A Collections Management System (CMS), also known as a Collections Information System, is software utilized by collecting institutions, individual private collectors, and hobbyists to manage and organize their collections. These institutions range from large international museums and archives to smaller, specialized institutions such as local historical museums and preservation societies. Libraries and galleries are also considered collecting institutions. By tracking all information related to their objects, CMSs allow individuals and institutions to control and manage their collections. In larger institutions, the CMS is typically used by collections staff such as registrars, collections managers, and curators to record object locations, provenance, curatorial information, conservation reports, professional appraisals, and exhibition histories. This information can also be accessed by other institutional departments, including education, membership, accounting, and administration.

Although early CMSs were essentially digital versions of card catalogs, modern systems are more advanced and are used to automate and manage collections-based tasks and workflows. They also improve communication between museum staff and provide access to collection information to academic researchers, institutional volunteers, and the public through online methods.

Libraries and museums have different needs when it comes to utilizing computers to record information about their collections. Unlike bibliographic information about a library collection object that is usually static, museum records are ever-changing because of the continuous need for new information to be added to the records. This need led museums to show interest in utilizing computers to record information about their collections since the development of machine-readable standards for libraries in the 1960s.

In 1967, the Museum Computer Network (MCN), an informal group of New York museums, attempted to create a collections management database called GRIPHOS. At a Metropolitan Museum of Art and IBM conference in 1968, speakers discussed current and proposed projects to automate collections management. 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 in implementing computerized collections systems.

During the 1980s, Collections Management Systems became more advanced with the rise of relational databases that related each piece of data to every other piece. Some of today's popular systems were originally developed for specific institutions before being released as commercial products. Gallery Systems' The Museum System for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Re:discovery Software's Proficio for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's Monticello are examples of systems that were initially developed for specific institutions.

With the advent of faster and cheaper computers during the 1990s and the rise of the internet, collections management software became much more sophisticated, able to present images, sort information in a myriad of configurations, record exhibition information, track locations, and interface with a museum website. However, the goal during the 1960s was to use computers for collections record-keeping for purposes of accountability. MCN Executive Director Everett Ellin warned that museums professionals should include public access as a goal. Otherwise, it would not be worth the effort if museums only create a glorified record-keeping system.

Collections Management Systems have now 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.

Collections Management Systems, according to art historian and museum information studies consultant Robert A. Baron in 1997, encompass more than just cataloging collections object information. Rather, they involve various activities such as administration, loan, exhibition, preservation, and retrieval, which have long been a part of museum responsibilities. Today's modern systems assist with managing these processes and workflows. The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) has developed the Collections Management Software Criteria Checklist (CMSCC) to provide a comprehensive list of information that a museum may want to record in a CMS. Instead of categorizing information by type, the checklist organizes the list by processes and actions, making it easier for museums to prioritize the features they need in a commercial CMS.


Object entry refers to the process of adding new objects to a collection management software system used by museums, galleries, or other organizations that deal with collecting and preserving objects. The process involves creating and updating records related to the acquisition or loan of objects. The first step in the object entry process is to create a record for each object that enters the collection. This record typically includes basic information such as the name of the object, its description, provenance, and any other relevant details. This record serves as a unique identifier for the object and is used throughout the object's life cycle within the museum's collection. The next step is to document the acquisition or loan of the object. This may include a receipt or invoice, a record of the source of the acquisition, and any relevant legal documents, such as deeds of gift or loan agreements. This documentation is important for establishing ownership and providing a record of the object's provenance. Additionally, it is important to record the reason for the deposit of the object in the museum's collection. This may include information on the object's historical or cultural significance, its relevance to the museum's mission or collecting goals, or any other factors that influenced its acquisition or loan. Finally, the museum should maintain a record of the object's return to its owner, whether through the completion of a loan agreement or the transfer of ownership. This record may include the date of return, the condition of the object at the time of return, and any additional documentation related to the transfer of ownership. Overall, the process of object entry involves creating and maintaining detailed records related to the acquisition or loan of objects, as well as the reasons for their deposit in the museum's collection and their eventual return to their owners. By carefully documenting this information, museums and other organizations can ensure that their collections are well-managed and preserved for future generations.


