CarLibrary.org - PastPerfect Museum Software

April 25, 2016

Although the CarLibrary archives were created with the Greenstone Digital Library software over a three year period, experiences after attending an international auto museum conference in March 2014 (see NAAM conference) and discussions with museum managers resulted in contact with PastPerfect Software, Inc. to inquire about their highly recommended Collections Management Software (CMS). It was learned that their operations VP is a "car guy".  He offered to help make a sample car collection with the demo version of the PastPerfect software.  This collection was eventually populated with Frazer Nash material.  

From this experience, two videos were made to show how PastPerfect can be readily customized for car collections and "loaded" through imports of Excel files.  

The following video links were sent to Los Angeles area and New Zealand car museums and collections: 

Part One (12 minutes): http://youtu.be/pRaExcG_gL8  This video provides an overview of the PastPerfect collection's four primary sections - objects, photographs, archives and library.  It also demonstrates using Excels files to import this collection's objects and photographs into PastPerfect.

Part Two (13 minutes): http://youtu.be/NrM6PC10mIw This video shows an import of 14 records from an Excel file to the PastPerfect library module.  It also shows how to make a "relation" between a car (object) and a book in the library module.  It closes out with a hard-drive backup of the entire PastPerfect collection.

This software performed very well. PastPerfect can be a great step forward from "managing" with Excel or paper files!  All the program functions are fully operable in the demo version, including optional features, but it is limited to 200 items. 

As noted in the videos, PastPerfect is designed to be used by any museum or collection. Because of this universal-fit design, there are 247 preset categories (fields) available to describe an "object".  This count includes 22 "user-defined fields" (udf).  For the sample car collections, 10 of these 22 fields were defined to be "car relevant":

Car Make

Car Year

Car Model

Car Manufacturer

Car Serial_No

Engine Type

Engine No

Registration No

Car Location

Car History

Suggestions are invited for defining the 12 unused udf fields.

A sample of the "virtual exhibit" that can be generated from PastPerfect is at: http://FrazerNash-USA.com/ vex1/   A "virtual exhibit" can be added to any website for a collection while the main function of the software does its job - managing cars, books, articles, etc.  The Frazer Nash virtual exhibit was moderately customized to add a tab and a link to the postwar Frazer Nash website and the Frazer Nash (Greenstone) digital library, where full text search can be made on all items.   Note that many of the magazine articles listed on this virtual exhibit have links to a PDF scanned file of the article.

Collections in PastPerfect can also be made accessible to the Internet through the "on-line" function.  All or selected parts of a collection can be designated for public searching.  PastPerfect will host this designated collection data at additional cost.

The "appraisal" view of any item in the collection allows the acquisition cost and insurance value of items to be recorded.   A preset report will summarized these values.  Repair and maintenance costs can be added as "invoices" in the Archives section and also summarized with the cost of the original object.

The "condition" view can schedule maintenance for  any item.  Again, a preset report either shows or reminds the user of the scheduled maintenance.

PastPerfect recently added a function to produce/print "QR" codes to add to label exhibits.  Tests confirm these codes can direct visitors to more information about each car - either the Past Perfect virtual (or online) exhibit or an entirely separate website.  The sample below links to a Frazer Nash car on the "virtual exhibit" described above.

This QR code lead to a separate, but related website:

The "Contacts" function was reviewed. Lists of staff, members, volunteers and visitors can be imported from Excel.  Membership dues, pledges and tasks can be managed; there are many templates of letters and email for pledge reminders, invitations to events, etc.  Letters and email are merged with contact names and can be printed or sent directly from Past Perfect.

The main sections of PP are "Objects (cars)", "Photos", "Library", "Archives" and "Objects".  There are also sections for "People" and "Locations", but these do not have direct import and exports functions.

There are security levels for all the functions that allows or prevents viewing and editing of potentially sensitive data. These levels can be set for various manager, staff and volunteer categories.

