An Overview of Common CMS Data Areas to Enhance

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

May 08, 2024

Data enhancement is an optional activity, but one that has the power to improve the discoverability of objects in the museum Collections Management System (CMS).

Today’s post will continue our exploration of museum data enhancement. As we reviewed last week, data enhancement is both the enhancement of existing data in required fields and the creation of data for areas of the object record that fall into the recommended section of descriptive best practices.

This post will provide an overview of commonly targeted CMS data areas for enhancement.

Fields to Consider for Data Enhancement

The following fields are the primary areas to consider for data enhancement because they tend to deliver the largest improvement for data discovery and use. The fields fall into two camps:

  1. Fields that are required according to best practices but are often anemic and could benefit tremendously from additional time; or
  2. They’re optional fields according to best practices but they’re often leveraged to convey important information about an item.

These are the most common fields in a museum CMS that benefit from data enhancement:

  • Biographies or Historical Note
  • Description
  • Provenance
  • Related Materials
  • Subjects
  • Places

The following section will break out each field and the focus of enhancement for that field.

Biographies or Historical Note: This fields captured the biographies of those involved with the item, be that as the creator or the acquiring person. If it was an entity that created or acquired the item, then the field is referred to as a Historical Note rather than a Biography.

Description: This field is a required field, so there is likely at least a few sentences in here to describe the object. However, the description can be longer if there’s enough content available to include. For example, historical context of when, where, and why the item was made goes beyond describing the physicality of the object and instead serves to convey meaning and significance of the object. The Description field is arguably the most important field to consider for enhancement because of its capacity to capture and share meaning.

Provenance: This field can begin as an internal only field; however, many museums are moving toward a completely transparent model where provenance is published along with the rest of the item data. This move toward transparency is ethically motivated, and is creating an undeniable need for museum staff to spend more time researching and writing up the provenance of the items in their care—to be published via the CMS.

Related Materials: An item can be related to peer items, archival materials, special collections books, exhibit -generated material, etc. As shared context among items and materials can shed additional light and add meaning to an object, this can be a very important area to spend time enhancing.

Subjects: This field is typically a tag area. While we try to capture subject tags whenever possible, they tend to be at the broader end of the classification scale. With more research time spent in other areas of our enhancement work, we can capture more detailed (narrowed) subjects.

Places: Places is another tag area that is typically captured at a broad level; for example, a country or region. However, much like Subjects, Places is a field that could receive a more detailed location with related considerations of a adding a cultural community as part of the data. While it may seem odd that cultural communities are coming up in a Places field, it’s often due to previous catalog limitations and previous best practices that would capture a cultural-identifiable community as a location. For example, the historical Bohemian peoples expands beyond the historical Bohemia boarders and instead may be more accurately captured as a cultural community.


These are just a sampling of the most popular areas for data enhancement. Ultimately, you as the collection steward will have better insight into your collections and the possibilities for enhancement present in the museum CMS. Next week we’ll review criteria for how to determine the “worth it” factor. As data enhancement is considered optional (according to data standards), it should be balanced with the day-to-day demands of our job.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for a free webinar How to Perform Data Enhancement for Your Museum CMS Wednesday, May 29 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now.

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