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A Collections Management System (CMS), sometimes called a Collections Information System, is software used by the collections staff of a collecting institution or by individual private collectors and collecting hobbyists or enthusiasts. Collecting institutions are primarily museums and archives and cover a very broad range from huge, international institutions, to very small or niche-specialty institutions such as local historical museums and preservation societies. Secondarily, libraries and galleries are also collecting institutions. Collections Management Systems (CMSs) allow individuals or collecting institutions to organize, control, and manage their collections' objects by “tracking all information related to and about” those objects.[1] In larger institutions, 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."[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

Development and history of collections management systems

Ever since machine-readable standards were developed for libraries in the 1960s, museums have had an interest in utilizing comput

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.[3] 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.[4]

Ever since machine-readable standards were developed for libraries in the 1960s, museums have had an interest in utilizing computers to record information about their collections. However, museums have very different needs from libraries; while bibliographic information about a library collection object is usually static, museum records are ever-changing because of the continuous need for new information about museum objects to be added to the records.[5] As early as 1967, the Museum Computer Network (MCN), an informal group of New York museums, attempted to create a collections management database called GRIPHOS, and at a Metropolitan Museum of Art and IBM conference in 1968, speakers discussed current and proposed projects to automate collections management.[6] In an effort to coordinate research into developing these systems, professional associations such as the Museum Data Bank Coordinating Committee (MDBCC), formed in 1972, were created to disseminate information about computers and databases to museums interested implementing computerized collections systems.[7] During the 1980s, Collections Management Systems became more advanced with the rise of relational databases that “[relate] each piece of data to every other piece,"[8] and during this time some of today's popular systems were originally developed for specific institutions “based on generic relational databases” — such as Gallery Systems' The Museum System for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Re:discovery Software's Proficio for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's Monticello — before being released as commercial products.[9] During the 1990s, with computers becoming faster and cheaper and with the rise of the Internet, collections management software became much more sophisticated, able to “present images, sort information in any one of a myriad of configurations, record exhibition information, track locations, and interface with a museum Website."[10]

Though the goal during the 1960s was to use computers for collections record-keeping for purposes of accountability, MCN Executive Director Everett Ellin warned that museum professionals should include public access as a goal because it would “not be worth the effort if museums only create a glorified record-keeping system."[11] Collections Management Systems have become crucial tools in increasing public access to collections information, expanding the types of information that are recorded. What was once “a simple tool for collections care and inventory” has become “a robust and powerful instrument for saving all information about museum objects," including interpretive material, digital objects, and digital surrogates. Since some Collections Management Systems now incorporate Digital Asset Management and content information storage, many museum professionals have started to use the acronym CMS to stand for “Content Management System."[12]

Information managed in collections management systems

In 1997, art historian and museum information studies consultant Robert A. Baron outlined the requirements for Collections Management Systems, not as a list of the kinds of collections object information that should be recorded, but rather as a list of collections activities such as administration, loan, exhibition, preservation, and retrieval,[13] tasks that museums had been responsible for long before the invention of computers, and many modern Collections Management Systems go beyond cataloging by aiding in the management of these processes and workflows.[14] The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) Collections Management Software Criteria Checklist (CMSCC), which aims to be a comprehensive list of the kinds of information that a museum may want to record in a CMS, organizes that list by processes and actions rather than type of information. The checklist “outlines a number of features commonly included in a commercial CMS, which can assist a museum in determining which features have priority.”[15]

Object entry

Managing and documenting information and tasks related to objects entering the museum, including acquisition or loan records, receipts, record of the reason for the deposit of the object, and record of the object's return to its owner.

Acquisition

The management and documentation of objects added to the institution's collection, including accession numbers, catalog numbers, object name or title, acquisition date, acquisition method, and transfer of title. There are many different accession numbering systems, and a CMS should allow an institution to use its existing numbering system.[16]

Inventory control

Identification of objects for which the institution

Though the goal during the 1960s was to use computers for collections record-keeping for purposes of accountability, MCN Executive Director Everett Ellin warned that museum professionals should include public access as a goal because it would “not be worth the effort if museums only create a glorified record-keeping system."[11] Collections Management Systems have become crucial tools in increasing public access to collections information, expanding the types of information that are recorded. What was once “a simple tool for collections care and inventory” has become “a robust and powerful instrument for saving all information about museum objects," including interpretive material, digital objects, and digital surrogates. Since some Collections Management Systems now incorporate Digital Asset Management and content information storage, many museum professionals have started to use the acronym CMS to stand for “Content Management System."[12]

In 1997, art historian and museum information studies consultant Robert A. Baron outlined the requirements for Collections Management Systems, not as a list of the kinds of collections object information that should be recorded, but rather as a list of collections activities such as administration, loan, exhibition, preservation, and retrieval,[13] tasks that museums had been responsible for long before the invention of computers, and many modern Collections Management Systems go beyond cataloging by aiding in the management of these processes and workflows.[14] The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) Collections Management Software Criteria Checklist (CMSCC), which aims to be a comprehensive list of the kinds of information that a museum may want to record in a CMS, organizes that list by processes and actions rather than type of information. The checklist “outlines a number of features commonly included in a commercial CMS, which can assist a museum in determining which features have priority.”[15]

Object entry

Managing and documenting information and tasks related to objects entering the museum, including acquisition or loan rec

Managing and documenting information and tasks related to objects entering the museum, including acquisition or loan records, receipts, record of the reason for the deposit of the object, and record of the object's return to its owner.

