With the countless Museum Collection Management (MCM) platforms that exist, choosing one that fits your organization’s workflows and budget can be a headache. We’ll attempt to relieve this headache, ever so slightly, by comparing two popular MCM platforms, CollectionSpace (CS) and PastPerfect (PP). The information that follows, other than comments, is sourced directly from CS (v4.3) and PP (v5.0) current release documentation. We even provide links, so you can easily research a discussed feature of the corresponding platform.

The categories for comparison include:

  • System Architecture
  • Available Profiles
  • User Interface
  • Security
  • Support
  • Development
  • Pricing
  • Content Management

Let’s begin with a brief description of each MCM platform, derived directly from their web-pages, before moving on to our side-by-side comparisons.

CollectionSpace:

CollectionSpace is a web-based, open source collections management and information system for museums and other collecting institutions. You can use it to manage your museum’s cataloging, acquisitions, loans, and many other activities.”

“The CollectionSpace team and community is made up of museum professionals, software engineers, and interaction designers.”

PastPerfect:

PastPerfect is the world’s leading software program for collection and contact management. Over 9,000 organizations worldwide have achieved their goals using PastPerfect”

“It handles accessions, descriptive cataloging, loans, exhibits, capital campaigns, membership development, pledges, dues, donation receipts, research, lexicons, and reports.”

System Architecture

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
Platform Nuxeo, Apache Tomcat, PostgreSQL or MySQL, Java, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and XML Microsoft Visual FoxPro SQL, CSS, HTML CS: built on the popular Nuxeo Enterprise Content Management platform, CS uses a variety of free and open source developer community supported software and languages
PP: the remaining information about the PP platform is unknown. We can assume that it uses Microsoft based languages and technologies at its core. Unfortunately, the database back-end (FoxPro) is no longer supported by Microsoft. However, the team at PP assure users that this will not affect the quality and reliability of current and future releases.
Interface Web application Desktop application CS: can be accessed from any computer through the web browser, unless otherwise configured for specific ip-addresses
PP: access is done on a single computer, or with an upgrade, over a network for authorized computers
Supported Host Server OS Linux, Mac, Windows Windows CS: setting up on a Linux Ubuntu distribution is preferred
PP: requires purchase of Windows OS and other Windows software
Installation Requires developer knowledge * CD (single computer). Requires sysadmin knowledge (network). CS: installing can be development heavy, but the process is second nature to CS developers. The CS server can be installed on any OS listed above
 PP: installing on a single computer is simple for anyone with basic computer knowledge. Installing on a network, however, requires knowledge of Windows Network OS, a dedicated network computer, network cards on each computer, and purchase of the PP network upgrade
Upgrading Requires a CS developer to successfully upgrade from older versions Provides an import feature to migrate data from older versions CS: the steps to upgrade from an older version accommodate every new release
PP: thanks to the import feature upgrading from older version appears easy. Upgrades must be purchased from PP

Profiles

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
Core YES YES CS: includes fields and procedures common to most collecting organizations
PP: conforms to latest standards for cataloging archive, library, historic object, art object, natural history, archeology, and photographic collections
Anthropology YES NO CS: includes fields and procedures useful for collections of anthropology and ethnography
PP: see core comments
Botanical Gardens YES NO CS: includes fields and procedures useful for living plant collections
PP: see core comments
Fine and Contemporary Art YES NO CS: includes fields and procedures useful for collections of fine and contemporary art
PP: see core comments
Herbarium YES NO CS: includes fields and procedures useful for preserved plant specimen collections
PP: see core comments
Local History and Material Culture YES NO CS: includes fields and procedures useful for local history and material culture collections
PP: see core comments

Platform UI

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
User Friendly YES YES CS: easy to navigate, clear distinction between features, concise labeling
PP: easy to navigate, clearly labeled features, simple
Attractive * ? ? CS: colorful, modern, and uncluttered. See screen-shots below.
PP: somewhat sterile, grey, and slightly cluttered. See screen-shots below.
Easily Customizable YES NO CS: a web application that can be easily customized
PP: a desktop application that is not customizable

* This is entirely subjective, ultimately it’s up to you to decide.

CollectionSpace UI:

cspace_ui_reference
Image 1: The standard look and layout of collection record in Collection Space.
csnewrecordui_reference
Image 2: Creating a new record or term in Collection Space.

PastPerfect UI:

In order to avoid any copyright infringement, we have chosen not to provide any screen-shots of the PastPerfect platform, but you can find many of them in the user manual found at http://pastperfect-online.com/webhelp/Chapters/PP5-6e.htm.

