CollectionSpace is an open-source collections management application that meets the needs of museums, historical societies, and other collection-holding organizations. The project is led by the Museum of the Moving Image and the University of California, Berkeley, Information Services and Technology (IST), Research and Content Technologies Department. These founding partners in the initiative chose to use the Nuxeo Platform as the underlying foundation of the CollectionSpace framework.

The Context

In 2007, the Heritage Health Index, a study conducted by the Institute for Museum and Library Services and Heritage Preservation, reported that almost a third of historical societies, a quarter of museums, and twenty percent of archeological repositories have no catalog records at all. In addition, half of the collecting institutions in the United States have none of their collections available online.
Initially funded in December 2007 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CollectionSpace project is an international and multidisciplinary collaboration. In addition to the IST group at Berkeley, developers are also located at the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies at the University of Cambridge, and the Fluid Project at OCAD University.

Implementation partners include three museums on the Berkeley campus: Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University and Jepson Herbaria, and the History of Art Visual Resources Collection; as well as the Museum of the Moving Image, Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Art, Denmark), Walker Art Center and Miami- Dade County, Department of Cultural Affairs, Art in Public Places, Digital Collection Initiative.

The primary objective of the CollectionSpace project is to offer a web- based, highly configurable collections management application enabling museum professionals to have access to high quality software to adapt to their particular context, at a modest cost. The project is currently working to establish a sustaining foundation to provide long-term support for the community.
"On campus, for example, we want to enable curators, scholars, faculty members, and students to concentrate on their core practice -- research, teaching, publishing, and outreach -- and spend less time fighting a system that is ill suited to their needs," notes Patrick Schmitz, CollectionSpace Lead Architect, University of California, Berkeley.

The Solution

CollectionSpace software is comprised of a suite of modules and services that serves as a flexible core of collections information from which interpretive materials and experiences -- from printed catalogs to mobile gallery guides -- may be efficiently developed. This rich collection management system is meant for museums in specific domains -- from art history to zoology -- to localize, customize, and adapt to their needs.


Designed as a framework with a series of applications on top of it, CollectionSpace offers a set of common collections-oriented functionality on which domain-specific applications are built. Each domain has very different needs for metadata, workflow, and UI.

Nuxeo Platform was well adapted to this paradigm, as an open source, highly extensible content management platform. With a high degree of flexibility around repository and domain configuration, Nuxeo Platform made it straightforward to define multi-tenancy, which was an essential part of the managed hosting of CollectionSpace.

"Some expensive commercial solutions don't have many of the things we depend on in Nuxeo, and in particular, rich metadata models. If you just want to store content using Dublin Core, any application will do. For something richer, having complex schemas is essential," said Patrick Schmitz.


CollectionSpace is currently used by six early adopters representing diverse domains: anthropology, herbaria, visual resources, fine and contemporary art, performance art, and material culture.
Early adopters are encouraged to develop domain-specific models and then contribute them back to CollectionSpace for use by others.

For example, the University and Jepson Herbaria at the UC Berkeley campus is thinking about how to model their specimen collections; herbaria require a rich description of taxonomic identification, which is complex in the plant world. Once they define their model for this, the Herbaria can then share it with other herbaria that work with CollectionSpace in the future.

The Herbaria have also worked on federated portals for searching herbaria in California and across the country. They plan to use CollectionSpace as a basis for hosting collaborative research.

More Innovations to Come

There have already been requests for Digital Asset Management and other ECM solutions, so Nuxeo DAM may be integrated with CollectionSpace in the future. Before the end of the year, there will be some work on tools that support hosting of multi-tenant SaaS environments, including backup and restore of individual tenants, cloning tenants, etc. The goal is to make CollectionSpace tenant administration simple and inexpensive, in order to manage rapid growth in the future.

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