Comparing Digital Library Systems

I am currently evaluating options for implementing a digital library.  It’s an ongoing process. :o)  Since there are probably more proprietary systems out there, I’m hoping people will leave comments letting me know about them (same thing for open source).  I’ll post the charted results when I’m done (hopefully in the near future).

There are several digital asset management systems for digital libraries. On the proprietary side (closed source) there are (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • ContentDM (OCLC): software that handles the storage, management and delivery of library digital collections to the Web
  • DigiTool (ExLibris)
  • Archivalware (PTFS): a web-based, full-text search and retrieval content management system.
  • SKCA (CuadraStar):  Star Knowledge Center for Archives
  • Eloquent: A suite of applications, Librarian (ILS), Archives (software for physical archives management). Records (records management), Museum, which can be purchased individually or combined for a complete content management system (Museum+Librarian+Archives).
  • Mint: a “cultural asset management system” mix of their individual products M2A (archives), M2L (libraries), and M3 (museums).  Based in Canada (Link updated).
  • PastPerfect: primarily for museums, includes library integration.
  • Proficio: collections management system from Re:discovery.
  • Gallery Systems: a suite of software products for management and web publishing
  • Questor Argus: Collection management and portal software (Link updated).
  • Mimsy XG: collection management and web publishing software (Link updated).
  • IDEA: content management and web publishing software, with modules for libraries, archives, and museums
  • EMu: Museum and Archive management software from KEsoft, (includes web publishing)
  • Digital Commons: A repository system developed by Berkeley Electronic Press.  They set up and maintain a hosted site.
  • SimpleDL: options for hosted library or licensed software on a local server.  Unfortunately, there is not much information on who, what, or how within the site.
  • AdLib: Library, archival, and museum software systems from Adlib Information Systems.  There is a free “lite” version of the Library and Museum software (requires registration).

On the open source side, there are (also not an exhaustive list):

  • CollectiveAccess: a highly configurable cataloguing tool and web-based application for museums, archives and digital collections. There is a demo to try it out. (Link updated).
  • Greenstone: a suite of software for building and distributing digital library collections.Greenstone is produced by the New Zealand Digital Library Project
  • Omeka: a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.  There is a sandbox to try it out.
  • DSpace: software to host and manage subject based repositories, dataset repositories or media based repositories
  • ResourceSpace: a web-based, open source digital asset management system which has been designed to give your content creators easy and fast access to print and web ready assets.)
  • CDS Invenio:  a suite of applications which provides the framework and tools for building and managing an autonomous digital library server. (Link updated).
  • Islandora: A project combining Fedora and Drupal (web content management system).  It has a VirtualBox demo download available. (Link updated).
  • Razuna: an open source digital asset management with hosting options and consulting services to set up and deploy the system.
  • Digital Collection Builder (DCB):  from, a software distribution built from the Qubit Toolkit for Libraries & Museums. (Updated URL goes to tools)
  • ICA-AtoM Project: (“International Council on Archives – Access to Memory”): a software distribution built from the Qubit Toolkit, for Archives.  An online demo is available, as well as a downloadable version (update: see this site for currently supported version).
  • CollectionSpace: a collections management system and collection information system platform, primarily for museums. Current version is 0.6
  • NotreDAM: Open source system developed in Italy by Sardegna Richerche.  A demo (updated URL; software on GitHub) is available, as well as documentation (update: see GitHub project page).  It is not a trivial install, requiring two instances of Ubuntu 9.10, but there is a VirtualBox (update: see GitHub location) instance for evaluation purposes. (Link updated).

There is also repository software, like Fedora, which can be used with a discovery interface such as Blacklight, or Islandora.

The main difference between proprietary systems and the open source systems listed above is economics.  While the argument in the past has been that open source systems are not as developed and require more in-house expertise to implement, that is not the case any more.  For one thing, even proprietary systems require in-house expertise in varying levels in order to realize full functionality of their features (see, e.g., Creating an Institutional Repository for State Government Digital Publications).  For another, as the number of libraries implementing Digital Libraries with resource discovery have increased, development of Digital Asset Management Systems has matured beyond the Alpha, and sometimes even Beta, stage.  Open source Systems which did not reach critical mass have quietly died or been absorbed into better supported products.  In the proprietary field, systems typically are developed within a parent organization that includes other software, such as an Integrated Library System, whose profits support R&D for the DAM.

So, while economics should broadly encompass all aspects of  implementation, including time and asset costs, in this case the economics is primarily the money involved, since the difference in the other factors has pretty much been leveled.  With any system, you will be involved in user forums, in bug fix requests, in creating (or updating) documentation, in training, in local tweaking, with or without outside help.  Proprietary systems are currently asking between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for a (relatively) small archive, from what I have seen and heard.

Another issue which may come up is “Cloud Computing.”  Proprietary vendors (and even some open source systems) offer the option of hosting your digital library repository (where all the digital objects live) on their servers.  The issue with remote hosting, of course, is control.  Who has ultimate control and responsibility for the items in the repository?  If the archive is intended to be open and public, the issue is more one of accountability and curation:  how securely is the data being backed up, and what is/will be done to ensure long term viable access?

If the archive is intended to be for local use only (for example, on an intranet), the issues change dramatically regarding remote hosting by an outside vendor.  It is no longer just a matter of secure backups, but the security of the system itself.  Who can access the respository?  How secure is the repository from outside crackers?  With even Google admitting to a breach of their network security, how much security can be expected from a vendor?

In some cases, we may want both public and private (local) access to archive materials.  While originally my thinking was to simply control access using the metadata for each object, others more experienced than I am recommend creating separate repositories for public and private archives, which adds another layer of complexity.

UPDATE:  Added Digital Collection Builder (DCB) and ICAToAtoM (2010/5/5)

UPDATE: Added CollectionSpace, Eloquent, Mint, PastPerfect, Proficio, Gallery Systems, Questor Argus, Mimsy XG, IDEA, EMu, and Digital Commons (2010/5/21)

UPDATE: Added SimpleDL, AdLib, and NotreDAM (2010/6/10)

UPDATE:  Fixed broken links:  Mint, DSpace, Islandora demo, removed reference to online demo for Digital Collection Builder (2011/4/11)

UPDATE: Multiple broken links updated (2016/08/07)

19 thoughts on “Comparing Digital Library Systems

  1. You might also consider Berkeley Electronic Press’s Digital Commons. A list of institutions using their repository system can be found at

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  5. CollectConcept is a free, web based collection managemnt system which supports many museum standards and offers a OAI-PMH interface. Very interesting free alternative..

  6. Hi Carol and all,
    Does any of you know the DL systems which can search within the documents (e.g. PDFs) and handle access restrictions (DRM)?

  7. February 22nd, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Here are a couple that we’ve investigated recently for our own implementation: looks quite promising for worldwide, international organizations…Cumulus (like the cloud) …

    AND … MediaBeacon has moved to the front for our purposes … they have a few well-known clients (Hallmark, for instance) … we’ve been to visit their offices in Minneapolis just last week during the heat wave and escaped just before the 17 inch snowfall over Presidents’ Day… whew!

    We really like their product as well as their attitude… search for the DAM Bill of Rights… (wink)

    I found your site as I was searching for a comparison chart of DAM products… (grin)

    Until that time … Earl J.

    PS – my site above is also a WordPress endeavor. . . (grin)
    I hate the inability to edit my own comments. . . (sigh)

  8. Hi Carol; I’ve been searching for comparisons of a couple of these systems and haven’t found a lot of useful info. Your comparison matrix sounds like it would be amazing–are you still working on it? Cheers!

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