Caring for Art

From Paper Trails to Digital Delivery

File cards with TMSby Suzanne Voce Stephens, Collections Database Administrator

In the “old days” of Museum Registration, we used to type colorcoded cards to cross-reference our collection records—white cards for object records, pink for donors, green for loans, yellow for media. We started moving away from that in 1989 when we invested in our first collections management software. At the time, we were among the early advocates nationally of computer systems. Now, 24 years later, virtually all museums have automated collection records. We continue to expand our use of the database and have recently completed a major upgrade of our software, The Museum System (TMS), which is widely used by museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chrysler Museum of Art, New York Historical Society, and hundreds of other museums around the world. 

We are working to expand our database to further enhance our access to and understanding of the collections. New features and projects on the horizon include enhancing data related to conservation records, attaching scanned archival documents, expanding our exhibition history records to make them more easily searchable, managing current exhibitions with new features of the software, and continuing to attach images to object records. The database currently includes over 33,500 object records, 5,000 artist records, and more than 30,000 image files. Perhaps the most important aspect of our upgrade has been moving to a virtual server that provides more hard-drive space and speed for faster growth of the collection data. These more robust features of the database are available to curators and museum staff members for research, inventory, and archival use. 

Public access to TMS data is available in the online searchable collection database on the Museum’s website, which offers highlights of the collection as well as greater depth in some areas. The online collection is drawn from TMS data as well as images from the Museum’s digital asset management system (a separate image database). The number of works available online continues to grow at a steady pace as a team of several departments work to edit collection data, photograph works of art, and review copyright issues. Our goal is to make more works of art and search tools available to the public in the coming months and years to expand public awareness and scholarship of the Museum’s best loved works and hidden gems in the collection.