Does Your Museum Need a DAMS?

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

October 13, 2021

Does your museum need a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS)? Regardless of how object-focused your museum may be, there’s an undeniable need to store digital files somewhere.

For museums with collections that are predominantly physical in nature, there are still the digital derivatives of the collections to manage, preserve, and share. Additionally, for museums and archives who increasingly find themselves collecting born-digital content—access to a DAMS is becoming an urgent need.

What is a DAMS?

DAMS is the commonly used acronym for Digital Asset Management System. Ultimately anyone who uses a service or tool beyond their computer or smartphone to store and manage their electronic files is using a DAMS. Are your items “in the cloud”? It’s a DAMS. Are your items automatically backed up to an external server by a service? It’s a DAMS.

What Does a DAMS Do?

The primary function of a DAMS is to permanently store, preserve, manage, and facilitate access to digital materials. Digital asset management systems can offer broad-level support for digital files regardless of file type or content; as a result, they can be found in virtually every field or industry. Examples of organizations or business entities who need a DAMS that meets stricter preservation and information management best practices are: law offices, pharmaceutical companies, and museums and archives. Regardless of organization type there will be both physical documents that need to be scanned and uploaded into the DAMS as well as an increasing number of born-digital materials.

Essential DAMS Functions

There are three common core functions that every DAMS platform should have:

  • Digital file storage
  • Digital file preservation
  • Digital file organization within folder-based hierarchy

As technology evolves to become more sophisticated—while at the same time becoming more affordable–we’re seeing some great general-audience DAMS products coming out. Many of these products are from tech-heavyweights like Google, Amazon, and Dropbox.

But Wait, What About the Museum CMS?

There are overlaps in functionality between digital asset management systems and museum collection management systems. This is especially true if the museum can afford robust platforms in each area. And, in certain circumstances, it may make sense to only have one platform to function as a pseudo-DAMS/CMS hybrid. As of this moment, there’s no one DAMS or CMS product out there that can adequately meet all requirements and best practices for digital asset management and preservation, in addition to collection description, management, and publishing.

So, Does Your Museum Need a DAMS?

Ultimately, yes. Even if your museum doesn’t have born-digital objects (yet), it will have hundreds if not thousands of digital files that serve as digital surrogates to the collection. These files are at risk of loss, file corruption, and file format obsolescence. Each of these risks means that at some point the museum will lose access to these files permanently and it will be as if they didn’t exist at all. Each of those digital files represents a tremendous amount of labor and cost invested into collections access. If those digital files ever disappear, that lost labor (and cost) would need to be repeated.

Conclusion

Museum digital files are literal assets museum staff use to help care for, manage, and represent the physical collection. Employing a DAMS to help preserve and manage these assets is an important investment. If your museum doesn’t have a DAMS in place, it’s time to get one. Next week we’ll dive deeper into digital asset management systems and how they and the CMS have evolved to include cross-functionality.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. In addition to several titles published by Lucidea Press, Ms. Woody is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and a popular presenter. Register here for her upcoming webinar, “The Essentials of Evaluating the Museum DAMS vs CMS” on October 27, 2021. And learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for powerful and innovative museum collections management.

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