Security

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
Custom Groups and Permissions YES YES CS: each custom user role you create is defined by 22 parameters and the refined even further with read, write, delete, and none. Read more.
PP: an optional feature when creating a new user, it’s possible to create groups and refine permissions in all program areas. Read more.
Custom User Permissions YES YES CS: this is configured from the Administration tab of the platform. Can specify the specific role of the user.
PP: by adding a users to a custom group, the security settings of the group are enforced upon the user. Read more.
User Forgot Password YES NO CS: a link is provided at the login page to reset your password. Clicking the link sends a message to your email with password reset. Instructions. Read more.
PP: as far as we can tell, PP does not provide the user the ability to reset a forgotten password.

Support

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
User Documentation YES YES CS: a constantly evolving document, the user manual is not very comprehensive and you’ll find some sections that are missing. However, having access to the various profile demos answers a lot of questions. Read more.
PP: a comprehensive and well written online user guide is available through the website. Read more.
Developer Documentation YES YES, but limited to only the public facing site or Virtual Exhibit CS: extensive developer documentation can be found through CS on the project’s Wiki page. This includes both the platform itself and the deployable public facing site. Read more.
PP: you can find documentation on how to configure your Virtual Exhibit using the built in tools, HTML, and CSS. Read more.
Active Q&A Forum YES YES CS: a very active email list is used by both CS implementers and developers. Responses, on average, are heard within 24 hours. Read more.
PP: questions and answers can be found on PP’s support page, under Knowledge Base. Read more.
Software Help YES YES CS: available through contacting service providers, asking a question on the CS Talk list, and even contacting the CS program staff regarding core technical information.
PP: in general, PP provides 24 hour support, giving priority towards customers who pay for annual support services. Read more.

Public Facing Site

Feature CollectionSpace* PastPerfect** Comments
Deployment Requires developer knowledge Require purchase of addon and setup, see pricing for details CS: the source code for a public facing site is free. Uses Django and CS Rest API’s. Built by the development team at UC Berkeley. It is highly configurable to the look and feel of your organization. Read more.
PP: called the Virtual Exhibit (VE), a web tool is available through the PP interface. Read more.
Public Collection Search YES NO, but see comments for more details CS: “public (non-authenticating) search appliance”
PP: pastperfect-online.com provides the ability to search the collections of all PP accounts. The VE does not provide a search feature.
Internal Collection Search YES NO CS: “internal (authenticating) search appliance”
PP: NA
Browse Collection YES, but see comments for further details YES CS: is accomplished through other web apps such as ‘Image Browser’ (below)
PP: the primary functionality of the VE is the ability to browse the accounts collections
Records Export YES NO CS: returned search results can be exported as a CSV or XML document
PP: NA
Image Browser YES NO CS: “a ‘lightbox-like’ app that tiles images based on a keyword query to Solr backend”
PP: NA
Image Server YES NO CS: “cacheing proxy server to serve images from CSpace server”
PP: NA
Imaginator YES NO CS: “‘google-lookalike’ search app — provides ‘N blue links’ for a keyword search”
PP: NA
Bulk Media Upload YES NO CS: uses the REST API to bulk upload Media Handlers up to 100 at a time to the CS server
PP: NA
Batch Image Upload YES NO CS: uses the REST API to upload images in bulk to the CS server
PP: NA
Mobile Compatible YES ? CS: provides mobile device support for public facing site
PP: no documentation could be found on mobile compatibility of the VE

* The code for all available CS apps can be found on the UC Berkeley CSpace Django Project GitHub repository, found here.

** The page found at http://museumsoftware.com/ve_samples/basic/index.htm provides a basic online PP Virtual Exhibit.

Development

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect Comments
REST API YES NO CS: you’ll find API’s for each layer of the CollectionSpace platform, which include the service layer, application layer, and interface layer. Read more
PP: not applicable, since the software is owned and operated by PastPerfect Software, Inc
Customization YES NO CS: as an Open Source Initiative and operating under a Educational Community License, the source code is available for anyone to view, download, and modify as they see fit. Read more.
PP: see REST API notes.

