Digital Asset Management Systems Vs Collections Management Systems; Part 1

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

March 17, 2021

There was a time when the museum Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) and the museum Collections Management System (CMS) were two completely different technological beasts. However, as we’ve become increasingly reliant on technology to facilitate museum collections care, management, and access the more these two system types have blended together.

In fact, new professionals would be forgiven for not knowing the differences between the two. Part 1 of this series will outline the past and present functions of both a DAMS and CMS. Next week we’ll review where the overlaps are, review the core functions we need from a DAMS and CMS, and (if you can only choose one) recommend which one to choose.

The Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) Past

The original DAMS purpose was to be a digital location where digital files were stored. A museum staff person would select an object, photograph or scan it, name the digital file, and then permanently store that file in the DAMS. Standalone DAMS products were built with the main focus on digital file storage and a burgeoning interest and development in digital file preservation. Museums that didn’t have a DAMS had to rely on their own computer hard-drives or locally shared servers for storage which were subject to file-mismanagement, file corruption, and data loss.

The DAMS Present

As our expectations and use of technological tools have evolved, so too has the DAMS. Realizing that museums were under increasing pressure to make digital surrogates of their objects available online, DAMS began to offer a way to deliver those digital files to the public. Some did this through select file links while others began outfitting a public-facing platform and therefore bleeding into a traditionally museum CMS function. Additionally, the more we became user-savvy with online file access and management, the more prevalent affordable options became with Google Drive, Dropbox, and other Silicon Valley giants offering similar DAMS options, up to and including facets of digital preservation (such as file versioning history and file control). If museums didn’t already have a DAMS in place, many began to gravitate towards these more generalized (versus museum-specific) platforms.

The Collections Management System (CMS) Past

The original CMS purpose was to manage collection information in the form of metadata. Originally, and pre-digital technology, this was done in the form of a card catalog. While the digital CMS initially started out as text information only, it didn’t take long before many platforms began to allow digital files as an easy visual reference to the museum object. Initially these file sizes had to be small because larger files took longer to upload and consumed a lot of expensive storage. Many original CMS programs ran locally on computers and managing storage was an issue. Museums that couldn’t afford to immediately acquire a CMS relied on low-tech options such as File Maker Pro, spreadsheets, and even hardcopy logs.

The CMS Present

The CMS was originally focused on collection care and management. It’s only recently we’ve begun to view collection management and public access as two equally important functions of the CMS. As internet speed increased and digital file storage became cheaper, CMS products began to move toward cloud or online-only instances. In fact, very few CMS products still require a local computer to run on. With this shift toward easy and affordable CMS access combined with user expectations that “everything is online”, many museums have adjusted their priorities to include high resolution digital files as part of the CMS record.

Next Week

Next week we’ll get into the difference and overlap between a DAMS and a CMS and the functions to consider if you’re forced to choose just one.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, digital museums, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for virtual, multimedia presentation of collections, visitor engagement, and museum staff productivity and impact. 

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