The videos show that both imports to PastPerfect (PP) and exports from it are easy and can have extensive detail.  Other webpages on this CarLibrary.org site show how digital photos and documents can be fully identified with embedded metadata.  At any time, the ExifTool software can make Excel files from entire directories of such files.  This technique can be a good way to start a PastPerfect collection.

This reviewer has little "collections management" or actual museum experience, but concludes that PastPerfect is a very good place to start with true CMS software.

Greenstone and PastPerfect were not designed to perform the same functions and a direct comparison between the programs is inconclusive.  However, the primary differences between Greenstone and PastPerfect are:

  • Greenstone indexes every word of text in PDF, Word, etc files and searching can be done on any and all text in the collection. PastPerfect only searches set categories or keywords, which are set up by the administrator/curator.  PDF and other file types can be attached to records in PP but there is no searching within such documents.
  • There is limited (but not judged useful) export of records from Greenstone.  There is a full and complete export (and import) of records from PastPerfect.

  • There are no "collection management" tools in Greenstone for a collection.  There are extensive management possibilities in PastPerfect - searching, reporting, inventory, location, loans and more are set up to fully control collection objects, photos, etc.  The "Contacts" module can fully manage a museum's staff, volunteers, donors and membership.

  • Greenstone documentation is good; the PastPerfect documentation is very detailed and available for easy download. There are 30 chapters in the PastPerfect user manual; it seems to be a very complete guide for explaining the management tasks of an archive/museum/collection.

  • Greenstone is open-source software (free); PastPerfect, with all options, costs about $1200.

  • The user and visitor interfaces for PastPerfect are more attractive and possibly functional "right out of the box"; the Greenstone "public" interface can be endlessly modified, somewhat more difficult than a web page.

  • The number of Greenstone users is not tabulated or tracked, but there are significant major collections/archives using Greenstone.  At least one installation holds two million pages of data (and an image of each page!).  PastPerfect has thousands of users worldwide, including many in New Zealand and other countries.

If a auto museum or collection has "inventories" of cars, objects, books, photos or documents in Excel (or similar) format, PastPerfect could be partially useful in a few hours.  However, further "attaching" images or files to that set of records is (now) one-by-one.  PastPerfect's tech support stated they could arrange mass imports of images to match the records, at extra cost.

If a car collector/museum staff person downloads the PastPerfect demo version, this website author can assist customizing the fields (categories) and importing records to populate the demo.  Note the demonstration software is restricted to 200 items.

Auto Collections Using PastPerfect

The following collections and museums have been reported to be using PastPerfect:

AACA Museum

Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum

BMW Heritage Foundation

California Automobile Museum

Dale Ernhardt Inc.

Model T Automotive Heritage Complex

NASCAR Hall of Fame                                       

National Corvette Museum                        

NHRA Museum

Owl's Head Transportation Museum

San Diego Automotive Museum              

Tucker Club

Conclusion

There are at least 38 collections management systems (CMS), so a collection's/museum's staff evaluation and discussion about which to choose could go on for a long time - or be endless!  (there is personal experience with one museum's delayed/ongoing evaluation process.)​ ​ Based on sample collection creation, it is recommended that a collection/museum should seriously consider PastPerfect: review existing inventory files, fix and improve those files in Excel and import them to PastPerfect.  Because it handles and exports detailed collections data very well, when (or if) it is "outgrown", the transition to a different system will not be difficult.

Finally, the experience with tech support from PastPerfect has been excellent.  Because nearly all PastPerfect operations can be done from remote computers, either a third-party or PastPerefect tech support can help resolve problems. 

Find a fully functioning demo of PastPerfect at this link - trials are encouraged!  The PastPerfect "Complete User Guide", linked on the same page, not only explains the program very well but also is almost a complete training course for running a museum.

Since this webpage was first published in September, 2014, two additional museum-specific PastPerfect collections were created for further demonstrations and to  analyze more PastPerfect functions.  Reviews of the three open-source collections management systems are also planned.

Email me with any questions or comments: Bob Schmitt, RGSchmitt@gmail.com