The objective of this poster is to provide an overview of a number of existing open source and proprietary information management systems for digital assets. We hope that this poster will assist libraries and other institutions in their process of researching and decision-making when considering implementing a management system for their digital collections.


It should be noted that while neither of the authors is currently involved in a digital asset management system migration or selection project, they have a working knowledge of all the systems described herein. Additionally, in gathering data for this project it became clear that some of the systems evaluated here have been implemented as institutional repositories as well. However, this is beyond the scope of this poster. The Digital Asset Management systems chosen for the purpose of this poster were evaluated based on their capabilities of managing a collection of digital assets such as images, videos, sound recordings, and other multimedia content. Moreover, from the beginning it became paramount to have a clear distinction between the different terminologies used: digital asset management systems (DAM) and content management systems or web content management system (CMS). While content management systems were built to allow non-technical users to create, publish and manage website content, digital asset management systems provide an infrastructure for management and preservation of digital assets.


As the volume of digital resources owned or created increases, many institutions want to adopt a single platform with robust functionalities for discovery, storage, and cataloging of resources. According to The National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH), “Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems provide the means to manage digital assets from creation to publication and archiving”. DAM systems have become a core part of the institutions’ infrastructure using rich metadata as the basis for enhanced resource discovery as well as for use in teaching and learning. These days, choosing a DAM solution invariably means choosing either an open source or a proprietary solution. Open source software has source code that is publicly available so that it can be copied, modified, and redistributed royalty-free (though usually with attribution in the form of some type of Creative Commons license) (Fitzgerald, B., Kesan, J.P. & Russo, B., 2011). The code is developed and maintained by communities of practice. Proprietary software on the other hand, is locked down in terms of access to code and made available for a fee from commercial enterprises. Unfortunately, there are no perfect products that offer off-theshelf solutions to all the unique needs of each institution. However, there are systems that are appropriate for specific kinds of collections, as showcased below.


For the purpose of this poster we chose three open source and three proprietary DAM systems for digital collections. They were selected based on functionality, packages and frameworks, ease of installation, number of users, scalability, metadata schemas and formats, hosting options, and technical support. Based on these characteristics, the open source DAMs reviewed are Islandora, Omeka, and DSpace, while the proprietary ones are CONTENTdm, Shared Shelf, and Digital Commons. Information was gathered by reviewing relevant literature on the topic of managing digital collections with a particular focus on collections and digital assets management systems.

DAMs Comparison Table
  Metadata Element Set Required Fields Type of File Import File Size
Islandora MODS, Dublin Core, Qualified Dublin Core Customizable using XML Form Builder Upload XML files via Zip File Importer sub-module; can create custom ingests for Islandora Batch module Plupload may be enabled to allow for uploads greater than 2GB
Omeka Default Dublin Core; plugin for Qualified Dublin Core or a new plugin for a different element set No required field CSV via CSV Import plugin Default up to 2 MB per file; custom increase in the php.ini file
DSpace Default is Qualified DC; can also translate from schemas such as MARC and MODS Title and Publication Date SimpleArchiveFormat ZIP file to upload via XMLUI; also Endnote, BibTex, RIS, TSV, CSV, OAI, etc. JSPUI: 512MB; size limitation can be disabled XMLUI: 1GB; can be increased to 2GB
CONTENTdm Qualified Dublin Core Title Excel Default up to 2 MB per file; custom increase in PHP
Shared Shelf VRA Core 4.0; Dublin Core Darwin Core or new configured schemas Established in the Admin tool before the collection is catalogued Excel (CSV not supported) No limit; recommended under 20GB
Digital Commons Qualified Dublin Core; custom metadata elements available Title; Author first name; Author last name; Document type; Publication date Excel and XML Batch Import No limit; recommended under 20GB
Data taken from the peer review poster presented at 2016 DCMI International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications in Copenhagen, Denmark.


There are challenges with adopting both open source and proprietary software and selecting one or the other will be guided by the circumstances of each institution and even each project. In terms of implementing open source, the software may be free but there will definitely be a significant investment of staffing resources, most likely in the form of technical expertise. Alternatively, there are now a number of options to outsource open source implementation and hosting. Finally, there are well-established communities of practice to provide technical support for all the open source options described above.

On the other side, implementing proprietary solutions may be feasible for libraries without an IT staff. However, one of the major drawbacks of a proprietary-software package is expense. Depending on the number of users, the licensing and installation fee can be fairly expensive especially in comparison to open source software. While out-of-the-box solutions are easier to adopt, they are not usually as adaptable to the constantly changing needs of the institutions.


Choosing the right software to manage your digital collections is subjective and depends on specific circumstances, users’ needs, budget, and licensing preferences. There is no shortage of options when it comes to managing, implementing, and describing your digital collections. There are proprietary systems that can be easily purchased and implemented; others require extensive knowledge of technical frameworks or a steep learning curve to implement. The software that you will choose depends on many variables and there is no perfect system when it comes to budget, needs, requirements, and implementation. Making an informed decision and evaluating all the options available will bring you closer to a system that matches the majority of your requirements.