Museum Collections Management System Primer
What is a Museum Collections Management System?
“A Collections Management System (CMS) … is software used by the collections staff of a collecting institution … to organize, control, and manage their collections’ objects by ‘tracking all information related to and about’ those objects. … the CMS may be used by collections staff such as registrars, collections managers, and curators to record information such as object locations, provenance, curatorial information, conservation reports, professional appraisals, and exhibition histories. All of this recorded information is then also accessed and used by other institutional departments such as education, membership, accounting, and administration.
Though early Collections Management Systems were cataloging databases, essentially digital versions of card catalogs, more recent and advanced systems are being used to improve communication between museum staff and to automate and manage collections-based tasks and workflows. Collections Management Systems are also used to provide access to information about an institution’s collections and objects to academic researchers, institutional volunteers, and the public, increasingly through online methods.” Wikipedia
What Should Forward-thinking Museum Professionals Expect from a CMS?
Today, the ideal museum collections management system enables forward-thinking museums and galleries to fulfill their goals of staying accessible, visible and relevant. In addition, combined collections management and portal elements result in greater operational efficiency and strong partnerships between Collections, IT, faculty and other departments. Finally, ease of use (and minimal training time) leads to increased productivity for staff, and allows the museum to offer rewarding internships and volunteer opportunities.
The best museum collections management systems empower museum staff to deliver educational, inspiring and entertaining experiences for visitors the world over.
Less Administration = More Time with Collections
A museum collections management system with integrated public portal and back end administration lets staff push real time updates and makes data entry easy, leading to streamlined workflow and reduced training time for new staff, interns and volunteers—so they can spend less time at their desks and more time with the collections. And using a CMS with full mobile support means staff can work anytime, anywhere using a mobile device; they can search for and record data wherever they are, check the condition of objects on site and do inventories from within warehouses and galleries on-the-go.
Access, Visibility, Discovery, Relevance
Researchers, visitors, and digital visitors expect to find information about museum collections easily. Use a museum collections management system to significantly expand outreach and access through a public web and mobile portal linked directly to your entire collection (beyond the 1-4% that’s on exhibit). Reach visitors near and far, and highlight specific exhibits and objects, or enable browsing of your entire collection through powerful search options (including Google).
Enhanced Curation is Engaging and Inspiring
A museum collections management system with full multimedia capabilities can be used to enhance curation by enabling staff to provide more in-depth documentation about each artifact—delivering content in context. When in-person and virtual visitors can access more documentation in more depth (for both individual objects and collections) it enriches their experience. A Web-based CMS that supports multimedia lets museums offer sophisticated image galleries and links to related objects, highlight special exhibits and share curated collections—leveraging the Internet to “show, tell, engage and inspire.”
How Do You Evaluate and Select a Museum Collections Management System?
The best museum collections management systems deliver powerful, purpose-built functionality out-of-the-box – while being easily configurable it for a museum’s unique needs with no expensive consulting, no expensive programmers, and no time-consuming training.
We’ve written a few blog posts that can help you navigate and implement a CMS: Top 3 Things to Look For When Choosing a Museum Collections Management System and The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging.
Look for a museum collections management system that allows you to:
- Easily offer public portal access to objects and exhibits
- Provide more in-depth documentation about each object or artifact – delivering content in context
- Leverage efficient purpose-built workflows with minimal training required
- Rely on sustainable, cutting edge technology that will remain relevant as your collection and requirements grow
- Manage research request intake and fulfillment, even integrating with email for optimal communication, and automatically build a request database for re-use
Early collections management systems were simply digital versions of card catalogs. Today, with the many powerful features of a collections management application such as Lucidea’s Argus, museum staff can optimize workflows, communication, and effectiveness—and transform the process of visitor engagement with objects and artifacts.
Lucidea’s solutions go well beyond basic and traditional collections management. Our applications for heritage institutions offer comprehensive collections management tools, but take you further—with community curation/co-curation, a dynamic online presence, full multimedia support and streamlined workflows.