My library has a small museum with approximately 1,200 artifacts in the collection. We currently use an Access database to manage them. Could anyone speak to their experiences with a museum collection management system? (Pros and cons welcome.) We're looking at both open source and proprietary systems.
Two software packages with which I have had some degree of experience are Omeka and PastPerfect.
Omeka is not strictly a museum collection management system, but a useful tool for presenting museum and archive collections online.
Omeka is open source (GPLv3 license) and written in PHP. There are a growing number of Omeka Themes and Plugins available which extend the base install in various ways.
If you don't have a suitable system on which to install Omeka, you can purchase a hosting plan from omeka.net. There's a free Basic plan, then four additional subscription tiers ranging from $49/year to $999/year.
You can add a number of different forms of metadata to records (see this example record), and there are also plugins which give you the ability to generate reports from items in Omeka. This could be useful if you have inventory requirements.
Since Omeka is built on top of an SQL database (MySQL) which has ODBC connectors available, you could even use your existing expertise to create/adapt Microsoft Access reports that directly query the Omeka database.
Omeka excels at its online presentation of items, but may lack other traditional collection management system features which you may require.
If your collection can be well represented by photographs (or if your collection is mainly images), I would strongly suggest you give Omeka consideration.
My experience with PastPerfect is mostly from the perspective of an interested observer. I was involved in some technical consultation surrounding a grant to obtain/upgrade PastPerfect, and the local history center uses PastPerfect to make some of their collection available online. I've perused the manuals and made use of the public facing parts of the hosted web services but not utilized the software that museum personnel would use.
PastPerfect is by the vendor's own claims the "most popular" museum collection management software, with "over 8000" clients. Its pricing is known for being within reach of many small to medium museums.
List pricing from PastPerfect's website is
For making your catalog available online:
There is also the option of purchasing their Virtual Exhibit product ($445 list price).
Virtual Exhibit lets you build exhibits and host them on a web server you provide.
PastPerfect-Online allows you to put your entire collection online, and is hosted by PastPerfect for an annual fee.
The following record is hosted via PastPerfect-Online: Postcard of the Ladies Library on Cass Street
PastPerfect includes some more traditional collection management system features that Omeka does not focus on, and also includes membership and donor management functions to facilitate fundraising.
Some features require you to pay additional license fees, such as:
Based only on my personal experience:
If traditional collection management system features are a must, consider PastPerfect.
If your goal is to present your collection online, consider Omeka.
If you have development expertise or a budget to sponsor work to be contributed back to Omeka, you might consider adding the features you require which Omeka does not currently have.
you may have a look at Museums Sites - http://www.museumssites.com. For a low monthly subscription fee, it offers both collection management as well as integrated web publishing. What's fairly different about it that it tries to look at the entire set of information of an institution, rather that simply its collection. That means also exhibitions, events, visitor information, educational activities and the rest.
There is a free trial and a free 4-hour seminar/tutorial to get you started. It's a new product, so it's on promotional prices for the first few months.
I hope this helps. Best, Cristiano