The lyrics to Rod Stewart’s 1998 song “Faith of the Heart” have echoed in my head since January 2021. Not because the Canadian Museum of Nature launched an interstellar vessel of exploration and scientific understanding—although who is to say that won’t be a part of CMN activities in the far future—but because the Museum was ready to switch on its new collection management system Axiell EMu. On the surface, that may not seem like a big deal, but behind-the-scenes, a lot went on to get us to that point.

Season 1 title credits to CBS’s “Star Trek: Enterprise”. The video is a progress narrative of exploration and exploration technology culminating in the fictitious launch of starship NX-01 Enterprise.

A little over six years ago, the Research and Collections team at the Museum identified that the then current content management system (CMS)—MIMSY XG—would not be sufficient to meet our future collection management needs. As a result, they decided to migrate all the existing collection data into a new CMS: EMu by Axiell (formerly KeEMu).

A large group of individuals stand in three rows outside for a picture
The Research and Collections team in 2015. Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature
A large group of individuals stand in three rows outside for a picture
The Research and Collections team (2018) has changed over the course of the Database migration project. Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

If you are going to move to a new system, you might as well move everything! The Museum also took this opportunity to bring together all of its other collection-related databases. While MIMSY XG was the official catalogue of record for the Museum, we maintained at least seven other databases to support information that was not properly captured within it.

Migrating a collection management system is not something to be taken lightly and is likely a once-in-a-career opportunity. It requires a solid understanding of what information is stored in the existing database and the relationships between those data points and sets. It is by no means a simple flipping of the switch and, as if by magic, all the existing information ends up right where it belongs. With a lot of work from the entire Collections team, we were able to successfully find fields (homes) in the EMu environment for all the information from the MIMSY system. When all was said and done, the process took six years. Although that may sound long, some people would consider that fast!

Now that we are working in this new database environment, we are adapting our workflows for use within it. This process is going to be just as hard and will sometimes require us to rethink the way we interact with our data. That is hard to do, of course, when you are already so used to doing it another way.

Regardless, we will work together, find solutions, and become a better team as a result.