Requirements for Museum Digital Storage

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

May 10, 2023

In last week’s post, we covered the essential digital storage functions needed for robust museum digital file support. In this post, we will review the most common options for museum digital file storage—and how they can support storage needs. 

Museum Digital Storage Growth Has Been Awkward

The adoption of digital tools is inherently uneven and it is common for many museums to have more than one storage method in place. In just the last two decades digital storage went from supporting tiny KB to MB file size measurements to (currently considered gigantic) GB and TB. Additionally, digital storage also became more affordable even as it grew in storage size capacity. For museums who started their digital collection (born-digital and digital surrogate) a decade or more ago, the more likely it is that they—out of necessity—had to diversify where and how they stored files and adjudicate how they used the digital storage available to them. For any given museum, there are typically digital files now found in the Collections Management System (CMS), the museum’s digital storage network (on a local server network or in the Cloud), as well as locally on staff computers or external hard-drives. In many scenarios, when I perform a digital assessment, I find the following:

  • CMS: digital files (usually digital surrogates of the collection)
  • Museum digital storage network: High and low-quality files of digital surrogates and born-digital files, project files, accession files, conservation files, and exhibition files.
  • Staff computer: Also a sampling of high and low-quality files of digital surrogates and born-digital files, project files, accession files, conservation files, and exhibition files.
  • External hard-drives: High-quality and otherwise large (in size) digital surrogates and born-digital files. There may also be project files.

In each of these locations there’s a high degree of likelihood that files have been duplicated. This awkward digital storage growth is susceptible to file-mismanagement, file corruption, and data loss. And, because of the scattered existence of the digital files, it’s impossible to perform effective file reconciliation, let alone file management or preservation. The need for a centralized and robust digital file storage system is high, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Museum Digital File Storage Options

The following are the most commons museum digital storage options:

  • Digital Asset Management System (DAMS); or a CMS that can support similar DAMS functions.
  • Non-DAMS, Software as a Service (SaaS) storage through proprietary platforms such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • Local setup with the purchase of external hard-drives (Seagate and Western Digital are great brands) to supplement computer storage and allow greater portability of files.

Each of these have their strengths and weaknesses in addition to their applicability to the museum collection needs, budget restrictions, and other on-the-ground challenges that could preclude the ability to choose one option over the other. 

The Critical “Must Have” Requirements

These are the critical “must have” digital storage abilities:

  • The ability to store (save) digital files upon their creation.
  • The ability to store a massive amount of files (with corresponding large files sizes).
  • The ability to organize those files.
  • The ability to access those files through hierarchical structure navigation or search.

These are covered by each of the options listed, if implemented appropriately.

Advanced “Must Have” (Potential) Requirements

Additional needs may be present now, or emerge later, depending on where your museum’s digital evolution is:

  • The ability to store complex, cutting edge file types (e.g. 3D renderings or blockchain-supported NFT files).
  • The ability to preserve files and maintain file integrity.
  • The ability to perform file health checks to mitigate risk of digital file loss or corruption.
  • The ability to migrate files to updated file formats in order to ensure continued file access.
  • The ability to attach, upload, or otherwise connect or provide access to those files to complementary applications (like a CMS).

Only the more robust tools can provide this advanced functionality and while it’s possible with all three options listed above, it’s the easiest and most cohesive with the DAMS, followed by the SaaS options (but often at a higher-dollar account level).


In next week’s post we’ll evaluate each option with suggestions of how to determine which may be the best digital storage approach for your museum. Consider the options as well as your “must haves”, as that will help you evaluate which museum digital storage approach is right for you.

Additional Reading

The CMS: What’s Essential, What’s Hackable, and What Does It Cost?

Digital Asset Management Systems Vs Collections Management Systems; Part 1

Does Your Museum Need a DAMS?

Figuring out a Museum DAMS Solution When You Only Have a CMS

Museum Digital Projects: Digital File Storage

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

If you’d like to learn more, please join us for “Figuring Out Museum Digital Storage”, presented by Rachael Woody June 7, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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