If you couldn’t make it to the Imperial War Museums (IWM) DAMS Seminar, fear not, here’s a short report on how the day went and the key points we should take away from a fascinating event.
What was the event?
IWM DAMS Seminar: a day of presentations and discussions on the subject of Digital Asset Management, and tours of IWM, Duxford. This follows the completion of phase 2 of 3 of Axiell and IWM collaboration on the development of Axiell DAMS.
Where and when?
Imperial War Museum, Duxford, on 15 September 2017.
39 people, mostly collections staff from around the UK, including members of the Axiell and IWM teams, the British Film Institute, National Museums Scotland, Science Museum Group, and more.
Why hold a DAMS seminar?
In the words of Emily Dodd, IWM’s Head of Collections Development & Information:
“We’ve spent a lot of time and knowledge investing in our DAMS and we really wanted to share that. It’s a nice experience for us to talk to other people in the museums sector, to learn from them.”
How did the day go?
The packed schedule ran smoothly, bar the occasional distraction of light aircraft taking off from the runway just outside the window.
The day was kicked off by Emily Dodd with an introduction to the event and to IWM’s 33 million items, which cover conflicts from the First World War to the modern day.
Rosie Forrest, Collections System Manager at IWM, spoke about preserving material of national value with their collection of 500TB of digital assets; assets that are also incredibly valuable to IWM as they help generate £900K per year in income. It was therefore vital that IWM got a DAMS that works for them.
Improving speed of ingest and transcoding to more formats of video, audio and images were all priorities, and Axiell DAMS has helped IWM achieve this. This made up much of the work in phases one and two of the project.
“Now, if we want to change hardware or update files, we can do this in one place,” said Rosie.
Alex Fell, Deputy Head of R&D at Axiell ALM, discussed how Axiell DAMS will help IWM and other institutions meet their digital preservation goals, including fixity, transcoding and abstraction of storage. He also spoke about how the web UI will improve access within organisations, leading to greater collaboration: “A problem we’re starting to solve is the gap between collections departments and others,” he observed.
IWM DAMS Seminar overview video
Rob Tyler, IT Infrastructure Manager (DAMS) at IWM, spoke about the equipment used for digitising moving images at Duxford, the formats they export in and how that output is processed, stored and backed up.
Stephen McConnachie, Head of Data at the British Film Institute, talked about some of the challenges involved in the digital preservation of moving images, including the time it can take to digitise feature films and the best method of storage: tape vs server. To find out more about Stephen and the BFI’s work with moving images, watch the video case study here.
During lunch, we ventured out into the large hangar containing a vast menagerie of aircraft, walking under the wings of a Concorde, for a tour of another of IWM’s iconic collections, the Lancaster Bomber.
More tours were scheduled for after lunch and I attended one led by David Walsh, Head of Digital Collections, across the site at the small, dark, windowless Film Digitisation Suite.
David Finch, IWM “Digitisation Guru”, spoke of his work digitising moving images for requests and the importance of the revenue this generates for the institution. “We are delivering clips in a much cleverer fashion with the help of DAMS,” he said.
On the walk back from the tour I was awed to see something I may never see again: a Spitfire taking flight and disappearing into the clouds, closely followed by a Messerschmitt. Such is the immeasurable merit of institutions like IWM (and the enthusiasts responsible for keeping many of the planes in the air), providing us with such experiences and allowing us a glimpse of something otherwise obscure and unknown.
What key themes emerged from the day?
As this was a DAMS event, digital preservation of course took centre stage in all sessions. So how do you ensure your collection is going to last?
“Plan for expansion because you never know what’s going to come next” is the message from Rosie.
David Feller of Spectra Logic said, “There’s something about making sure that these videos, these pictures, these things from our past are digitised and preserved, not just for the UK but for all of humanity.”
Improving access to assets, knowledge and experiences makes collections more valuable. The more that marketing and engagement teams have access to the collection, the more they can expose audiences to what the collection has to offer.
As noted by members of the IWM team, improved access also makes collections more valuable in terms of a financial return, which is essential for cultural institutions in 2017.
The day was also a celebration of how working together and learning from each other can drive innovation, a sentiment shared throughout the room:
“I have a rough idea what I want, what I need, what my team needs and what my end user needs, so it’s really interesting sharing experiences and hopefully avoiding the same mistakes” – Kira Zumkley, Science Museum Group.
“If two or three firms are doing it the same way, that suggests that you’ve made a good decision. These decisions are difficult and complex so it’s very reassuring to talk to my IWM peers” – Stephen McConnachie, British Film Institute.
And all of this is important…
Collectively, whether museum, archive or even us as suppliers, the better we get at keeping cultural assets alive and providing greater access to those assets, the more people will get to see and experience things they never could have before.
It may not be witnessing a Spitfire taking to the skies from an airfield in Duxford in 2017, but a clip of the same scene from 1940 in a moment infinitely more significant.
Find out how Imperial War Museums manage their digital assets: