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SER Explains: Collection management systems for museum objects

You’ve definitely heard of a CMS - but this is CMS perhaps not as you know it.

A CMS in the world of museums relates specifically to the organization and collection of objects.

But what is a collection management system, and why is it important? What information should be managed? And how does an organization choose the right one? We break it down in today’s post.

collection-management-system-for-museums

What is a collection management system?

A collection management system is a type of software used by museum and archival staff to categorize and store information on objects housed within the organization.

The software allows the cataloging and maintenance of records of objects, photos, artworks, document management and more, all in one place.

Why is a collection management system important?

When thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of objects need to be managed, a collection management system is an incredibly important investment.

Customer Insights Case Study: Natural History Museum

Let’s take the Natural History Museum, London as a point of reference.

With 300 scientists responsible for more than 80 million objects - including a 3.5 ton meteorite, one of the first T-Rexes ever unearthed, and a giant squid among the prize exhibits - the Museum needed a strong, capable system to handle them.

Not only that, but the collection management system also needed to digitize and improve crucial processes such as loans management, increase scalability potential, and automate efficiency metrics.

With the CMS, the Museum wants to establish a modern, scalable and future-proof system that will empower them to deliver on their vision of transforming natural sciences collections management globally, and underpin research that will enable people and the planet to thrive.

Benefits of a collection management system

There are numerous wide-reaching benefits to a collection management system.

For example, the Doxis Intelligent Content Automation platform handles a wide range of museum collections in its museum management software - historical, photographic, art and archival among others - and the system allows improved organization and accessibility.

When it comes to museum objects in particular, often they are - quite literally - priceless.

Moving exhibits to different locations is common, and it doesn’t bear thinking about the risk of loss or damage.

By employing a collection management system the risk is reduced, the tracking and monitoring of the object usage and circulation is improved, and the process is automated and streamlined - saving time and money. Win, win.

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Choosing a Collection Management System

When choosing a collection management system, there are many considerations. With many vendors in the space, careful research on the features and functionality is fundamental.

 

Assessment

  • Assess your needs and goals - does the organization need a quick and easy solution, or something more robust and specialist?
  • Take into account who will be using the software. Identifying this at the beginning of the process is key in who needs to be involved in the selection process.
  • Do you have staff already trained on how to use certain features? Training and rollout of software is far too often an afterthought, when in fact it needs to be one of the first things to plan.
  • How does each CMS use categorization? Is it flexible and customizable? Does it integrate with other software systems?

These are all extremely crucial questions to ask potential vendors.

Also, ask to see case studies of similar organizations using the collections management in the ways you wish to deploy it, and even contact them to compare their experiences.

Pricing

Crucially (at least to your CFO!), there’s the pricing structure. Time to talk money. Conducting a cost-benefit analysis is imperative. Consider:

  • How much will the collections management software cost - including support costs, upgrades, service packs?
  • Circling back to who will be trained and using the system, the amount of licenses and machines needs to be budgeted for.

Making your decision

When making your final decision and implementing the system, ensure all of your questions have been answered by your potential vendors.

Choosing a vendor who is collaborative, curious and meticulous will see your precious data in safe hands.

And when the data relates to one of the world’s most culturally significant items (skeleton of a T-Rex, anyone?), those safe hands are priceless.

Frequently asked questions

What is collection management?
Collection management is the process of management and care of objects, in this case relating to museums and collections.
What is a collection management system?
A collection management system is software used by collections staff to select, store and maintain collections, ensuring the safe housing of museum objects.
What is the collection management process?
The collection management process involves strategic planning, assessing needs, analyzing collections, establishing collection policies and procedures, budgeting, selecting and deselecting resources, acquisitions, and evaluation.
What is the first step in collection management?
A first step in collection management is preparing and maintaining a database of all objects needing to be handled.

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