How to Prepare for a New Museum CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

March 01, 2023

The role of the museum CMS is to capture, manage, and share the data and digital assets you place in it. 

If your museum is in the process of procuring a new museum CMS, you will need to migrate the data and digital assets from your former CMS (or spreadsheet) to the new CMS. Last month we reviewed barriers to a new museum Collections Management System (CMS), and covered how to chart your course to a new CMS. This month we will focus on what you can do to prepare museum data so migrating to the new CMS is as smooth as possible. There are tools and strategies available to support this work, but their efficacy will depend on the quality and shape of your data—and how easy it is to export from your old CMS.

Did you miss last month’s posts on how to remove barriers to a new CMS? Review them here:

Preparation Areas

As part of the preparatory aspects of this work, you will need to evaluate the following:

  1. Data Quality
  2. Data Format
  3. Data Location
  4. Digital Asset Location

Each of these areas has the potential to be relatively simple or very technically complex. It is so important to know where the museum data stands at your own museum—and this knowledge will help inform museum migration plans as you move toward a new CMS. 

Evaluating Data Quality

The quality of the data in the existing museum CMS or spreadsheet is a good first stop in the evaluation period as assessing it can take the longest, but it is also the most topically interesting to museum staff and volunteers. Here are a few standards to consider when evaluating the quality of the museum data:

  • 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 is 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.

Evaluating Data Format 

When we think about data format, there are three formats to consider:

  • Data Schema
  • Data Fields
  • Data Export

Each has a format piece that informs data migration plans. First, there is the layout of the data fields (schema), then the format of the data in the fields, and then there is how the data exits the existing system as an export. Knowing the shape of the data at your museum is critical to informing the migration decisions down the road.

Evaluating the Data Location

Data location may seem obvious, but the implication and challenges tied to where the data is located is less obvious. Here are the four main setups for museum data location:

  • Spreadsheet
  • Homegrown or Open-Source CMS
  • CMS On-Premise
  • CMS on “The Cloud”

Evaluating the Format and Location of Digital Assets

Similar to the considerations and challenges of where museum data is located, we must also evaluate where the corresponding museum digital assets are located. The following are the four main location setups for digital assets:

  • A Local Computer or Server
  • A Cloud Service
  • In a Separate System
  • In the Museum CMS

Each post will suggest where to find these evaluative areas and how they help to prepare the museum staff for moving to a new CMS.


In the coming weeks, each of these areas will have a dedicated post with additional details of what to look for and how to document any issues you come across. Once you make your way through the evaluation work, we will get into strategies for effective data remediation—aka data clean up.

Additional Reading

3 Things to Look for When Choosing a Museum Collections Management System

Barriers that Prevent Museums from Moving to a Better CMS

Establishing Museum CMS Best Practices

How to Chart a Course Toward a Better Museum CMS

How to Prepare for a Museum Collections Management System Migration

How to Test, Vet, and Purchase a New Museum CMS

The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging & How to Achieve It

The Pros and Cons of Sticking with an Ill-Fitting Museum CMS

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 “Dismantling Barriers to a New Museum CMS”, the first in a new series presented by Rachael Woody. It’s happening TODAY, Wednesday, March 1, 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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