Cataloguing systems and archives networks

There are many different tools which can be used to record information about collections. When deciding between open source or commercial software, there are some factors worth considering:

  • Existing data: do you need to ingest existing content or are you starting from scratch?
  • Finance: do you have an ongoing budget for this – paying for licences plus support contracts, possible hosting fees and initial start-up costs? If not, open-source and low-cost solutions do exist
  • IT support: do you have access to technical support? Will you need to install and manage software independently? Do you have adequate tools – PCs, network, internet connection, etc?
  • Standards: will you use just archive standards or also standards from the museum and library sectors?
  • Usability: do you need a user interface as well as a back office to manage collections data?
  • Functionality: what additional features, if any, do you want a new service to have?
    • an enquiry management module
    • capture digital objects and/or metadata
    • capture accessions data
    • ability to contribute data to archive networks easily

Navigating the world of Collections Management Systems (CMS) can be challenging. It is important to understand the requirements of your particular archive before looking at what systems are available.

Archives are also increasingly grappling with digitised assets and the best way to store and present them. There are stand-alone Digital Asset Management systems (DAMS) but increasingly more options are becoming available for integrated CMS and DAMS that offer a holistic approach to presenting collections online.

We have compiled a list of CMS and DAMS options for archives, including commercial and open source solutions. Product descriptions have been taken in part or in whole from the product web pages. For each option we have included the following information:

  • features of the product
  • whether it is open source or commercial
  • an example of the system from an archive that uses it
  • whether there is easy-to-access documentation and an active user community, which can be particularly important for open source products

While we cannot individually endorse one product over another, this list should serve as a useful overview of the options available to archives.

CMS and DAMS options for archives (XLS, 2.0 MB)

The list is by no means exhaustive and will be updated to include new systems as and when we become aware of them. It also predominantly focuses on archival management. The Collections Trust have a collections software tool which allows you to compare the features of leading Collections Management Systems based on more than 40 different criteria.

We also have a spreadsheet that looks at the options that archives have for digital preservation systems. To find out more, visit our Digital preservation tools and systems webpage.

Contributing to archives networks and other resources

Contributing to an archives network can open up access to your collections. These networks bring disparate collections information together for exploration online and are very often at the forefront of resource discovery innovation. These networks may have different audiences and outreach tools which both you and your users can benefit from.

The National Archives provides guidance on contributing to Discovery, including using Manage Your Collections, which provides a single point of online access to catalogue and organisational data from across the archive sector. This incorporates data previously made available via the National Register of Archives (NRA), Access to Archives (A2A), the ARCHON Directory and the Manorial Documents Register (MDR).

There are also other national, regional and thematic based networks including Archives Hub, AIM25, Archives WalesGenesis, Janus and the Scottish Archives Network.