The Ups and Downs of Collection Management Systems

Until signing up for a free Omeka account this week my two main experiences with CMSs has been with WordPress, which I have used for the past two years to maintain a website and blog,; and a class management program called JackRabbit that my music school uses.

The readings and discussion here point out two main areas of difficulty that both feel very familiar from my experience. One is the problem that each organization/library/school/collection has its own unique set of circumstances and needs so that it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all CMS that serves every type of project well.  I agree with spd that a one-size-fits-all CMS is not even desirable given the widely different needs of different organizations.  The other biggish area of difficulty was pointed out by mmmeyer3 who cited the Witten and Bainbridge article and wrote “once a technology (CMS) has widespread implementation, it is difficult to do an overhaul to create a better product.” Perhaps it is a general problem with systems that the more people and institutions they serve, the harder it is for them to innovate and evolve.  (Look at our nation’s health care system or the US government itself) In the case of Greenstone, it could be that a lack of funding and the tiny size of the development team has something to do with their inability to simultaneously innovate and maintain.

I have seen these difficulties at work with the JackRabbit system my music school uses.  It was designed to manage dance schools that have class sizes larger than one and we use it for our music school that mostly offers private lessons.  A lot of the fields and structures in the program are very clumsy when dealing with, what in JackRabbit’s terminology, has to be entered as a “class” of enrollment one! The only system we could find that would cater more directly to our needs would be a customized system that is way out of our price range as a non-profit music school.

WordPress deals with both the customization and innovation vs. upkeep problems by relying on plugins and templates created by all sorts of people outside the development team itself.  It’s an approach that, given WordPress’s wide popularity and ease of use, works well at extending functionality to many different realms and keeping opportunities for innovation open. That said, I have still not found the perfect plugins for what I want to do with my site nor have I been able to figure out how to fully customize the template I use. There are also bugs that come along with plugin and template updates and occasional issues when an update conflicts with a customization you have made in the code.

It seems like it is always a case of getting as close to a perfect fit as possible and then making do.


One response to “The Ups and Downs of Collection Management Systems

  1. In the case of Greenstone, I agree it could be lack of resource. Microsoft was able to upgrade Win95 to Windows 2000 by totally eliminating 16-bit MS-DOS stuff.

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