The moment when your organization comes up against the limitations of your museum collections management system (CMS) can be a scary one. The logistics of vetting, selecting, and implementing new software to manage your collections is a lot for your organization to take on. This is particularly true for small institutions that rely on volunteers. But museum collections experts familiar with the software systems available and insider knowledge about their efficient use can help. History Associates Inc. (HAI) provides experts adept at assisting museums of all sizes and levels of funding to partner with museum staff in choosing a new museum collections management software system.
The need for new collections management software often coincides with—and perhaps indicates the necessity of—a strategic planning process. HAI’s museum experts have years of experience partnering with museums to develop strategic plans. They are also well versed in existing—and extensive—guidelines and criteria for collections management. One aspect of the selection process is evaluating an institution’s existing technology and determining whether a new collections management system is necessary. Some CMS’s are complex, and many are also prohibitively expensive. HAI collections management experts can help you evaluate potential systems to best understand at what point the cost outweighs the benefits. They can then assist you in choosing software that both meets your needs and that your organization can afford. Collections management experts are also well aware of the pitfalls that can occur during the software system selection process, and work to prevent them for your institution.
Four Facts to Keep in Mind When Evaluating Museum Collections Management Software Systems
1. No matter the quality or capabilities of your system, people are required to run it.
A variety of museum collections software platforms exist; most of these are likely to benefit the institutions that use them by organizing collections, increasing efficiency, and making collections more accessible. But the software cannot create these effects on its own. It is critical that your organization’s employees and volunteers share in the benefits of new software and can easily use it. Be sure that the system is compatible with your staff and volunteers’ skill levels and training. The system is only as effective as the people running it.
2. You will need a high-quality database manual.
For your system to be user-friendly for every member of your organization, you need a manual that can facilitate high-quality engagement with the system, even in the absence of your staff’s technology point person. An excellent database manual is another resource that contributes to the success of your new software system. Our HAI experts can help you create a manual that is complete, accessible, and provides clear data entry instruction and support for users at every level. HAI understands both the technological and human aspects of curating and maintaining collections. This is why we help our museum partners select and successfully implement the best possible museum collections management software for their needs.
3. Training and onboarding are critical.
Even the most high-end software system cannot function on its own. Human beings—your organization’s most powerful asset—must be able to interface with your system successfully. Your system should be user-friendly for every member of your organization to ensure good workflow for all. Museum administrators must provide clear expectations and delegate responsibilities for the software to function as an asset, and not a burden, to your museum. The need to maintain clear standards does not disappear with new software. In fact, your organization’s standards may need to be altered or adapted with the adoption of new technology. Perhaps the most critical factor in the successful implementation of new museum collections management software is training: the members of your organization need to learn how to use your new technology effectively. Personalized, expert support can ensure that your organization thoroughly considers each of these elements, and implements policies and practices that sufficiently address them. Your staff and volunteers need to be well trained in how to use your software system so that it is maximally effective for your museum. By onboarding your staff and volunteers to a high level of competence, you make your organization more efficient. Not doing so makes your technology a burden rather than an asset.
4. Choose the museum collections management software that best fits your museum.
A wide variety of software systems, at a variety of price points, are available. While some museums with a large staff or sizable collections may require a system that includes high-end features, yours may not. Choose the system that has the capabilities you need and avoid paying for features that you don’t.
The museum services and collections management experts at HAI can help analyze available systems with these important facts in mind. They can then partner with you to implement a new system or migrate your collections. Working with experts in the field ensures that you learn about available museum collections management systems and engage in a thorough and thoughtful vetting process. Schedule a meeting with an experienced collections management professional to learn more about how we can assist you as your organization undertakes this major project.