Recommending Collection Management Systems for The Postal Museum


Sponsor: The Postal Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Rose Brown
Student Team: Shivaani Gopal, Ian Grzembski, Viren Punjabi, Alopa Waje
Abstract: The Postal Museum (TPM) in London, England would like to implement a Collection Management System (CMS) that better fits their needs. Our project’s goal was to recommend the three best CMSs for TPM. We interviewed 10 staff members and developed evaluative criteria to assess 25 CMSs through an incremental review process. We then created detailed report cards for the three most suitable systems, which were presented to TPM staff who offered opinions through a focus group and survey. Our top three CMSs included Axiell Collections, Past Perfect, and Qi with staff preferring Axiell Collections for its familiarity and Qi for its reasonable pricing. Our project not only benefits TPM but provides a systematic process for archives and museums to select a new CMS.

Postal IQP Report

Final Presentation

Executive Summary

With over 60,000 objects, 2.5 miles worth of documents, and records in many different formats, The Postal Museum (TPM) in London, England preserves important collections documenting British postal history. Their mission is to provide public access to these historical stamps, letters, and other records. A Collections Management System (CMS) is a digitised system where an institution’s collections and records can be easily stored and managed. TPM has used Axiell Calm as their CMS since 2001. However, with the continued expansion of the organisation’s collections and evolution in CMS technology, TPM has established the need to change their current CMS as they believe it is not sustainable for their future.

This project recommended CMSs tailored to TPM based on our analysis of staff’s needs. We achieved this goal through the following three objectives: 1) Identify TPM’s evaluative criteria for a CMS, 2) Identify and evaluate CMSs according to TPM’s criteria, and 3) Provide CMS options based on TPM staff preferences. Although TPM will not implement a new system immediately due to the lengthy transition process, this project serves as preliminary research for them to consider when they choose to begin the transition.



We implemented a combination of methods to achieve each objective (see Figure 1). To get familiar with TPM staff and Axiell Calm, we conducted combined semi-structured interviews and “think-alouds”. We then narrowed down an initial list of 25 systems to a top 3. Lastly, we crafted report cards to present to staff in a focus group to obtain their feedback.


Figure 1: Infographic describing the methods that were implemented within each objective.

For our first phase, we interviewed ten TPM staff: the head of collections, an IT staff member, two conservators, two curators, and four archivists. These interviews consisted of two parts: semi-structured interviews and “think-alouds.” The semi-structured interviews with TPM staff enabled us to understand the benefits and drawbacks of Axiell Calm, their current system, and their preferences for a new system. This information helped us develop our primary and secondary evaluative criteria which we used to assess other CMSs. A “think-aloud” is a method created by Clayton Lewis and involves studying mental processes. In this method, users are asked to speak on a task while they perform it (Lewis, 1982). Our “think-aloud” process involved asking TPM staff to perform certain functions using Axiell Calm and verbalise their thoughts on the system as they perform the task. This process enabled us to better understand how CMSs function and enabled staff to vocalise desired features to include in our evaluative criteria.

Through online research, we identified an initial list of 25 systems, then conducted an iterative process to narrow down CMSs on the market according to TPM evaluative criteria. The evaluation of each iteration was increasingly rigorous when reducing the list of CMSs from 25 to 3 (see Figure 2). To initially refine the list to a top ten, we determined whether each system supported both museum and archive collections. We then emailed CMS vendors from the top ten to obtain more information on criteria we could not find online. We selected the top five systems based on if they fit all of our primary criteria. Due to time constraints, we did not consider CMS companies that did not respond within our project timeline. To determine the top three systems, we contacted the top five companies again to set up online meetings. This iteration focused on Zoom calls with the companies to determine if they fulfilled the secondary criteria. We met online with the company representatives for the following systems: Qi, Axiell Collections, and PastPerfect.

Figure 2: A flowchart of the iterative process taken to narrow down CMSs.

Once we had our top three systems, we created report cards for each system. The report cards included information about pricing, support, features, and the evaluative criteria that each system met. These were presented through a hybrid presentation/focus group to ten staff members. The focus group enabled TPM staff to share their opinions, concerns, and questions about each system. Additionally, nine staff members completed a survey after the presentation where they ranked each system and provided additional questions that we clarified with the relevant CMS vendors.


Findings & Recommendations

We identified ten criteria relevant for TPM staff operations to evaluate CMSs on the market. These were categorised into six primary and four secondary evaluative criteria as seen in Table 1. The evaluative criteria in the primary category were necessary for TPM staff members to do their jobs. For example, supporting archive and museum collections is a primary criterion since curators and archivists require a system that has both. The secondary criteria were important but could be compromised if necessary. For example, if a CMS meets all the other criteria but is above the budget range, TPM may still be willing to invest in said CMS.

Table 1. List of evaluative criteria used to narrow down CMSs.

From our initial list of 25 systems, we removed the 15 CMSs that did not cater exclusively to both museum and archive collections. This left Axiell Collections, Collections Index+, Collections MOSAiC Plus, Collective Access, eHive, Minisis M3, Past Perfect, Proficio, Qi, and Vernon CMS. We then reduced this list to a top five, removing Collections MOSAiC Plus, eHive, Minisis M3, Proficio, and Vernon CMS. We eliminated eHive because it is not Spectrum compliant and was not customisable. Vernon CMS was not web-based by default, was over budget, and not user friendly. Proficio was not web-based by default, lacks great support for archives, and is outdated as it is meant for Windows XP machines. Minisis M3 and Collections MOSAiC Plus took far too long to respond, and there was not much information online on which criteria the system met.


The top five CMSs for TPM included Axiell Collections, CollectiveAccess, CollectionsIndex+, PastPerfect and Qi. We removed CollectiveAccess and CollectionsIndex+ as they did not meet most of TPM’s criteria in comparison to the other three systems. Although CollectiveAccess met most of the criteria, the system was too customisable. This meant that TPM would require more IT staff to customise all aspects of the system, which would drastically increase the transition time of data migration. Similarly, CollectionsIndex+ also fit most of the criteria; however, the system did not support multiple locations and lacked basic conservation fields or the ability to change them.

The top three systems we recommended were Axiell Collections, PastPerfect, and Qi, with staff preferring Axiell Collections and Qi. Axiell Collections fit all our criteria except for the budget. Axiell Collections, although costly, had positive feedback from staff since it was a familiar, reputable company and would have an easier transition. Axiell Collections also has the option to set up a payment plan so TPM would not have to pay the cost upfront. PastPerfect fit most of the criteria and was the least expensive of the three systems but could not store objects in multiple locations. However, PastPerfect is primarily based in the US and the staff would prefer a system based in the UK for convenience and accessible support. Qi fit all the primary and secondary criteria; however, after the presentation, the staff wanted to learn more about Qi and if they supported purely archive collections. We recommend TPM choose between Axiell Collections and Qi as their new CMS.

Limitations & Next Steps

The main limitation of our project was obtaining and conducting demos with TPM staff. By having interactive demos, staff could focus more on the system-specific questions while testing the CMS. Each job uses the CMS in a different way, so demos would allow staff members to determine if the system is best suited for their job. Although TPM will not be implementing a new system immediately, the report cards will guide them when they are ready to choose between Axiell Collections and Qi. To make the transition, TPM staff would reconvene to contact vendors listed in the report cards for demos of the system. Before transitioning to their chosen system, they should obtain details about cost, duration of data migration, and training.