October 31, 2023

A Collections Management What?

CollectionsIndex+ Screenshot

All sectors have their own particular language and museums are no different. Sometimes we might come out with things that aren’t familiar, so I thought for this blog post we’d take a look at one of these phrases and at the same time celebrate a big bit of recent progress

A Collections Management System, or CMS for short, is essential to museum work.

Although it can be paper-based, these days it is usually a computerized system through which you can create and manage the object records for every single item that you hold.

It allows you to organise, control and manage collections objects, capture in-depth information about them and can also enable you to share your collection with the public, as we do through the Online Collection:

An example of an Online Collection record showing cars lined up for an event at Brooklands in 1938

Museums, galleries, libraries, or any organisation with a collection, will work with their own different CMS. Digital versions are provided by various different suppliers, so you can pick the one that works best for you, or you may use a bespoke system, designed especially to suit your particular collection.

A CMS needs to be searchable so that users can find information quickly and easily. This ranges from the description or date of an item, to its location, its condition and its measurements. A CMS can also link records together, which helps to connect objects and build a picture of all their different stories. Capturing all of this through cataloguing can bring objects alive.

Screenshot of an object record on a Collections Management System. It shows an image of AML marketing material (Power Beauty Soul) alongside object information

Given that a CMS needs to do so much, a great deal of thought is put into the creation of these databases and they are built to be Spectrum compliant. There are standards and legislation relating to museums and collections which organisations are required to meet, and your CMS can help you achieve them.

There’s another term. Spectrum? Spectrum is the UK collections management standard that is now also used around the world. Museums wanting to achieve Accreditation have to demonstrate that they meet, or have a plan to meet, the Spectrum standard for the nine primary procedures.

The Spectrum nine primary procedures are:

  • Object Entry: logging all objects which come into your care
  • Acquisition & Accessioning: taking legal ownership of objects, especially to add to your collection through accessioning (the formal commitment of a governing body to care for objects long term)
  • Location & Movement Control: keeping a record of where all the objects in your care are and keeping this up to date
  • Inventory: making sure you have the basic information to be accountable for the objects in your care
  • Cataloguing: the ongoing process of recording and managing information about collections
  • Object Exit: recording when objects leave the buildings you are responsible for and pass out of your direct care
  • Loans In (borrowing objects): managing objects you borrow for a fixed period of time and for a specific purpose
  • Loans Out (lending objects): assessing requests for you to lend your objects and managing the lending process until loans are returned to you
  • Documentation Planning: making your documentation systems better and continuously enhancing the information they contain

At AMHT we use CollectionsIndex+, provided by System Simulation. CI+ is Spectrum compliant, so we’re achieving much of the required criteria as we work towards Accreditation, and it also supports management processes needed for meeting the standard, like some of those listed above.

Overview of activity fields for a Collections Management System

For a number of years we’ve been using a version of CI+ that has required logging in to a remote desktop (see Power Beauty Soul image!). We’ve been working away behind the scenes and this month we have transferred to a new online version. It has improved our access to the CMS, and its updated interface means it no longer looks like we’re still living in the 1990s!

The transfer has required a lot of testing of the newer system and making sure all of the object records and images have transferred correctly so it’s brilliant to have reached this stage.

No museum or organisation with a collection will ever finish this collections management and cataloging work because there is always more to learn, more to add and more to share. And now we have a fabulous, ready for the future, online CMS on which to carry on with our own work!

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