Digital Asset Management and Museums - An Introduction

What are digital assets?

Digital assets are digital materials created or owned by your institution. Digital assets exist in a variety of formats, and can include text, web, audio, video and image files. Digital images of objects in your collection are digital assets, as are logo image files, corporate Powerpoint presentations and any other digital resources created by your institution that generate revenue or that provide valuable content to employees or clients. Digital assets may be used in many contexts, including sales, marketing, education, web development, collections management and digital preservation. Sometimes you will see the term 'media asset' used to refer more narrowly to audio or video content.

Managing Digital Assets

Digital assets are the result of institutional activities in content development, media production and digitization and can represent a substantial investment in time and expertise. As the volume of digital resources created and maintained by museums increases, their management becomes increasingly important if staff are to easily retrieve and use them. Digital Asset Management (DAM) includes activities associated with the creation, cataloguing, storing, retrieving and backing up of these assets. The purpose of DAM is to integrate best practices within workflows to improve access to resources and make them available for reuse. DAM could be as simple as adopting file-naming and storage conventions so that assets can be easily tracked, located and retrieved for different purposes. Many of us are familiar with the frustration of trying to locate the most recent version of a digital file; DAM can help to avoid these scenarios by establishing consistent file management practices within an organization. DAM is normally undertaken to improve efficiency not only in file management, but all of the following areas:

  • file management
  • metadata management
  • workflow
  • policy tracking and enforcement
  • access

Digital Asset Management Systems

A DAM 'system' is a combination of hardware and software designed to work together to manage digital assets. It centralizes and streamlines processes associated with IP and rights, security and tracking, and search and retrieval. If you are considering investment in DAM, you should first develop a DAM strategy for your organization by evaluating your institution's current practices in creating and maintaining digital assets. The evaluation should include an inventory of the types of assets produced and the requirements of the users of these assets. The requirements and objectives laid out in your DAM strategy will provide you with the criteria to select or build a system that meets your specific needs. You may need to consider customizing a proprietary or open source product, as you may not find a single off-the-shelf product that addresses all of your criteria adequately.

Some institutions may choose to create their own simple DAM system using existing database software if they have the expertise to implement the necessary functionality. There are also many proprietary and open source DAM solutions available to choose from that may have many or all of the features you are looking for. Vendors, consultants or in-house technology staff will be needed to set up, configure, customize and maintain your chosen product. The DAM strategy and system should be revisited as changes occur in institutional digital asset practices.


Investing in the strategic management of digital assets can save your museum both time and money by streamlining workflows and enhancing access to resources for multiple users and uses. If you are not able to invest in DAM software and hardware products, consider developing and implementing standards for file management and storage to improve your efficiency in locating and retrieving assets. For more information about DAM consult the resources below.

Further Reading

Free and open source DAM solutions

  • DAMD – Digital Asset Management Database
    Richard Rinehart designed this free DAM system using Filemaker Pro. If you have Filemaker Pro 8.5 or higher installed, you can download and run this system.

  • Razuna
    Open source digital asset management/media asset management system with integrated web content management.

  • Resourcespace
    A web-based, open source DAM system which provides easy and fast access to print and web ready assets.

Contact information for this web page

This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on

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