Document Museum CMS Fields and Function

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

August 09, 2023

As a profession, we have a set of standards we follow during the course of our work. Recording data in a museum Collections Management Systems (CMS) is one such area governed by standards. 

However, every museum has its own history and timeline of the adoption of standards. Additionally, working with volunteers and experiencing staff turnover can all contribute to varying quality in data entry. Regardless of how your museum has arrived, preparing for a new CMS requires that we understand what fields our data is in currently and what fields the data needs to migrate to in the new CMS.

Museum CMS Data Migration

The purpose of this process is to understand the fields in use and the functions of those fields. This will help support the migration of your data from your current CMS to the new CMS. For more detailed information regarding the data migration part of the process, please see the following posts:

Standards Help Standardize Museum Collections Management Systems

The good news about standardization is that all museum CMS options should share a set of core standard fields. So, if your museum used the standard fields for data entry—that data should be able to migrate over fairly easily as a 1:1 field match. There may be a few instances of the fields labeled with different names, but as long as it’s prior to migration, there shouldn’t be an issue mapping these fields together for migration.

Museum Descriptive Standards

Museum descriptive standards outline both the type of data to capture as well as how it should be captured. For many museums and cultural heritage organizations the standard typically referenced is Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO).

The following are the CCO minimum required fields to use:

  • Work Type
  • Title
  • Creator; Role (controlled vocabulary – can be local, an authority, or both)
  • Creation Date
  • Subject (use of Nomenclature for a controlled vocabulary)
  • Current Location
  • Measurements
  • Materials and Techniques (use of Nomenclature for a controlled vocabulary)

Knowing these standards will help you accurately interpret and capture information during the next step in this process.

Document CMS Fields and Function

The following steps will help you prepare for museum data migration:

  1. Document the descriptive standards you follow (currently or aspiration), the fields required by that standard, and their designated function—i.e. what type of data do they capture? What format does that data need to be in?
  2. Document the CMS fields used in the existing CMS—this includes both historical and present-day use. 
  3. Document the new CMS fields that are considered the standard template for that CMS and what function they provide throughout the modules of the CMS—modules can be loan, transport, conservation, etc.

Recommendation for How to Document

The three areas outlined above can be a lot of information to capture and absorb. I recommend starting with a basic spreadsheet with 5 columns: 

  1. Functional area (e.g. accession record, conservation record, loan record, etc.)
  2. Required fields for each functional area according to standards
  3. The name of the field in your current system where each piece of data resides
  4. The name of the field in the new system where the data will be mapped to
  5. Your notes on what (if any) data cleanup needs to occur


This information will be helpful for next steps regarding the implementation of your new CMS as well as the migration of data from your current CMS to the new system.  And, moving forward your museum will be set up in the CMS to follow museum standards in data capture. 

Additional Reading

Establishing Museum CMS Best Practices

How to Prepare for Museum Data Migration

Items Required for Successful Data Migration

What Does Museum Data Migration Entail?

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for How to Prepare for a New Museum CMS, presented by Rachael Woody on Wednesday, August 30, 2023 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 or call 604-278-6717.

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