Improving the Image Management System at The Postal Museum

Sponsor: The Postal Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Helen Dafter
Student Team: Andrew Adiletta
William McGurn
Gabriel Rivera
Abstract: The Postal Museum in London, England plans to replace their Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to improve its preservation and organisational practices. We interviewed software vendors and museum staff and researched system features to identify potential solutions. Staff tested — and we independently evaluated — six systems to determine the optimal configuration for the museum. We provided staff with a ranked list of the systems. The highest-ranked systems had intuitive user interfaces and simple designs, which museum staff particularly valued.
Link: The Postal Museum IQP Team – Final Report

Executive Summary

For thousands of years, libraries, museums, and other institutions that preserve and distribute knowledge have maintained databases of text and images in various forms, from paper and ink to digital files. The form of databases has evolved over the years to improve their functionality and match modernising technology. Despite this advancement, museums still face difficulties keeping their files safe from damages caused by natural disasters and cyber-attackers. Modern museums mainly use digital asset management (DAM) systems to manage their files, and digital preservation systems to safeguard their files. A common challenge with using these modern asset management solutions is identifying the systems that efficiently meet an institution’s unique needs. The Postal Museum has been operating one such DAM system, Intelligent Media Server (IMS), for eleven years, and the system has since become disorganised and difficult to use. Staff at the museum are keen to transition to a new system configuration that improves their workflow for managing digital assets and enables long-term digital preservation to maintain their historical assets. Museum staff recognise that their metadata entry practices are inconsistent and have led to a decline in asset metadata quality.

Six-step approach for finding an optimal system configuration
This project recommended a new software configuration to The Postal Museum, consisting of both a DAM and digital preservation solution. We chose our set of systems through a combination of recommendations from our host Helen Dafter, and our own market research using review websites. This set consisted of three DAM systems, three digital preservation systems, and one hybrid DAM and preservation system. See Table 1 below for the set of systems we tested.

Secondly, we interviewed museum staff to gather their thoughts on the necessary features for a prospective system. We collected the desired features into a list, which we shared with software vendors to allow them to tailor their software to The Postal Museum’s needs. Thirdly, we met with software vendors to set up trial versions of their software that included the features requested by the museum. Fourth, we had staff test those demo versions of each system. Fifth, we completed independent analyses for each system to test various performance metrics within the demo environments. Lastly, we facilitated a focus group to collect recurring opinions on the systems, and address concerns the staff had with prospective systems. The focus group also allowed staff members to brainstorm ideas amongst each other on why they had difficulty using different systems, and collaboratively determine which systems they found easiest to use.

Our conversations with staff revealed that the IMS became disorganised due to non-standard metadata entry practices. Certain features found in new DAM and digital preservation systems can help with organisation and security, improving the management of the current system. Staff feedback from interviews, system testing, and focus group discussions informed us on which systems best fit their needs.

Standardise metadata practices: We found that the primary factor that led to the disorganisation of the previously deployed DAM system was inconsistent and non-standardized metadata entry practices. New uploads to the system did not follow any strict guidelines for metadata entry, leading to poor-quality uploads. Advanced permissions features in the new systems would allow administrative staff to develop custom metadata schemas for different users. These permission features would be highly valuable to The Postal Museum, as their successful implementation would address the main factors that led to the disorganisation of their previous system.

Metadata management and important features: The museum staff wanted methods for inputting metadata for newly uploaded assets that were thorough, customizable, and easy to use. If the workflow for uploading assets was confusing and frustrating, staff were less likely to see themselves successfully operating the system in the future. Additionally, staff valued the ability to create temporary folders for sharing assets within and outside the organisation.

Cloud Solution: The museum manages IMS internally, with all data backups stored on local servers or shared drives. The museum set up the system in this way to minimise network bandwidth consumption, and because it was the optimal solution at the time of its implementation. Most modern systems are managed in the cloud because it is more scalable and secure than their on-premises counterparts. Shifting to a cloud alternative interests both the administrative staff and system users at The Postal Museum, because the benefits of the cloud (easily expandable storage and geographical redundancy), outweigh the benefits of local servers (complete control of assets, cheaper to operate).

Chorus and Preservica: Chorus and Preservica were the highest-rated systems by the staff. Both systems satisfy staff requests for an intuitive, fast, and simple user interface. They both score exceptionally well in our independent analyses, are cloud-based solutions, and have robust permission features to standardise metadata entry and improve organisation. Additionally, Chorus and Preservica offer the most requested features for their price point. The museum’s upgrade to Chorus would come at no additional cost to their current IMS subscription, which is about £1,200 annually, while Preservica would likely cost £20,000 annually, which falls in the middle range of pricing compared to other digital preservation systems.

Based on our findings, we recommended that The Postal Museum use Chorus as a DAM system and Preservica as a digital preservation system. Recommendations for system configurations include the optimal configuration, which is Chorus and Preservica, an all-in-one solution with Orange Logic’s Cortex, an open-source solution with Pimcore and Islandora, and an alternative configuration with Chorus and LIBSAFE Go. Additionally, we suggested that the museum improve its organisational practices by implementing more stringent metadata entry processes, using the permissions features offered by each system, to avoid future disorganisation. Training staff members would achieve these improvements for uploading workflows. We suggest that the museum contact another research team to help with the implementation process of their chosen system configuration, as this process will be lengthy and complicated, and the success of the future system configuration will depend on successful integration. For related work, we suggest that researchers work with software vendors to find the best software solutions for their clients, but we caution researchers that this process of working with vendors can be time-consuming. We also recommend researchers test potential systems with clientele, as direct experience with each system can reveal opinions that otherwise may not have emerged if researchers only spoke to marketing representatives, or did not test the systems at all. Our methods were successful because we created a novel six-step approach tailored to The Postal Museum’s specific needs, while also completing an independent analysis that took into account each system’s individual performance.

Memory institutions serve the important societal purpose of preserving knowledge. With the advent of digital file formats, memory institutions, like The Postal Museum, have the added challenge of preserving their digital data in addition to traditional physical assets. We researched both DAM and digital preservation systems to provide the museum with a recommendation to improve digital asset organisation and preservation. We found that museum staff valued comprehensive and intuitive metadata management, virtual collections sharing features, and a user-friendly interface.