Regardless of the exact details of your system, there are some best practices that everyone should strive for in collection management.


As you create and adjust workflow, it’s important to standardize as much of it as possible. Having standard practices helps to prevent mistakes, and also helps you to recognize and recover from mistakes when they do happen. The very process of standardizing practices helps to understand them better. Finally, having standard practices allows you to more easily migrate to new software, hardware and methods when the need for migration arises. 

You can standardize many parts of the workflow, including work order, software, metadata usage and more. 


You should try to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. This may seem like an ironic statement, given the complexity in the media ecosystem, but it’s a really important point. Creating a modern forward-compatible media library can be a complicated endeavor, requiring the integration of many elements. Wherever possible though, you’ll want to simplify. Whether you are deciding on the storage methods you use, the metadata to describe your images, or the software that runs the library, try the simplest approach first, and add complexity as it becomes necessary. 

One of the main reasons to outline the many components of the entire ecosystem is to help you understand which features you need and which are not important for you. 

Don’t rely on your (or anyone else’s) memory 

What you know about your media collection is an essential part of its value. But any information that exists only in the memory of specific people is less valuable than information that is stored as metadata in the library. Not only are you likely to eventually forget some relevant details, but it’s much harder to make use of what you know than what is written

Attaching information to the media allows you to remember better, but it also allows you to make use of the data programmatically. Attaching the information also allows other people or programs to make use of the data. Having a consolidated library provides a durable and centralized place to store important information that adds value to both the media, and to the information itself. 

Be comprehensive 

The more universal your cataloging structures and practices are, the more value and efficiency you can get from your media. Consistency in organization allows for faster and more reliable searching of your collection, and collecting related images together maximizes the value of each individual image. 

Build for the future 

In creating a DAM system, you need to allow for growth. Some of this can be foreseen, such as storage needs. You’ll want to make sure that your library can grow as new media comes in. We can also see that the need to integrate a library with outside services is a growing need. Choosing library software that allows for flexible integration will help extend your use of that application. 

Do it once… 

Everything you do to tag or curate a media collection is an opportunity to add more structure to the collection, and thus to increase its value. When you rate for quality, or make useful tags, or curate media into groups, you are adding knowledge. By doing this work inside your collection management application, you make the work easy to find and repurpose. 

… but don’t overdo it 

Once you see the control that good management gives you over your collection, you might find yourself going “DAM happy”. You need to strike a balance between what’s useful and what’s a waste of time. Noting who is in a photo is very useful; labeling each image “looking right,” “looking center,” or “looking left” is probably overkill. The methodology I present starts with the tasks that offer the highest return for your work, and gradually works down through less cost-effective tasks. 

Watch out for migration triggers 

Throughout the life of your media collection, there will be events that trigger a need for migration. This could be the need to move to a new software package, or moving to new storage hardware, or some other change in workflow. You’ll want to be on the lookout for these, and plan for successful transition. 

In Wednesday’s post, we’ll outline the need to understand the media and the metadata as independent from any particular application. 

This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0 which lays out these principles in comprehensive form.

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