University of Alberta Museums

Combining multiple museum collections into one, easy-to-use website.

About the Client

The University of Alberta Museums has 29 unique museum collections distributed throughout campus, with over 10 million objects and specimens used daily in teaching, research and community engagement

About the Project

For years, the University of Alberta Museums collections data were accessible via multiple stand-alone websites. Each website contained data about objects and specimens for a specific collections. Each website was unique, and offered varying ways of accessing the information. The goal of bringing all of the data together into a single University of Alberta Museums Search Site was a unique challenge. It presented a technical challenge in bringing the data from multiple collections into a unified website. It also presented a unique user experience challenge. Each collection had unique fields that were searchable. The way a researcher looks for information on a meteorite is different than someone researching Ukrainian folklore or zoology.

One Web Search Database to Rule Them All

Box Clever began work to provide a single source of all objects and specimens online with a seamless browsing and search experience. A database was constructed to query the University of Alberta Museums collection management database system (MIMSY), the backbone of their impressive collection.

Through our familiarization with MIMSY and multiple focus groups with staff, students, researchers, and faculty, we determined all collections could be amalgamated into a single web search database.

Challenges with field mapping

With such a wide variety of collections consisting of items with very distinct properties, mapping fields from MIMSY into fields within a single database table presented a unique challenge. For instance, the fields associated with a painting from one collection and a meteorite from another collection: 


  • Created
  • Artist
  • Creation Date
  • Where it is stored


  • Found
  • Finder
  • Discovery Date
  • Where it was discovered

Managing Performance and Uptime

With web integrations that import or export information, there is a higher processing demand that can result in slow load responses and even downtime. To build a search site that was consistently available, fast, and optimized, three databases were required. Two databases hold all the imported catalogue information and the third database is solely for storing all the field mapping and configurations. This database set-up doesn’t just reduce risks associated with downtime, it eliminates it completely.

Data Imports

The website brings in traffic from all over the world. We have identified the off-peak hours to run the daily import which takes somewhere between five to six hours to complete. Because of our dual catalogue database system, site visitors experience no lapse or change in what they are browsing through during their session.

Sustainability and Scalability

The Museums Team has full control over the collections displayed on the website with a simple configuration panel that allows them to tell our system which MIMSY collections to map and import to our web collections and fields.

About Box Clever

Box Clever is an Edmonton web design company focused on long lasting relationships and innovative website design and development.