Evaluating the Location of Museum Data

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

March 22, 2023

Evaluating where the museum collection data currently resides may appear straightforward, but it’s usually more difficult than expected. 

Oftentimes many museum staff aren’t aware of where the data is—even though knowing the location of the museum data is important for data security, data redundancy, data retrieval or linking, and data extraction. Not only is knowing and documenting this detail good data hygiene, it could be critical to the long-term integrity and access of the museum data. And it will be required as you consider migrating to a new museum Collections Management System (CMS).

The 4 Main Location Setups

There are currently four setups to capturing museum collection data:

  1. A spreadsheet.
  2. A homegrown or open-source CMS that lives local to a museum computer or server.
  3. A proprietary CMS tool implemented on a local server and computer network to offer “on-premise” access.
  4. A proprietary CMS tool that’s staged on a server owned by the CMS company and can be accessed online.

Each of these comes with pros and cons when considering data migration to a new CMS. This post will review each location setup and what to keep in mind as you prepare for your move to a new CMS.

1. Spreadsheet Setup

Spreadsheets are a great way to start documenting museum collection data. They’re easily available, easy to use, and can capture the basic level of data needed. When considering moving into a CMS the spreadsheet is already in a great format to work with. There may be some column cleanup and renaming, but the actual transformation into an ingestible file (usually CSV) is an easy one.

2. A Homegrown or Open-Source CMS Setup

Out of all the categories in this evaluative area, this one is the most varied due to the “homegrown-ness” this setup implies. Homegrown can be the toughest as the person who first built it has long since moved on, and there are typically quirks or questionable setup decisions that don’t align with how standardized the museum CMS setup has become. Open-source can be a bit easier to work with as there’s usually some structure, but by its very nature it can be implemented and configured in a counterintuitive way. Both of these setups can require significant technical expertise to untangle complex technical problems before data can be translated into the new CMS.

3. A Proprietary CMS On-Premise Setup

Once data enters a proprietary “made for museums” CMS, the chances of being able to migrate the data improve. All modern museum CMS tools are fairly standardized across the board with expected fields and functionality. This means there’s a great chance for 1:1 mapping of the data from the old museum CMS to the new. The challenge in this setup will be the “on-premise” piece as any CMS vendor will need to access the data that only lives “on prem”. This is not insurmountable, but it does add a layer of difficulty.

4. A Proprietary CMS in “The Cloud” Setup

This is one of the easier setups as the museum data can benefit from an existing CMS standardization and the new CMS vendor can easily connect (online) to the current system and data. This setup is usually the most straightforward and requires the least technical knowledge from the museum staff.


The important thing to remember is that regardless of which setup exists at your museum, there will be dozens of others in the museum world with a same or similar setup. Connecting to colleagues and learning from past migrations at other museums can be of great assistance when considering the challenges of where your data is located. CMS vendors are also incredibly knowledgeable and should be utilized to the fullest extent during the migration planning phase.

Additional Reading

How to Prepare for a Museum Collections Management System Migration


Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

If you’d like to learn more, please join us for “Evaluating the Shape of Museum Data”, presented by Rachael Woody on Wednesday, April 5, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This