What Does Museum Data Enhancement Mean?

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

May 01, 2024

When referencing museum data within the Collections Management System (CMS) it typically revolves around data entry or cleanup.

While these two aspects of museum data are of primary importance, there will eventually be a point in time when museum staff can consider data enhancement. To begin this miniseries, we’ll review what museum data enhancement means and the aspects it can entail. We will then continue the miniseries with coverage of common data areas to consider for enhancement, where to spot enhancement opportunities, how to create a plan for enhancement, and how to perform enhancement work.

What is Data Enhancement?

To begin, what is data enhancement? Enhancement generally means an act to improve. Data enhancement is the improvement of object information as captured within the museum CMS. This could be an improvement of existing data in the CMS through correction, adding updates, or expanding upon areas of data. Or, it could be an improvement of the object information by adding information not previously available. For our purposes, both the act of updating existing data as well as adding new data are considered data enhancements.

Enhancement is Moving from Required to Recommended

It’s important to note that when we’re considering data enhancement work it’s specifically for areas where the data is recommended for inclusion according to descriptive best practices. For example, Catalog Cultural Objects (CCO) is a descriptive standard which outlines required and recommend types of data to capture. If the focus is on addressing missing required areas, then this data effort falls into the data cleanup category. Enhancement is an improvement of the status quo, but it’s also considered an optional, added-value activity. This is an important element to consider if the museum data still has areas of cleanup that are in need of attention.

What Conditions Lead to Enhancement Needs?

The conditions that lead to opportunities in data enhancement are fairly similar to those that lead to data cleanup. For many museums there’s not enough staff time to dedicate towards object data creation and management. This is typically because there are competing priorities, in addition to catalog backlogs and/or acquiring objects at a rate higher than being able to catalog the items more fully. Additionally, areas most ripe for data enhancement are those that require further research, information seeking and analysis, and typically more narrative data creation. Each of these activities can take a not-insignificant amount of time to achieve.

If Enhancement is Optional, Why Do It?

Given that data enhancement is the improvement of data through recommended versus required areas, it’s fair to question why one would pursue optional work. Indeed, data enhancement shouldn’t be entered into lightly. Enhancement should only be done if it adds value to the record and there aren’t other more urgent data priorities in need of attention. One of the major benefits of data enhancement is that it improves the ability to discover materials—leading to increased use of those items, as well as assisting with more meaningful interpretation and engagement with the materials. As we work through this miniseries, we will consider the “worth it” factor. And, even if it is worth it, we’ll still need to balance data enhancement work with our other responsibilities.

Conclusion

Now that we’re all familiar with what data enhancement is and its place among data entry and cleanup, we’ll be able to dive into the miniseries. When we think about data enhancement, we want to consider areas in need of improvement and how best to execute those improvements. In this miniseries we will breakdown the main aspects of museum data enhancement, common areas for enhancement, how to asses enhancement opportunities, how to create a plan for your enhancement approach, and how to perform the work.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for a free webinar How to Perform Data Enhancement for Your Museum CMS Wednesday, May 29 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 afterwards). Register now.

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