Digital Systems Projects: CMS, DAMS & Collections Online

Three blue circles in vertical alignment

Digital Collections

GLAM have invested in new systems for the management of the museums’ and libraries digital collections and assets.  These systems have been rolled out across the seperate institutions which make up GLAM. The systems will enable the museums and libraries to manage their collections data and digital surrogates effectively and to surface these via their collections online platforms. The new systems are designed to improve the quality and accuracy of collections data, enhance productivity, and provide a framework for the ongoing management of digital collection materials.

There are three specific systems being implemented:

  1. Collections Management Systems (CMS)
  2. Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS) 
  3. Collections Online 

This work is a major investment made by the University that will modernize systems, ensure better management and care of our collections, and improve access to the collections for both the users and staff.  This investment – unparalleled in the sector – allows GLAM to have an effective digital collection ecosystem which can be utilised by curation staff, preservation and collections management staff and their colleagues in areas of exhibitions, marketing, communications and commercial to work collaboratively to promote their institutions collections and embrace digital technology. 

This project has been a key deliverable and investment in GLAM's Digital Strategy.   

FAQs about the CMS & DAMS project

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A Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) uses software to store, organise, maintain and manage digital files and media – like images, audio and video.  It will be used to store the historically valuable media at the museums.

A Collections Management System (CMS) uses software to hold and maintain data about the collections including key metadata like object provenance, location etcetera. It is used by many roles in the museums, including Curators, Collections Managers, Loans staff and Registrars for management of the collections.  

A Collections Online is a web based system and user interface for searching through the collections or collections discovery.  

All four GLAM Museums – the Ashmolean Museum, History of Science Museum (HSM), Museum of Natural History (MNH) and Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM) – are affected:

  • DAMS – The Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers and History of Science Museum will get a new DAMS. The MNH are just in the process of developing their DAMS.
  • CMS – The Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers will get a new CMS. HSM and MNH already have a functioning CMS.
  • Collections Online – MNH and HSM have already gone live with a new Collections Online System.  The Ashmolean and PRM will follow in the second phase of the project with their platforms being live in the summer '23. 

This project involves the four GLAM Museums only. The Bodleian Libraries already has a DAMS as well as the Digital.Bodleian platform which allows users to search through images of its collections. OBGA have a separate system.

Storage was inadequate for collection size - a proper DAMS system was needed to store our growing body of images and files.  Systems - the existing Collections Management Systems - were outdated and a better mechanism for collections discovery was required. There were also too many separate databases and consolidation was required. 

As a consequence the user interfaces were hard to use, metadata was poor, making search difficult. The systems were also difficult to update. 

As these systems were all integrated a decision was made to implement these new systems as part of the same project. 

One of the main priorities outlined in GLAM’s Digital Strategy is for ‘Full metadata of all collections and digital surrogates of all unique collections to be available and discoverable online.’

This project also helps to deliver three of the four priorities in the current GLAM Strategic Plan: Reaching global and diverse audiences; Excellence in the care, curation and scholarship of Oxford University's unique collections, and; Sustainability and resilience.

The GLAM Directors will be reviewng how best to support the change of culture which digital brings, and to ensure that these systems are embedded with existing their institutions' services, and looking for opportunities for new services to fully embrace the digital landscape.  Through their workforce planning they will ensure that their staff have the tools and training to support and embed these systems and enable their sustainability and continous improvement.

Naturally as the CMS and DAMS systems are ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) GLAM will ensure that their staff are empowered to work in an effective and collaborative partnership with the systems commercial suppliers. 

How the project will impact GLAM staff

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A new DAMS provides the space for safely storing media and images. Metadata held against all assets will enable sophisticated cataloguing and searching of digital assets, including by themes or content. Image discovery and sharing will be easier and processes will be more time efficient. The resulting catalogue will be useful to a much wider range of Museum staff. The system offers added security and is underpinned by a digital preservation policy.

A new Collections Management system not only provides a mechanism for successfully tracking our collections but one that is web-based and therefore easy to access regardless of technology or location. The system is robust, easy to use with an updated interface that is more intuitive to users and dynamic - so it provides live status of each object in the collections.  

A new Collections Online for the museums will benefit all staff and anyone who wants accurate information about our collections. Collections can be searched in one place, using a variety of search terms (from location to description). The system provides detailed search functionality, display of images, and the ability to download images. A Collections Online will increase staff awareness of collections and provides a useful resource for work across the museums, GLAM and beyond.       

In seeking investment in these areas the GLAM Directors are aware of the changes that they'll lead in assisting their staff to embed these systems to support existing services and bring the benefits they've sought. Initially the changes will be for the following areas to consider through the project's implementation activities;

  • Imaging Services/Photo Studio, staff working with the Picture Library, Publishing and Marcomms staff using the DAMS and anyone using Digital collections
  • Curatorial and Loans staff using the new Collections Management System
  • IT and supporting the systems.

Then as the systems are embedded, the Directors will plan how to establish the benefits these systems can enable through collaborative working between the collections staff and operatonal areas managing exhibitions, communications and marketing, education and research and commercial ventures. 

These systems will facilitate better data integrity and preservation, more streamlined administration, and improved access for researchers. They are also expected to facilitate commercial opportunities for image licensing, lay the groundwork for cross-museum searching and virtual collections, and provide a foundation for innovative digital experiences.