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Content Library: 3 Steps to Manage Yours Like a Librarian


If there were a fan club for librarians, I’d be a card-carrying member. Over the last few years, librarians have taught me more about content management than any other group of professionals. We marketers are practically drowning in content, and librarians are experts at making content organized and findable.

We’re a perfect match.

I obsess over the challenges of content organization. I’m discovering that librarian methodology is essential to making a content library useful, whether you use a digital asset management system or something else. Let me show you why.

At the Intelligent Content Conference this year, I had the privilege of doing a joint presentation with Jen Hurley, director of marketing operations at Clear Channel Outdoor. Jen has a master’s degree in library and information science. From our talk, I distilled three principles that are essential for managing your content library like a librarian.

1. Your mission filter determines what’s worth storing

In my opinion, the worst part of taking photos on a smartphone is deleting all the duds. Maybe you take 20 pictures in a row of your baby girl because you don’t know which one will be good. Now, scale that problem up to a company that creates thousands of images per month in dozens of markets. What do you keep? Who’s in charge of the decision?

Librarians like Jen decide what’s worth storing based on a company’s mission. Let’s say your mission is to spread the joy of do-it-yourself home crafts. That’s your mission filter. Which images could help you spread that message? Which wouldn’t?

Content librarians decide what’s worth storing based on a company mission, says @JakeAthey. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

While this sounds obvious, most companies store every image without question. If you want to be organized, why waste time tagging and storing content you absolutely, positively will not use? Why plant false positives throughout your content library? Exercising the mission filter is the first step toward understanding what content you have and why you have it.

2. Standardize your language now to make content findable later

Librarians are trained to create vocabularies and subject taxonomies. Here’s an example from Clear Channel Outdoor:


Click to enlarge

A few things are worth noting. First, check out the overall metadata structure on the left. It ensures that everything goes into the DAM system with a standardized set of attributes. There are metadata fields for how a photo is shot and even the type of audience to indicate if the photo has multicultural value. Tags like that surprise a lot of marketers.

Metadata should mirror the content strategy. If using multicultural shots matters to the marketing team and its audience, then having a multicultural metadata tag saves time in searching for content. Metadata fields reflect how users will decide to use or not use an image.

The keyword chart shows the industry verbiage Jen’s team adds to metadata. In the left column is “category taxonomy” and in the right is “scope notes.” The team works from this list when tagging keywords at Clear Channel Outdoor (per the required metadata fields). Jen does the hard work of grouping words with themes so marketers, salespeople, agencies, etc., can find what they need. The vocabulary is updated at least weekly as Jen’s team uncovers new words and expressions.

Librarians put a ton of up-front effort into vocabulary to spare users from failed searches.

Librarians put a ton of up-front effort into vocabulary to spare users from failed searches, says @JakeAthey. Click To Tweet

 3.  Plan your content life cycle

Unlike baby pictures I’ll hang onto forever (or at least long enough to embarrass my daughter), brand images have a life cycle. Why toss stuff or throw it in cold storage? Well, at a certain point, you have to stop using some assets because they’re outdated. Stock images, for instance, have rigid expiration dates, and violating them can get you into trouble. Thus, librarians take command of life-cycle policies.

Typically, a librarian institutes expiration dates for each asset class. For example, logos might get five years before they’re due for review. But for infographics with data, the librarian might set an expiration date of three years. Assets created for a launch campaign might expire in less time. Conversely, a picture of a company from 50 years ago may have no expiration date. It’s evergreen and irreplaceable.

A librarian typically institutes expiration dates for each content asset class. @JakeAthey. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

The point of retiring content is to ensure that users only find and use relevant, up-to-date assets in accordance with image rights. If bad assets aren’t in your system, no one can misuse them.

ROI of a librarian

Managing your content library like a librarian is intense, but does it pay off? The data says yes.

When we at Widen compared customers with dedicated DAM admins (i.e., those who spend more than 50% of their time on DAM) to companies without (i.e., admins who spend less than 20% of their time on DAM), we found stark differences. In companies with a dedicated admin, users download more than twice as many assets and repurpose active assets more than twice as often on average.

In my experience, all dedicated DAM admins (often librarians) apply the above principles. While the data doesn’t prove users get more ROI in marketing campaigns, it does show that these companies get more use per asset with a dedicated admin. This could mean that assets are better organized or that the DAM admin has time to train users in more depth. Either way, higher use per asset is a desirable outcome for a marketing team with a limited budget.

The librarian way

In the past, I’ve recommended that companies hire a librarian to set up and manage their content library, and I stand by that advice. For many companies, though, that’s not in their budget. If that’s the case, strive to manage your content library like a librarian. If you have a mission filter, a standardized vocabulary, and life-cycle policies, you’re miles ahead of the average marketing team.

Want to improve your structure for content marketing effectiveness? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly newsletter, which features exclusive insights from Robert Rose, chief content adviser. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, Gratisography