Digital Systems Projects: CMS, DAMS & Collections Online

Three blue circles in vertical alignment

About the projects

GLAM have invested in new systems for the management of the museums’ digital collections and assets which are being rolled out across 2020/21. These systems will enable the museums to manage their collections data and digital surrogates effectively and to support access to collections (data and assets) online. 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 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 our systems, ensure better management and care of our collections, and improve access to our collections for both our users and staff.  This investment – unparalleled in the sector – allows us to futureproof our work.

This project is a key deliverable 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.
  • CMS – The Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers will get new CMS. HSM and MNH already have a functioning CMS.
  • Collections Online – MNH have already gone live with a new Collections Online System. HSM is due to go live in Summer 2021. The Ashmolean and PRM will follow in the second phase of the project (subject to further analysis and review of funding), once their new CMS and DAMS have been implemented. 

This project involves the four GLAM Museums only. The Bodleian Libraries already has a DAMS as well as Digital.Bodleian 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 CMS and DAMS systems are ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) and will therefore be supported and managed by the suppliers. Each museum will also need appropriate staff to administer the systems, support users and liaise with the suppliers, and Gardens and Museums IT will be on hand to assist with issue resolution.

MNH Collections Online: Autumn 2019

Ashmolean CMS and DAMS: Spring/Early Summer 2021

PRM CMS and DAMS: Early Summer 2021

HSM Collections Online: Early Summer 2021 

HSM DAMS: Late Summer/Early Autumn 2022


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.       

The majority of staff across GLAM will benefit from these systems but won’t see any change in their day-to-day work as a result. The staff who will see a change in their work programme are:

  • 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.

Staff in these areas have had briefings/discussions about the change in their work programmes as a result of these new systems. 

Briefings and training for those using the DAMS.

Briefings and training for those using the new CMS.

Briefings for staff on the Collections Online system.  

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.

The Collections Online are the only resources that are externally facing and available for the public to access. A communications plan for launching the Collections Online across the University and to the public has been developed and is being actioned over 2020/21. For the internally facing systems (CMS & DAMS) there will be extensive engagement with affected users at each institution as they approach completion.