A coalition of 11 university departments and offices has recently embarked on a six-month pilot program to test the feasibility of a Web-based system that can be used to archive and retrieve all manner of Johns Hopkins-related digital media, including photographs, word processing documents, video clips, graphics and page layouts.
The group's goal is to promote the creation of an enterprisewide secure repository with which university affiliates can manage, share and distribute any content that can be converted to digital form. Looking for a photo of a professor or administrator? Want to send a printing company a link to a QuarkXPress document so it can download and print it? Or organize all those images you use for PowerPoint presentations? All this and more can be a mouse-click away with the use of a standard Web browser.
Envisioned uses of the new system include faculty using stored documents and slides to create an illustrated lecture, librarians archiving decaying photos and texts in the university's collections and public affairs offices expediting photo and document requests from the media. Departments can choose to create their own private collections or ones that can be accessed only by selected users, the university community or the public.
The effort was begun in early 2002 by several Homewood departments who wanted to simplify the process of managing their assets.
"This grew out of a real need on the part of the major users and creators of images," said Glenn Small, assistant director of the Office of News and Information and manager of the pilot program. "People felt there must be a way to store a definable asset and also to be able to share it more quickly. Everyone in these 11 participating departments has their own system now, ranging from someone having a folder on their hard drive, to a stack of CDs, to a filing cabinet. It becomes very problematic to retrieve something when someone asks for it, and it should be easier in the digital age to store and share things."
Small said a core group of image users began to look into the implementation of an asset management system. The requirements were that it did not require users to have specialized software, was Mac and PC compatible, could handle both large and varied file types and would allow each participant to establish its own indexed collection.
The search led the group to WebWare.
Founded in 1996, WebWare is a California-based digital asset management company whose major clients include Boeing, Charles Schwab, the National Football League, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and The Jim Henson Co.
The company's Web-based ActiveMedia software allows users to upload a file--whether it be a digitized photo, animation or document--and then easily catalog and index it in a central repository. The user can customize the look and feel of the searchable collection, creating a specific set of cataloging terms such as type of image, subject and date created.
Users can find files by either keyword searches or browsing through a directory. Any file can be instantly reviewed or downloaded. Search results are returned as thumbnail previews along with information about each file. By clicking on the thumbnail, users can then see a larger image and read additional file information.
Other features include instant conversion of image assets into a variety of sizes and compression file formats, such as a JPEG, GIF or TIF; video and audio support; version tracking; and security flexibility. For example, if an administrator wants to control the use of a photograph, he can have it watermarked or restrict access so that the potential user has to contact him.
The pilot program officially began on April 30. The participants are the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at Homewood, the School of Public Health's Office of Public Affairs, the Krieger School's History of Art Department, the Sheridan Libraries, the Office of Design and Publications, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Whiting School's Office of Public Relations, SPSBE Communications, Development Communications, Homewood Photographic Services and a partnership of the Center for Scholarly Resources and the Center for Educational Resources. The group will share the pilot's costs, which primarily cover training and a monthly fee to store the data on WebWare-managed servers.
Jay VanRensselaer, director of Homewood Photographic Services, said that on a typical week he may handle several thousand images.
"Right now we spend literally hours burning CDs. With WebWare, all those images we can throw right up on the Web," he said. "This new system will be a much better way to distribute the images, and it will cut down on duplication. If someone's looking for a specific photo, they will first go the site and see if we have one that matches their needs, rather than requesting a new one."
Later this month, eight representatives of the pilot group will be trained in the full range of WebWare's use, knowledge that will be passed on to other group members. The plan is to have a workable system up and running by early June.
Small said that embarking on a pilot project involves some risks, but the rewards for adopting a successful digital asset management system outweigh them.
"This is an interesting project, because the impetus for it has come primarily from the ground up, from users of images and other digital assets," he said. "For it to flourish long term, we do realize that we need more departments to sign up to share the cost or for it to be adopted universitywide." He noted that 19 additional departments have expressed interest, and many are getting demonstrations.
In part of the feasibility effort, a SPSBE capstone team, supported by pilot program members and the Sheridan Libraries, researched the WebWare product and analyzed JHU's requirements for a digital asset management system. The five-member student team, which presented its finding last week, recommended that the university would benefit greatly from ultimately bringing the WebWare system in house, rather than keeping it an outsourced service.
Lee Watkins, who wrote the proposal for and sponsored the capstone project, said the student's findings also confirmed the pilot group's belief that the WebWare system was an ideal solution to the university's problem and, due to its userfriendly interface and flexibility, would have mass appeal.
"I have found in my many years at the university that the systems that work are ones that allow us to accomplish mutually exclusive kinds of goals," said Watkins, director of the Center for Scholarly Resources. "Not only can WebWare be used to create a shared repository, it can be used by staff, faculty and researchers for their own personal or collaborative projects. Imagine doing research where you have all these videos and images to keep track of; with WebWare, now you would have an asset system that would, quite simply, make your life easier."
For more information on WebWare, or to express interest in participating in the program, contact Glenn Small at firstname.lastname@example.org.