How to Prepare for a Museum Collections Management System Migration

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

October 16, 2019

Migrating digital collection content from one museum collections management system to another is not a favorite activity among museum staff. Historically, system migrations were laborious, often didn’t work as planned, and left a lot of manual clean up.

CMS migrations were known for being costly, long, and painful. Fortunately, collections management systems have existed long enough for many to now offer a standard migration option. However, there are still decisions and activities that should be undertaken in order to ensure a seamless transition.

Have You Selected a Collections Management System?

If you’re at the migration stage of a collections management system project then you’ve likely gone through the CMS acquisition phase. But if you haven’t, make sure to check out my tips on how to shop for a new CMS: 3 Things to Look for When Choosing a Museum Collections Management System.

If you’re ready to plan your migration, here are the five steps I recommend you take to guarantee a successful migration:

Step 1: Fully Get to Know the New CMS

Work with the new CMS representatives to make sure you know how it operates and what to expect during the migration. Ask the representatives for their tips on how the museum can prepare for the migration. I also recommend speaking with fellow museum colleagues at different museums who are currently using the new CMS or have exited from your existing CMS. Speaking with your peers can help reveal items that are more obvious from the user perspective and not as obvious from the CMS vendor perspective.

Step 2: Understand How Content Will Exit Your Current CMS and Enter the New CMS

All collections management systems are created differently and they will behave differently when exporting or importing museum collection content. Work with both CMS vendors (if possible) to review how content exits and enters a system in order to prepare for how your specific museum’s content will exit one CMS and enter another.

Step 3: Test Migration and Troubleshoot

Now it’s time to test the migration of your museum’s collection content; how we use our collections management systems can differ across museums, and results may vary. While this is common, it can alter the migration experience and therefore differ from how sample data migrates. It’s important to test migration with your museum’s content in order to identify potential pitfalls before the mass migration and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Step 4: Clean Up the Existing CMS Content

Migrations often bring to light bad past practices, changed cataloging practices, or a lack of adherence to cataloging standards. It’s important to note these issues and measure how pervasive they may be. Depending on the nature of the migration, this can be an opportune time to address issues so that content entering the new museum CMS meets all current best practices. Which leads me to Step 5…

Step 5: Establish (or Re-establish) Museum Cataloging Best Practices & Adjust Workflows

It’s natural for cataloging practices to change over time due to staff turnover or the adoption of new best practices. In going through the CMS migration it’s likely that museum staff will have an opportunity to observe the museum’s history of cataloging practices. The implementation of a new CMS is a perfect time to establish or re-establish museum best practices, update CMS documentation, and review workflows specific to the museum collections management system.


Migrations don’t need to be a stressful or drawn out event. Follow these five steps to ensure your next CMS migration is a success.

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. For more on cataloging, please see Rachael’s post The Importance of Sustainable Cataloging & How to Achieve It. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and digitization, which can be used to optimize museum workflows.

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