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Digital Librarians: The Quiet Dynamos Behind Content Operations

Uncover the unsung heroes of content operations – digital librarians. Learn how these behind-the-scenes dynamos play a crucial role in organizing and managing digital content effectively.
Digital Librarians

The recently released film, ‘The Covenant,’ tells the story of John Kinley, a U.S. Army special operations sergeant and Afghanistan War veteran, who returns to Afghanistan to rescue the interpreter who once saved his life in the war zone. During one scene depicting the early phases of his relationship with his interpreter, Ahmed, John says, “You’re here to translate.” And Ahmed evenly replies, “No, I’m here to interpret.” At that moment, Ahmed shows how he possesses a syntactic and semantic skillset necessary for managing contextual knowledge that utterly escapes John. His insight into the dynamics that undergird the exchange of information makes Ahmed invaluable to the team. 

While one would never associate wartime interpreters with digital asset management (DAM) librarians at first glance, I cannot help but notice the parallel. DAM librarians are a quiet force of knowledge who provide the means to access necessary digital information and the context needed to use that information effectively.

What is a DAM librarian? 

People who are qualified to be DAM librarians share several traits. They typically hold a graduate degree in library information and studies and are trained in organizing and describing assets. Also known as “digital librarians,” these professionals have deep knowledge of metadata, taxonomy, cataloging, and ontology, which allows them to create a linguistic scaffolding for a given organization. Digital librarians understand the nuances of how information can and should be used across various business departments. With their broad expertise, they can determine security permissions for digital assets and readily access information for various uses. Because of their comprehensive understanding of retrieval engines and indexing structures that support an organization, digital librarians are experts in acquiring and disseminating digital information. 

What does a DAM librarian do? 

At the most fundamental level, DAM librarians make it easier to find things. From an organizational standpoint, this improves workflow, significantly lowers costs associated with searching for and sharing assets, and secures the asset fulfillment process, thereby offsetting potential asset loss. From a visionary standpoint, it facilitates the execution of processes and the attainment of goals.

It’s one thing to have the digital assets necessary to support a thriving organization’s content life cycle; it’s another to be able to find those assets. Using a broad set of system functions and skills, digital librarians create knowledge channels that make assets easily discoverable. This ensures the right assets are accessible to the right team members at the right time while irrelevant or faulty assets (for example, expired images) remain inaccessible. 

Librarians understand that more information doesn’t mean more understanding. Similar to a good interpreter, a digital librarian knows that when you understand what’s important, why it’s relevant to the situation, and when it’s appropriate to share, you’re more apt to form meaningful connections.  

Why are DAM librarians essential? 

DAM librarians stand at the crossroads of various systems to give clarity and direction in what might otherwise devolve into a chaotic dash down a poorly marked road. They provide the framework necessary to create maximum transparency and “findability,” which helps organizations reach their desired goals with grace and efficiency. They’re also trained to be disinterested in the content of their user’s queries, which aids in solving problems in an apolitical manner. 

Whatever the asset types, everything must be well-organized for the overall operation to proceed effectively. The metadata of each asset must be robust, succinct, and uniform. This requires a layered understanding that assets are both content pieces and intellectual property.  Digital librarians possess a firm grip on the various types of metadata and shared vocabulary organizations can employ within their systems. This allows them to regulate the metadata practices of DAM users, keep assets findable and ensure adherence to compliance and governance practices. Librarians are multilingual in the sense that they can understand the root of their users’ questions, and transform those queries into a precise format to get meaningful information from the database. 

One might ask if there’s a need for digital librarians in an age of digital automation, to which I reply without pause, yes. Digital librarians provide a level of contextualization that AI tools can’t fully replicate. AI can pull historical data — that is, static data — but it can’t yet engage with assets semantically as humans can. 

Systems like generative AI will move closer to possessing self-generating learning types of intelligence. Still, I believe they will always remain a tool that augments the dynamism of human intelligence rather than eclipse it. Digital librarians don’t just see the individual asset; they comprehend the DAM system as a whole and know where to make necessary adjustments for a high-quality library.

Digital librarians: mapping out meaning

Beyond facilitating access to critical assets, digital librarians develop knowledge pathways that create synergy between teams, allowing for greater mutuality of effort, vision, and production. They’re familiar with how content relates to the broader system and are hyper-skilled in organizing that information. They see the inherent relationship between the content and convey that knowledge to others in digestible ways. By building a “working language” across the enterprise, digital librarians ensure that DAM becomes embedded in the fabric of the organization, significantly increasing functionality and collaboration. 

Don’t underestimate the power and purpose of a digital librarian. The ability to interpret and contextualize information is uniquely a human strength. As Ahmed showed John in The Covenant, interpretation is perhaps the most crucial step in moving confidently and safely in the right direction.

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Maxwell Mabe, VP of Marketing Strategy at Aprimo

With over 20 years of experience in the field of rich media and Digital Asset Management, Max is a subject matter expert on all things DAM including imagery, video, 3D, AR & VR. Before joining Aprimo, Max held roles at Apple as a Senior Product Manager for DAM and at Adobe as a Senior Product Marketer for AEM. From retailers to fine artists, as a Solution Engineer & Consultant for 7 years he helped hundreds of organizations implement solutions across North and South America including Martha Stewart, Fox Studios, Princess Cruises, CBS, JCPenney, Tesla, Portland Museum of Art, and more.

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