Establishing Museum CMS Best Practices

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

December 04, 2019

In order for the catalog to meet the needs of the museum and the expectations of the museum audience, it’s important to create a set of museum collections management system (CMS) best practices that fit both.

The Benefits of CMS Best Practices

Establishing museum CMS best practices has multiple benefits:

  • Consistent data (in quality and quantity) across all museum object records
  • Museum staff confident in their cataloging
  • Less staff time spent on unnecessary cataloging
  • Decrease in occurrences of cataloging burnout among staff
  • More items cataloged
  • Less chance of error (incorrect field and/or incorrect information)
  • Limited scope when data clean-up is required
  • Succession of cataloging practices not at-risk during staff turnover

How to Get Started

To begin, the following steps should be taken to develop a sustainable and easy-to-follow set of catalog instructions:

  1. Identify cataloging fields with indications of “required” and “recommended”.
  2. Articulate guidelines for how data should be entered into each field, including standardized language, avoidance of abbreviations and acronyms, and appropriate writing style.
  3. Communicate which catalog standards and controlled vocabularies will be followed; provide examples of how each may be used within a catalog record.

These steps are the foundation of CMS best practices for any museum. If you find yourself stuck with what fields to choose or standards to follow, take a look at a peer museum’s CMS for inspiration. Additionally, don’t forget to check out what catalog templates and controlled vocabularies come pre-loaded in your CMS.

Tools to Use

Museum collections management systems typically come with a suite of tools available for customizing the CMS back-end. Once cataloging standards and best practices are agreed upon by museum staff, the next step is to customize the CMS to reflect those decisions. This customization is fairly easy for staff to execute and an investment of time and attention now can help minimize future object record errors and uneven content information across object records.

Here are the recommended CMS tools to use to customize the museum CMS experience for staff:

  • Customize the catalog template so that only fields the museum wishes to use are visible. If possible, mark these fields as required or recommended.
  • If a set of standards or rules can be selected within the CMS, do so.
  • Select or pre-load the controlled vocabularies the museum has elected to follow.

Utilizing these tools is especially important if the museum relies on volunteers or interns to help populate the CMS—set them (and you) up for success. For more tips on how to create effective technology training for volunteers and interns please see this previous Lucidea post


Work smarter, not harder. Use the tools the CMS comes with to help create a sustainable cataloging practice—one that includes: a clearly determined scope, easy to read documentation, relevant CMS customization that reflects museum best practices, and a staff commitment not to deviate from the practice. The more forethought and effort staff put into the establishment of standards and best practices, the more accurate and effective the museum collection information will be.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and download your free copy of Rachael’s new book for Lucidea Press, How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS.


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