Acquisition

The management and documentation of objects added to the institution's collection, including accession numbers, catalog numbers, object name or title, acquisition date, acquisition method, and transfer of title. There are many different accession numbering systems, and a CMS should allow an institution to use its existing numbering system.[16]

Inventory control

Information that describes

Information that describes and identifies objects, including creator/maker/artist, date(s) of creation, place of creation, provenance, object history, research on the object, and connections to other objects.

Conservation management<

The management of information about an object's conservation “from a curatorial and collections management perspective," including conservation requests, examination records, condition reports, records of preventative actions, and treatment histories.[17]

Risk management

Management of informa

Management of information about potential threats to collections objects, including documentation of specific threats, records of preventative measures, disaster plans and procedures, and emergency contacts.

Insurance management and valuation control

Management of an object's exhibition or display, including e

Management of an object's exhibition or display, including exhibition history and documentation of research done on an object for an exhibition. More advanced Collections Management Systems may have the ability to present information from the system on a museum's website or in an online exhibit.

Dispatch/shipping/transport

Managing the temporary transfer of responsibility of an object fr

Managing the temporary transfer of responsibility of an object from the museum to another institution or vice versa, including loan agreements, loan history, records of costs and payments, packing lists, and records of overdue loans.

Deaccessioning and disposal

An efficient CMS, like a good relational database, should not have duplicate records and should not require that the same information be recorded in more than one place in the system. At the same time, the system should be flexible enough to accommodate more data as the collections expand.[22] The user must also understand that not all infor

An efficient CMS, like a good relational database, should not have duplicate records and should not require that the same information be recorded in more than one place in the system. At the same time, the system should be flexible enough to accommodate more data as the collections expand.[22] The user must also understand that not all information must be entered into a Collections Management System; for example, complex information such as complicated dimensions and measurements. Some institutions may not want to record confidential information such as private donor information in a CMS and instead keep it in a manual file or a separate, secure digital file, with pointers to the file's location recorded in the CMS.[23] However, others argue that such confidential information should be recorded in the CMS to protect the information in the event of a disaster where manual files may be destroyed.

Backup and redundancy

Because a computer

Because a computerized system “demands a much greater degree of precision in the use of language for cataloging and data retrieval than does a manual system,” data and metadata standards should be applied in a Collections Management System.[25] Data standards provide rules for how information is entered into the system, and data that has been entered into the system in a consistent manner allows for more accurate and precise information retrieval and for easier exchange of data between different systems.[26]

The three types of data standards are structure, content, and value:

  • Data structure standards describe the fields and categories of information (sometimes called elements) that are required to identify an object. In a museum CMS, these fields often include accession number, title/name of object, maker/creator of object, p

    The three types of data standards are structure, content, and value:

    While most of these data standards apply to the cataloging and description of cultural objects, efforts are also being made to create data standards for natural history collections. Based on Dublin Core, the Darwin Core (DwC) standard is a data structure standard for biodiversity information whose “glossary of terms” are the “fields” and “elements” needed to catalog biological and natural history specimens and samples.[31]

    Recognizing the importance of data standards to many users, some developers advertise that their Collections Management Systems are compliant with certain standards. For example, the Adlib Museum CMS is “certified as SPECTRUM compliant by the Collections Trust” and “also incorporates other international standards such as the ‘CIDOC’ guidelines and Getty ‘Object ID.’”[32]

    Security and access

    A Collections Management System should have security measures that “ensure that only authorized persons are able to enter, edit, or view” information contained in the system.[33] However, there is a growing demand for public access to some of the collections and object information contained in the CMS, which “helps fulfill a museum's mission to educate the public and prove that the objects held in public trust are used to public benefit” while also encouraging collections staff to “support basic collection stewardship” by ensuring that information about the object is accurate before being made publicly accessible.[34] The system should allow the public to be able to make and refine searches of publicly accessible information in the system.[35]

    Rights and reproductions

    A CMS should also allow collections staff to manage information on reproduction rights of the objects for which the institution is responsible, including type of copyright scheme being applied (for example, U.S. copyright or Creative Commons license), copyright ownership, and

    Recognizing the importance of data standards to many users, some developers advertise that their Collections Management Systems are compliant with certain standards. For example, the Adlib Museum CMS is “certified as SPECTRUM compliant by the Collections Trust” and “also incorporates other international standards such as the ‘CIDOC’ guidelines and Getty ‘Object ID.’”[32]

    A Collections Management System should have security measures that “ensure that only authorized persons are able to enter, edit, or view” information contained in the system.[33] However, there is a growing demand for public access to some of the collections and object information contained in the CMS, which “helps fulfill a museum's mission to educate the public and prove that the objects held in public trust are used to public benefit” while also encouraging collections staff to “support basic collection stewardship” by ensuring that information about the object is accurate before being made publicly accessible.[34] The system should allow the public to be able to make and refine searches of publicly accessible information in the system.[35]

    Rights and reproductions