What is CollectiveAccess?

CollectiveAccess is collections management and presentation software maintained by the staff at Whirl-i-Gig and contributed to by the open-source community. The CollectiveAccess project began in 2003 as a response to the complete lack of non-commercial, affordable, open-source solutions for digital collections management. Almost two decades later, CollectiveAccess has projects on 5 continents, providing hundreds of institutions with configurable, up-to-date collections management software.

CollectiveAccess is a relational database that enables powerful searching and browsing options, while providing opportunities for nuanced web-based collection discovery. It is designed to handle large, heterogeneous collections that have complex cataloging requirements and collections which need support for a variety of metadata standards and media formats. CollectiveAccess has two main components: Providence and Pawtucket. Providence is the core cataloguing application of CollectiveAccess where data, media and metadata is input, edited, and managed. Pawtucket is the optional, public web-access tool for digital publication and discovery. Selected features are designed to handle various aspects relating to data modeling, workflow management, web publishing, granular control and digital preservation for a variety of collections.

Whirl-i-Gig, CollectiveAccess’s primary developer, freely distributes everything it develops under the GNU General Public License as part of CollectiveAccess, and offers consulting and development services to clients to ensure they get the most out of the software. Whirl-i-Gig works directly with end-users who require assistance in realizing their projects.

CollectiveAccess is supported by providing various development services to partner institutions.

Who Uses CA?

Hundreds of institutions worldwide currently use CollectiveAccess to manage, catalog, and display their digital collections. These include academic institutions, art organizations, foundations, corporations, museums, archives, historical societies, local history consortia, and digital catalogues raisonnés. A partial list of organizations using CollectiveAccess is published under Projects on the CollectiveAccess website.

Why Should I Use It?

  • It’s free. CollectiveAccess is free, open-source software licensed under the GNU Public License version 3 (GPLv3); this includes the cataloguing software and software for making collections information available publicly via the web, mobile devices and kiosks. The software is freely available under the open source GNU Public License, meaning it’s not only free to download and use, but that users are encouraged to share and distribute code. Both Providence and Pawtucket may be downloaded via the CollectiveAccess website.

  • It’s web-based. Because it is a web-based system, CollectiveAccess is useful for projects that need to be accessed remotely by multiple users.

  • It’s configurable. The flexibility of CollectiveAccess makes it a great choice for institutions that wish to maintain customized and relational collections based on established metadata standards. In addition to supporting different metadata standards including DACS, Dublin Core, and VRA Core, CollectiveAccess also accommodates an array of external data sources and services such as The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), Google Maps, and other descriptive and geospatial services. It can also handle a broad spectrum of digital media formats including high-resolution video, audio, and image files. The software’s optional front-end, public web access tool makes CollectiveAccess an excellent choice for organizations wishing to offer public access to collections. The robust set of customizable features available in CollectiveAccess allows the scope of projects to be expansive and dynamic, providing institutions with a plethora of options that accommodate both traditional and more idiosyncratic collections.

  • It’s relational. CollectiveAccess can create relationships between various items within a given collection, situating objects within a broader network of inter-related connections.

  • Support is available. A variety of free resources are available to get you started and support you as you develop your project with CollectiveAccess. All online support is provided on a best-effort basis by CollectiveAccess developers and the user community. Paid support and project development services are also available.


Providence is the “back-end” core cataloguing and data management application. Providence provides a relational approach to cataloging that allows users to create and describe relationships between different record-types, construct hierarchical relationships for complex collections, and to do so using commonly accepted library and archive standards. Nuanced search and browse tools, advanced display and reporting tools, batch edit and import capabilities, superior media-handling, and more enables users to catalogue almost anything in any way.


The back-end Providence demonstration site is for users around the world to experiment with CollectiveAccess and view its many features. The locale can be set to various languages. To set the locale throughout the system to your preferred language, nagivate to Manage > Preferences > user interface locale, where a list of CollectiveAccess supported locales can be selected.


Pawtucket is an optional “front-end” publication and discovery platform for collections. A public web-access tool for digital publication and discovery, Pawtucket’s selected features are designed to handle various aspects relating to data modeling, workflow management, web publishing, granular control and digital preservation for a variety of collections.