Acquisition is a critical function in collection management, and it involves documenting and managing objects that have been added to the museum's or institution's collection. Collection management software provides institutions with the necessary tools to efficiently manage acquisition information and tasks related to the acquisition process. The acquisition process involves tracking and documenting important information about the objects, such as accession numbers, catalog numbers, object name or title, acquisition date, acquisition method, and transfer of title. The accession number is a unique identification number assigned to an object upon acquisition, and it is used to track the object throughout its lifecycle in the collection. A good CMS should allow institutions to use their existing accession numbering system, as many different numbering systems are in use by different institutions. In addition to accession information, the software should also allow for the capture of detailed information about the objects, such as descriptions, provenance, condition, and any associated documentation or media. By documenting and managing acquisition information in a CMS, institutions can ensure that their collection is properly organized, maintained, and accessible to the public. The software can also provide institutions with valuable insights into their collection, including statistics on acquisition patterns and trends over time.


Inventory control is an essential function of collection management software, as it allows institutions to keep track of their objects and ensure they are accounted for and properly managed. The inventory control module of a CMS typically includes functionality to help identify objects for which the institution has a legal responsibility, such as loaned objects and objects that have not yet been accessioned. In order to maintain accurate inventory records, the CMS will typically require information about each object's location and status. This may include information about where the object is stored, whether it is on display or in storage, and whether it has been recently accessed or moved. The inventory control module may also include features for generating reports, tracking changes in object status over time, and conducting physical inventory audits to verify that all objects are accounted for. Some CMS systems may also integrate with RFID or other tracking technologies to automatically monitor the location and movement of objects within the institution. Overall, the inventory control module of a CMS is essential for ensuring that institutions are able to effectively manage their collections and meet their legal and ethical responsibilities for preserving and protecting cultural heritage objects.


Location and movement control are important features of collection management software that help institutions keep track of their objects and prevent loss or damage. These features allow museum staff to record an object's current and past locations within the institution's premises so that it can be located quickly and easily when needed. The software records the dates of movement and the authorizations for movement, ensuring that all movements are authorized and tracked. This feature also helps institutions to monitor the movement of objects during exhibitions, loans, or other activities. In addition to tracking the current and past locations of objects, collection management software can also be used to manage storage locations and optimize space usage. This can be particularly useful for institutions with large collections, where it is important to be able to quickly locate and retrieve specific objects. Overall, location and movement control features of collection management software help institutions to manage their collections more efficiently, minimize the risk of loss or damage to objects, and ensure compliance with legal and ethical obligations.


The catalog description for collection management software entails information that provides a comprehensive description and identification of objects. This information includes the creator/maker/artist, date(s) of creation, place of creation, provenance, object history, research on the object, and its connections to other objects.


Conservation management in collection management software refers to the management of information about an object's conservation, from a curatorial and collections management standpoint. This includes conservation requests, examination records, condition reports, preventative actions records, and treatment histories.


risk management pertains to the management of information about possible threats to collection objects. This includes documentation of specific threats, records of preventative measures, disaster plans and procedures, and emergency contacts.


Insurance and valuation control management involves documenting the insurance needs of objects that the institution is responsible for, including loaned objects. It also involves determining the monetary value of objects for insurance purposes, which may include information about appraisers, such as their names, contact information, and appraisal history.


In collection management software, exhibition management refers to the management of an object's exhibition or display, which includes documenting its exhibition history and any research conducted on the object for an exhibition. Some advanced collections management systems may also offer features that allow the presentation of information from the system on a museum's website or in an online exhibit.


Dispatch, shipping, and transport management in collection management software involve the management of objects leaving the institution's premises and being transferred to a different location. This includes documenting the location information, packing notes, crate dimensions, authorizations, customs information, and means of transportation, which includes courier information.


