Collections Management Systems vs. Digital Asset Management Systems vs. Digital Preservation Systems

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Collections Management Systems vs. Digital Asset Management Systems vs. Digital Preservation Systems

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | February 9, 2021

The following is a guest post by MNHS Digital Archivist Sarah Barsness.

Young man in black t-shirt juggling three pink balls labeled: CMS, DMC, and DAMS When it comes to creating and managing information about your collections, there are so many acronyms, software choices, and overlapping functionality that it can be difficult to know where to begin.  There are three main types of systems you need to know about: collections management systems, digital asset management systems, and digital preservation systems.  Some tools can do double- or even triple- duty, but each type of system can help you do a specific job.

Collections Management Systems are sneaky -- if you try to google “CMS,” you’ll also find customer and content management systems, which do very different tasks than what you need!  CMSs for libraries, archives, and museums, are built specifically to create, manage, and share information about your collections, but they usually don’t store digital copies of your collections themselves.  Most CMSs specialize in specific types of collections, such as museum object collections, library collections, or archives.  No matter the CMS, the goal is the same: create, organize, store, and share information about collections.

Digital Asset Management Systems, or DAMS, are almost the opposite of CMSs -- they store digital copies of your stuff, but are generally less robust when it comes to description and metadata.  Like CMSs, different products are often geared towards different use cases or different types of content.  One important thing to know about DAMS is that most function at the item level -- this works great if your collections are objects, but can be a problem if you have multipart collections (particularly common in archives).  Either way, a DAMS will help store your digital items, provide some level of information about them, and aid others in finding the digital item they want to see.

Finally, there are Digital Preservation Systems, often described as a digital archive or digital repository.  The goal of these systems is to manage your digital items on a technological level to make sure they’re accessible in the long term.  Functionality of these systems varies greatly and many tools are designed to do a single task, necessitating the use of several tools to create a system yourself.  Tools can check the integrity of each file in the system, help with backups, and even help migrate files to more stable preservation formats.

If you’re thinking about getting any one of these systems for your institution, it can be difficult to know where to start, but a few key considerations can help you narrow down your options:

  • What is my budget?
  • What is my level of IT knowledge/support?
  • How much time do I have to set up and customize a system?
  • What kinds of collections do I need to describe and/or share?
  • What kinds of information do I want to capture about my collections?
  • What functionality is most important to me?  What is least important?

Need more help or have questions about what might work best for you?  The MNHS Digital Archivist Sarah Barsness is available to help!  You can email her at