Evaluating the Quality of Museum Data

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

March 08, 2023

In preparation for moving to a new museum Collections Management System (CMS), it’s always preferable to make sure your existing data is of good quality. 

For many, the implementation of and migration to a new CMS is a considerable investment in both staff time as well as money. It’s also a great opportunity to spend some time with the museum data, evaluate the quality of content, and take any remedial action that makes sense. Typically, the cleaner the data is, the easier it is to seamlessly migrate from one CMS or spreadsheet to another CMS.

What do we mean by “quality” data?

There are a few markers of quality data to consider:

  • The data for each object is accurate and complete.
  • The data is located in the appropriate fields of the CMS and in the correct format.
  • There’s data in each of the minimum requirement fields.
  • The data follows best practices set forth by the museum field and any established internal practices specific to your museum.

Some Quality Areas are More Impactful Than Others

Some of these quality indicators are more important than others. For example, as long as the data is in the correct field and format, it will be possible to migrate. However, if the data is in the wrong field, additional data mapping work will need to be undertaken. This means you’ll need to identify the wrong fields where the data shows up and map them to the correct field in the new CMS. If you’re missing required data, or if its incorrect, then you’ll need to take additional measures to correct the data, but those corrections could wait until after the migration. While filling in missing required data is not technically necessary for migration, the CMS is only as good as the data you put into it. As the saying goes: Garbage in, garbage out.

Here’s What to Look For

The concept of evaluating the museum CMS data can be overwhelming, especially for museums that have more than a few hundred objects. However, there’s a short and reliable list of things to look for as you evaluate your data. Consider the following prompts:

  • Are all required fields filled in?
  • Is that data complete and accurate?
  • Are the fields used according to best practices?
  • Are the fields used in a consistent fashion?

Here’s How to Look for It

The best way to evaluate data is as an aggregate. This makes it easier to spot missing data, incorrect data formats, and any data inconsistencies. 

Most CMS tools will allow the exporting of your data as a .CSV which can be viewed as a spreadsheet. As most museum collections have hundreds if not thousands (or tens of thousands) of objects, it’s best to export and analyze the data in chunks.

More sophisticated CMS tools can provide some pinpointed query and reporting that you can use to target areas of the data that you know are weak. For example, if you suspect that a field is missing or usually missing from the object records you can query the CMS to report back with all records that are missing that field.

If you’re not sure what your current CMS is capable of then I recommend the following:

  • Reach out to the CMS vendor or refer to available CMS instructional documents. 
  • Reach out to a colleague who works with the same system to ask for advice.
  • Search for and view helpful tutorials, presentations, and trainings, that may be available online. It’s amazing what you can find on YouTube.


Evaluating the museum CMS data is important preparatory work for a new CMS. It’s also an excellent practice to engage in periodically as it’s easier to monitor and correct a small portion of records versus the entire system of records. The process outlined in this post will work for you regardless of the size of the job and can be pulled out for any evaluation occasion. Clean, quality data is always a goal for any museum and the higher the quality data, the better it will work for you in the care and management of the collection.

Additional Reading

Establishing Museum CMS Best Practices

How to Prepare for a Museum Collections Management System Migration

The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging & How to Achieve It

Museum CMS 101: Workflow and Record Construction

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for “Evaluating the Shape of Museum Data”, the first in a new series presented by Rachael Woody. It’s 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 and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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