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What is the difference between a Repository and a CMS (Content Management System)?

Over the years, (institutional) repositories and content management systems (CMS) have seen a great amount of feature overlap. However, both systems remain distinct in their underlying purposes and the needs they fulfill.

Although this is a generalization, repositories and content management systems tend to differ in the following ways:

Content Management Systems (CMS)

  • Generally speaking, a CMS may be thought of as a digital content creation & publication system
  • Geared towards content creation / production and online publication
  • Geared towards collaborative creation/modification of content
  • Geared towards general usage (used for any general digital content)
  • May also be geared towards building websites and creating content for the web

(Institutional) Repositories

  • Generally speaking, a Repository may be thought of as a digital "archives" system
  • Geared towards long-term storage, digital preservation and accessibility of completed content
  • Geared towards ensuring and maintaining provenance of completed or published content
  • Primarily used for scholarly and/or published content (though may be used for general content as well)
  • Tends to also follow latest library/archival best practices (around metadata, preservation, persistent URLs, etc.)

There are scenarios where one may wish to choose either a CMS or a Repository:

Some general benefits of a Content Management System:

  • More conducive to collaborative creation of content/documents
  • Often better for highly dynamic content ("living documents")
  • Often better for building websites (which by nature are rapidly changing / evolving)

Some general benefits of a Repository:

It is worth noting that choosing a CMS or a repository is not necessarily an "either/or" option. Based on your local needs, you may wish to use both systems in your document creation and preservation workflow. For example, a CMS may be used to collaboratively create your digital content. Once the digital content is completed, it may be archived/preserved within a repository. Alternatively, your CMS may wish to pull archived content from an external repository in order to allow for content reuse/remix, or to simply expose your archived content through the same interface as your dynamic/collaborative content. Many popular Content Management Systems provide modules or add-ons that allow them to integrate directly into popular repository platforms.

Some examples of using a Repository with a CMS:

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