Loaning and borrowing management İS temporary transfer of responsibility of an object from one museum to another institution or vice versa. This includes documenting loan agreements, loan history, records of costs and payments, packing lists, venue information, facilities reports, and records of overdue loans.


Management of digital objects in the collection, including audio, video, and image files. This can include documentation on copyright, usage restrictions, and digital preservation. More advanced systems may have the ability to transcode files, extract still images, and edit metadata.

Condition reporting

The documentation of an object's physical condition, including any damage, wear, or deterioration that may have occurred before, during, or after acquisition. This can include notes on previous treatments or restorations, as well as recommendations for future care and conservation. Regular condition reporting is essential for tracking an object's condition over time and identifying any changes that may require action.


The documentation of an object's ownership history, including information about previous owners, dealers, and auction records. Provenance tracking is important for establishing an object's authenticity, as well as for identifying any potential legal or ethical issues related to its acquisition. It can also be useful for tracing the historical context of an object and understanding its significance within a broader cultural or social context.


Management of the process of acquiring new objects for the collection, including documentation of acquisition history, appraisals, provenance research, conservation assessments, and legal agreements. Acquisition management is essential for ensuring that new objects are acquired responsibly and ethically, and that they are integrated into the collection in a way that supports the institution's mission and goals.


Management of the process of removing objects from the collection, including documentation of deaccessioning history, legal requirements, ethical considerations, and the disposition of objects after they are removed. Deaccessioning management is essential for maintaining the integrity of the collection and ensuring that objects are removed only when necessary and in a responsible and transparent manner. -


Management of the planning process for exhibitions, including documentation of exhibition proposals, budgets, schedules, loan agreements, and marketing plans. Exhibition planning is essential for creating engaging and meaningful exhibitions that align with the institution's mission and goals, and that provide visitors with new insights and perspectives on the collection.


Management of the ways in which visitors interact with the museum collection, including documentation of visitor statistics, exhibition evaluations, and visitor feedback. Visitor engagement management is essential for understanding how visitors experience the collection, identifying areas for improvement, and creating engaging and meaningful experiences that foster appreciation and understanding of the collection.


Management of the physical location and movement of objects in the collection, including documentation of object locations, tracking of object movements, and reconciliation of physical inventories with collection databases. Inventory management is essential for ensuring the physical security of objects in the collection, as well as for maintaining accurate and up-to-date records of object locations and movements.


Management of intellectual property and copyright related to the collection, including documentation of rights ownership, permissions, licenses, and royalties. Rights management is essential for protecting the intellectual property rights of the institution and creators, as well as for managing access and use of objects in the collection.


Management of the physical storage environment and conditions for objects in the collection, including documentation of storage locations, environmental conditions, and pest management. Storage management is essential for maintaining the physical condition and longevity of objects in the collection, as well as for ensuring their security and accessibility.


Management of objects that are consigned to the institution for sale, including documentation of consignment agreements, sales records, and consignor information. Consignment management is essential for providing a revenue stream for the institution, as well as for expanding the collection and providing new objects for sale to the public.


Management of the physical facilities and infrastructure required for collection management, including documentation of maintenance schedules, repair records, and equipment inventory. Facilities management is essential for ensuring a safe and functional environment for collection management activities, as well as for controlling costs and optimizing resource allocation.


Management of digital assets related to the collection, including documentation of digital files, metadata, and preservation policies. Digital asset management is essential for preserving and providing access to born-digital and digitized materials, as well as for supporting digital scholarship and research.


Management of the design and planning process for exhibitions, including documentation of exhibition concepts, designs, and budgets. Exhibition design management is essential for creating engaging and informative exhibitions that showcase the collection and attract visitors, as well as for meeting institutional goals and objectives.

Education and programming management

Management of educational and programming initiatives related to the collection, including documentation of program objectives, target audiences, and evaluation metrics. Education and programming management is essential for engaging with diverse audiences, promoting cultural understanding and appreciation, and demonstrating the value and relevance of the collection to the community.