Helen Dafter

Helen Dafter

Last updated on 4 August 2022

Helen Dafter is Archivist at The Postal Museum in the UK.


The Postal Museum was recently involved in a project working with students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The WPI is a private science technology orientated university based in Massachusetts, United States of America. The museum has a longstanding relationship with the WPI, past projects include developing an e learning product, and exploring the viability of a mobile app to showcase the museum’s stamp collection. This was the first project I had managed.

The project

This year our project required students to explore options for DAMS and digital preservation systems for The Postal Museum. The museum’s existing DAMS is 11 years old, poorly managed, and no longer supported by the vendor. The museum does not currently have a digital preservation system and the need for one is becoming pressing. The project required students to examine the various options available, determine The Postal Museum’s requirements, and consider whether one system could meet our DAMS and digital preservation needs, or whether two systems were required.

The students began work in the USA with seven weeks desk research and developing a methodology for the project. They then travelled to London for the museum based phased of the project. This phase began by interviewing staff from across the museum. Staff interviewed were in the Collections; Exhibitions, Access, and Learning; and Marketing and Communications teams. These teams have the greatest involvement in either DAMS or digital preservation and this ensured a good cross sector of needs and use cases were considered. These initial interviews asked staff about what they liked and disliked about existing practices and what they would like to see from a new system. The next phase was demo sessions with potential systems. The students contacted vendors and requested demo systems set up to assess the requirements determined in the initial interviews. Two rounds of demos were carried out, one focussing on DAMS and one on digital preservation systems. The demos tested functionality such as uploading, downloading, adding metadata, and sharing content. Alongside this work the students carried out an independent analysis, using scripts to assess upload and download speeds, and readability of the user interface. All staff involved in the project took part on a focus group to share their thoughts on each system. The project concluded with a presentation open to all staff, and report on the students’ finding with recommendations.

Benefits and challenges

For The Postal Museum having three students work full time on determining our requirements for DAMS and digital preservation systems and setting out options was a significant benefit. The students’ independent analysis of the systems drew on a skill set which the Collections team at The Postal Museum did not have. The Postal Museum staff may have been more forthcoming in their interviews with the students than they may have been if this work had been carried out internally. In return the students gained experience of dealing with a ‘real world’ problem in the workplace. They built skills in working with vendors and facilitating a focus group. 

The main challenge for the students was working with vendors. In some cases, potential vendors viewed a student project with suspicion and were reluctant to supply a demo system. Even when demo systems were supplied the timeframe could be quite slow, which impacted on the overall timeframe for the project. Students were encouraged to present themselves as consultants to the museum and emphasis the potential for a sale from this work. The reluctance from the vendors did limit which systems were included in the demo sessions. 

Logistical arrangements were also tricky at times. Trying to plan appropriate workspaces onsite during an ongoing pandemic required a lot of thought and flexibility for both the museum and the students. Luckily clear communication around when spaces were available helped overcome most of these issues.


The project has bought real benefit to The Postal Museum in terms of moving forward our thinking around our requirements for DAMS and digital preservation. While further work is required to meet the museum’s procurement regulations, the museum is likely to adopt the approach recommended by the students. Now it is up to the museum to maintain the momentum and ensure the procurement and implementation of these systems is appropriately resourced with budget and staff time.

Scroll to top