Strategies for Effective Museum Data Cleanup – Part 2

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

April 19, 2023

As mentioned in Part 1 of my analysis of museum data cleanup, data remediation is a critical aspect of our work. Incorrect data affects our ability to take care of and manage the collection, and it impacts users who engage with our collections. 

Fortunately, no matter what type of Collections Management System (CMS) you have, there are strategies you can use to help your data cleanup efforts. This week we will cover the Find and Replace In-System Strategy and the CMS Vendor Support Strategy. For each strategy, we will review required elements, offer directions, and note recommendations and pitfalls.

The Find and Replace In-System (CMS) Strategy

The find and replace strategy utilized in-system (CMS) data cleanup tools can be a huge timesaver. This strategy is best applied in universal update scenarios. For more intensive individual cleanup—such as providing fuller descriptions—the cleanup will have to be executed record-by-record or (if available) the spreadsheet strategy. Check your CMS documentation to see if find and replace (or bulk edit) is a supported function and review the steps you need to take for that particular system.

Notes about this strategy:

  • A powerful strategy that makes updates fast but at a risk.
  • Can assist in mass data updates, but not in singular work such as further detailing a description.
  • Requires a CMS that offers “find and replace” or bulk update functionality.

Directions: Execute a review of your data and identify where universal data cleanup can be performed. This review can be done record by record, from a CMS query or report, or via an export of data from the CMS into a .CSV (spreadsheet) file. Make a game plan for how to tackle the identified data imperfections. For this strategy, each universal find and replace action will need to be predefined by crafting a specific query for the exact set of records you intend to update. Make a note of any records that will require individual attention. These records can be further worked on at a later stage in cleanup.

Recommendation: Work with your CMS vendor to make sure you understand how to use the find and replace tool. Identify field specific changes to execute.

Possible Pitfalls: While this approach is powerful and effective for bulk cleanup, it loses usefulness the moment the cleanup becomes more specific and individual. Additionally, the bulk change feature can create other problems if the query isn’t specific enough and if the review process is skipped before executing the change.

The CMS Vendor Supported Cleanup Strategy

This strategy is in some ways easier to perform because you have a strong technical partner to lean on for data cleanup support. This option is only available to proprietary CMS products that are actively serviced by a functional company. Part of what you pay for with proprietary products is access to technical experts and tools to help you get the job done faster. 

Notes about this strategy:

  • Vendors can be strong technical partners and should know how to achieve what you need.
  • Requires a CMS vendor who can perform the changes needed.
  • Some technical support is included in contracts, but depending on your contract it could cost extra.

Directions: Contact your CMS vendor and learn about the tools available to review and cleanup your data. Make a game plan for how to evaluate records for data imperfections, and classify which cleanup actions can be supported by the vendor. Work with the vendor to make sure the right records are identified and review the cleanup needed. Perform spot checks of the work to make sure no mistakes were made in the preparation or execution phase.

Recommendation: Reach out to your CMS vendor to understand what support is available and what resources they can offer to support your cleanup effort.

Possible Pitfalls: Every CMS vendor is different in the support they provide and how “freely” they give it. Depending on the vendor, there may be additional costs associated with their help.


Now that we have reviewed the four main strategies for data cleanup, it’s time to learn how to create a plan for data cleanup. We will conclude our data cleanup series next week with instructions on how you can create your own data cleanup plan.

Additional Reading

Evaluating the Format of Museum Data

Evaluating the Quality of Museum Data

How to Chart a Course Toward a Better Museum CMS 

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 “Strategies for Museum Data Remediation”, presented by Rachael Woody May 3, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717. 

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