Pricing

Feature CollectionSpace PastPerfect * Comments
Software Free $870 for initial install and $375 for version upgrades CS: opensource and free to download. Licensed under the Educational Community License, Version 2.0. Membership is available to help support the project and ensure the software is available for years to come. Read more.
PP: covers a single single user/machine, additional users would require the Network Upgrade. Read more.
Multimedia Included MultiMedia Upgrade: $385 CS: this comes included with your CSpace instance
PP: attach digital images and multimedia files to collection records. Read more.
Users Free $515 (2-5 users), $900 (6-10 users), $1240 (11-25 users), $1650 (unlimited users) CS: web based software can be accessed from anywhere for authorized users
PP: allows shared access to data by setting up multiple workstations
Public Facing Site Free, but see comment  $285 (setup), $450 (hosting first 10,000 records),  $245 (each additional 10,000) CS: requires development knowledge to deploy the web application, and other web applications already developed by UC Berkeley
PP: one time setup fee with subsequent scaling fees
Inventory Management Free $295 CS: included in the ‘iReports’ web app, and through the CS platform
PP: provides to tools to implement “successful collection tracking projects”. “This add-on product makes it simple to create inventory lists, print barcode labels, track collections electronically, and ensure accurate records”
Barcode Printing See comment $125 CS: not available, but can be added by a developer and service provider
PP: allows for quick “artifact marking and tracking and inventory control”
Training Free, see comment $119 (3 CD Set + User Guide), $39 (Cataloging Collections), $39 (Managing Contacts, Donations, & Memberships), $39 (Research & Reporting) CS: a series of Youtube training videos have been developed and are available to anyone
PP: can be purchased individually or as a set. Provides a way to orient staff and volunteers on the workings of PP
Hosting See comment See comment CS: can be hosted on any type of OS compatible server (i.e. Amazon Web Services). Price varies according to your selected service provider
PP: varies depending on the selected add-ons and internal network setup
Support YES, see comment $345 (first year, single user), $425 (first year network), $440 (annual single user), $540 (annual network 2-10 users), $745 (annual network 11+ users), $85 (per-incident for non-support clients) CS: can be provided by your service provider, or if done internally, through the Talk list and through contacting the CS development team
PP: 24 hour support, where annual support service customers have priority. Calls are said to be returned within the hour

* A 20% discount for Institutional Members of the American Association for State and Local History. A complete price list for PastPerfect can be found at http://museumsoftware.com/pricing.html.

Content Management

To be able to cover the content management capabilities of each platform, it would easily take an entire blog post for each. Even then, we still don’t think we’d be able to cover everything these platforms have to offer. Instead, we encourage you to explore each platform on your own. Both PastPerfect and CollectionSpace provide free demos for their individual platforms.

For CollectionSpace, you can try out all of the available profiles mentioned above in addition to various implementations of the public facing site simply by navigating to the following pages:

For PastPerfect, you can download and evaluate the latest release on a machine running the Windows OS, such as XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10, after completing their mandatory information form. The download page can be found by navigating to:

The Takeaway

When it boils down to making the ultimate decision on which platform to integrate into your organization, there are several major questions to consider. For example, to list only a few:

  • How easy will it be to adapt and migrate our existing collection data?
  • What are the short and long term costs associated with the platform and does it fit our budget?
  • Is there a strong and active community surrounding the platform and its associated technologies?
  • Does the current configuration support our existing needs?
  • How easy will it be to customize our platform to our individual needs?
  • Does it support our existing organizational workflows?
  • Is it straightforward, user friendly, and likely to require minimal training of our staff?
  • Can the platform be extended to web and mobile?
  • Is the platform secure, reliable, etc..?

To summarize our findings, PastPerfect, built by PastPerfect Software, Inc., is a highly structured and reliable MCM platform that runs on a Microsoft Windows desktop, either locally, or over a Microsoft network. Various tools are provided to make migrations and web deployment relatively easy and simple. In addition, addons are available to extend the capabilities of your platform even further. The user documentation is extensive and well written. However, the facts that the platform and its addon features are only available at a cost, it is Microsoft dependent, lacks an available developer API, and the UI seems relatively outdated can be somewhat discouraging if these given facts are of value to you. Overall, PastPerfect’s reliability, features, and solid support may outshine these areas in which it lacks.

CollectionSpace, on the other hand, is an open source, community based, web application that provides a lot of freedom in who, what, and how it is configured. Of course, being an open source, community based application, its success relies heavily on the activity of the community and the support it receives through memberships, grants, donated developer time from universities and colleges, and stewardship by Lyrasis. The architecture and design is modern, flexible and highly capable. The platforms available features and various pre-configured profiles make it a very attractive option right out of the box. At its price point, we can only expect the platform’s popularity and support to increase within the foreseeable future.

We hope this post helps ease the headache that comes with having to make the decision on which Museum Collection Management platform to adopt.  If you have any questions regarding CollectionSpace and how it can meet your organization’s needs, please feel free to reach out as we would be happy to help (contact us). Also, we encourage your comments on anything discussed in this post.  Please, feel free to add your comment below.

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