval events magazine today, and USNI has added a variety of media to its publishing docket since its inception, including textbooks, biographies, oral histories and novels.
I work at USNI as a Digital Archivist. During USNI’s nearly 150-year history, the Institute has amassed a photographic collection of over half a million assets and is continuing to expand as more collections are accessioned by the Archive. My team’s goal is to digitize around 200,000 photographs, allowing for greater accessibility to the treasure trove we have at USNI.”
Do you have any experiences you can share about working with other DAMs in previous roles?
“I have used other digital asset management systems, and I will say that I do really enjoy using MediaValet because the usability factor is just so much higher than a lot of them. There are many DAMs, especially that archival institutions use, that sometimes put themselves in a corner, because they are so specialized. This can be challenging - especially because archives can have a wide variety of materials that might not fit into the specified categories that have already been created in some of these DAM programs. With MediaValet, the ability to create custom attributes and categories has been a huge win for us at USNI because our collection is so specialized. We can tailor the system to fit what our collection needs rather than tailor the collection to fit the system.
There's also the factor of being able to communicate with the MediaValet team. There are a lot of these programs where you buy the software, get it on to your systems and then you’re stuck with it, even when it doesn’t work, because you can’t afford the next version or another reason. It has been game changing to be able to speak to MediaValet on a regular basis. Just yesterday, I found a small issue, emailed the team, received feedback and had the problem addressed all by the end of the day. It’s been invaluable to be able to speak with MediaValet if we're having an issue and know that the platform is constantly being worked on and updated in a way that our team is continually able to benefit from.”
How are you using MediaValet today? What are the goals you’re trying to achieve?
“Our vision is to create a digital asset management system that our personnel could easily navigate and utilize. The main goal of this project is to add the complete digitization of 200,000 assets to the DAM, and we are well on the way to accomplishing that. Over 150,000 images have already been scanned and added into the system, and 100,000 of those have been enhanced with metadata.
Before MediaValet, we had no searchable database to quickly find photographs; all searching was analog, going through each individual photograph until the desired image was discovered. Now, we can find what we’re looking for by searching via category, keywords or attributes.”
What decisions did you make with your taxonomy to support these goals?
“We’ve set up our MediaValet categories to mimic our filing system in our physical archive. That way, if anybody wants to see the physical copy of a photograph, we know exactly where it is because our MediaValet digital folders match our physical ones.
In addition to that, we also have our subject categories, which are mirrored after the subject taxonomy of Library of Congress, but we've specified it for our needs in maritime and naval subjects that are a bit more specific.
Those are the two primary category structures we use to organize the system.”
Do you have any specific advice for setting up your taxonomy for an archive?
“If you’re digitizing an already existing collection, making sure the organizational systems mirror each other is very important. For example, our assets’ nine-digit number system corresponds to the filing system of our photo archive. If someone wants to see the analog copy of a digitized image, I can easily find that image for them.
Also, since we aren’t digitizing the entire collection in this first project, if we do decide to go back and choose more photographs, they can easily be added to the system. Be it a born-digital collection or a physical-to-digital collection, choosing an identification system for individual assets that has an organizational logic that makes sense to you, is key.”
Can you share more about your approach to keywording and how it has worked for you?
"One of the great things about MediaValet is that since everything is text searchable, we can rest easy knowing that we have room to take the time to decide on what type of keywords we want to use for any specific term, while keeping the asset discoverable. With that said, for most of our assets we have a guideline that we follow using custom attributes. For example, a ship that is from a foreign government will be labeled with the ship name, the date the ship was commissioned, the country it is from, and the class of the ship (if we have it).
We then use keywords to make each asset more discoverable because we know that not everybody is going to have the same terminology that we like to use and not everyone is going to have the breadth of knowledge on maritime jargon. So, we use keywords to try to make sure that we have enough terms that will be able to fit all kinds of different users.
MediaValet is very intuitive to begin with, our main priority is getting our archivists familiar with the taxonomy for our collections and military jargon. For our non-archival staff, we have created video tutorials, as well as a primer on how to search through the DAM to find the photographs desired for publications.”
Can you share some standout features and how you’re using them day-to-day?
“The Advanced Search feature is one of my favorites. When given a research request, being able to narrow down the options by if the term is used in the categories, in the keywords, or in one of the custom attributes makes my job that much easier.
Regarding specific features, however, the ability to create custom attributes has been extremely helpful for our workflow. One of the attributes USNI had added to the system was “Use in USNI Publications.” This allows us to know when and where we’ve used a photograph in the past, which helps those in publishing immensely.”
Can you share how you have set up your permission structure to enable the use of USNI's archive?
“Our internal staff can see everything, and to keep things simple, we have three different categories for our assets:
- Permissions required;
- Permissions not required; and
- Rights and permissions undetermined.
We have a person on our team that specifically does as much due diligence in copyright law. Their goal is to take all the assets that are labeled as “Rights and permissions undetermined” and complete as much research as possible to see if we can find out anything about the asset to definitely label their permissions.
When the archive is complete and we open it up to external users, we are going to set permissions so that the only assets that are visible to the public are the ones that are labeled as “Permissions not required”.
At this point, we want to make sure that what we're providing people with content that they’re certain is approved for use. We're doing our best to make sure that we keep the process as seamless as possible for as many people as possible.”
I know a long-term goal is to fully monetize the archive, but in the meantime, you’ve found a way to use Branded Portals to facilitate a manual process for monetization. Can you share a bit about that?
"While we haven’t gone full-bore into monetization yet, we have been able to utilize MediaValet’s Branded Portals for users and clients that wish to see what our Archival Collections have to offer. For example, we had an author who wanted to see what photographs of British Submarines we had that could be useful for their next book, and we were able to find a good number of options for him to choose from that we shared with him through a Branded Portal. Our clients and users have really appreciated that feature. Before, they would need to come into the archive to view the full breadth of photographs. Now, they can view them from wherever and whenever suits them best.”
Just one final question, and what is next for USNI and MediaValet?
"Up next for USNI and MediaValet is our Born Digital Collection, as well as a deeper dive into the world of eCommerce. While the latter is a bit further down the pipeline, we’ve already started work on the former, creating a new collection of born-digital photographs amassed from the 2000s to the present. Our physical Photo Archive is pre-2000s, so being able to include more current photographs in our DAM is exciting.”
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