info @ archimuse.com
published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010
The BABEL Project: a Museums and Libraries Network
is a project aiming to build a network for information retrieval from
databases belonging to Culture and Academia Institutions (Museums, Libraries,
Archives, Universities, etc.). Such Institutions are evolving from their
traditional roles based on conservation and research towards becoming
service providers as well. Services are designed for satisfying two
very different user profiles: professional user and lay public user
The above mentioned service provision must be carried out as easy as
possible, but as efficient as possible as well. These characteristics
must be analysed from the viewpoints of remote user coverage, quick
access to the information and services themselves, and incomes for the
Institution. Compatibility and interoperability among multimedia data
(files, documents, etc.), communication networks, and local multimedia
information systems are some problems to be tackled in this venture.
Nevertheless, local user and Institutional preferences or particularities
must be preserved in a wide sense.
There are several projects implementing different sets of services to
be deployed in this framework. BABEL is one of them, offering services
of database teleconsult for both professional and lay public users.
Other projects offer telesearch for the preparation of exhibitions,
real time information exchange among experts, or even a teleducation
environment with professional training for enterprises.
BABEL is the acronym of "Multimedia Services for Museums and Libraries
via Internet". The acronym makes reference to the resolution of
the heterogeneous database teleconsult through a common system, from
a unique session, and with a unique user's manual. The project is built
on the Internet, and Museums and Libraries are the Institutions actually
involved. This is not a limitation for other Institutions to become
associate members to the BABEL consortium, either as information providers,
or as users, or as both. In fact, contacting to associate members is
one of the most important tasks in BABEL.
The actual composition of the BABEL consortium
is as follows:
1. Coordinating member:
2. Consortium members:
- Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Grupo de Tratamiento de Imágenes
- GTI (Image Processing Group).
- Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museum).
- Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeological Museum
- Fundación Centro Nacional del Vidrio, Real Fábrica de Cristales
de La Granja (Royal Factory of Glass of Spain).
- Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid).
- Biblioteca de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (University
- Servei de Museus de la Generalitat de Catalunya (All the Catalonian
Museums in Spain).
4. Associate members:
- Grupo Telefónica de España (Telefónica of Spain Group).
- Ministerio de Educación y Cultura de España (Spanish Ministry
of Education and Culture).
The choice of the above mentioned sponsors is one of the main supports
for this project. The support of the Telefónica of Spain Group ensures
a testbed for testing purposes by providing network access segments
to the Internet for the different Institutions and external users. The
support of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture ensures the
call for new Institutions as associate members, as well as the future
of this initiative once finalised the BABEL project.
1.3 General Description
1.3.1 The BABEL idea and its general objectives
- This is actually an open list.
BABEL is a project aiming to make an experience on a teleconsult service
of databases belonging to Museums and Libraries. The multimedia archives
involved have heterogeneous data structuration, because every Institution
has created independently its different object registration cards. The
BABEL access system has the following characteristics:
project for Europe. The RAMA project was destinated to the professional
user, and the application used for the professional user in BABEL
is called MIRA
. MIRA offers a powerful interface and services for composing very
complex queries in a session opened simultaneously against a number
of database servers located in the Internet.
Database accessibility from de facto standard WWW navigators,
usually for lay public users.
Unique login/password in the whole network (Internet) to be
used in a common session opened against all the desired databases
belonging to Museums and Libraries. Nevertheless, the same user
may have different profiles in every database; therefore the access
permissions regarding different data types or archive fields can
be restricted to the same user in different way by different Institutions
within the same session. For instance, the director of a Museum
may be a simple external user in other Museum, while consulting
both databases from the same session, using the same login/password.
The name of BABEL has been chosen on the basis of the aforementioned
heterogeneities, accessing heterogeneous data structure from the same
system. BABEL faces an existing reality: all the heterogeneities are
unified in a common system that respects the diversity SW, HW, and communication
platforms belonging to every Institution, as well as their specific
data structures (object registration cards). This is the existing reality,
mainly in the Museum field: all those heterogeneities cannot be avoided.
There are a lot of efforts to achieve a normalization regarding Museum
databases, but the actual reality is the heterogeneity. In order to
provide services based on Museum databases, it is not possible to wait
for the results of those normalization efforts. On the other hand, regardless
of a full normalization scenario that could be achieved in the forthcoming
years, the systems providing services must be open for personalization
of archives belonging to every Institution at very local levels. This
open door for the personalization is a sample of the respect that the
database engineer must keep regarding the Humanities expert, who is
the user of the applications that he designs and develops.
- Reuse of all existing databases belonging to Museums and Libraries,
as well as respectfulness with their internal heterogeneities
regarding data formats. A curator cannot be said that any catalog
personalization must be forgotten: the structure of the objects
registration cards may be the result of a Doctoral Thesis carried
out during several years of hard work.
- Unique user's manual, compatible being with that of the
The Libraries world is more normalized than the Museums one. Hence,
the internal data structuration have less alternatives. Nonetheless,
there is not a unique format but preferences for some of them. This
is the reason why the BABEL fundamentals have still a place within the
Libraries applications for services provision.
Another general objective of BABEL is to capitalize the investments
made by European projects, financed by several Consortia, the European
Commission, and in the case of Spanish partners, also by the Comisión
Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología of the Spanish Government.
Specifically, the most relevant investments have been made within the
Programme: RACE 1078 EMN Project (European Museums Network) 
and RACE 2043 RAMA (Remote Access to Museum Archives) ,
both of them with very strong Spanish participation. The capitalization
of their results in Spain consists of the projection and expansion of
the fundamentals of those projects, mainly the RAMA Project. The Spanish
investment in RAMA was 4.5 million ECU out of a total investment in
Europe of 18 million ECU. The capitalization of the RAMA results in
the different member states of the European Union was a commitment of
the RAMA partners in front of the European Commission. The way in which
the results projection in Spain has been carried out is described in
1.3.2 Particular objectives
The first particular objective within the projection of the RAMA
project into the Spanish reality was the creation of the Museums and
Libraries network in Spain. Such initiative has been made with the support
of the Institutions and enterprises that ensure the success of this
venture: Telefónica of Spain (ensuring the existence of access segments
to Internet), and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture (ensuring
the postproject maintenance of the BABEL fundamentals). The Spanish
Museums and Libraries network will allow the remote database consult
from any point of a public network, by means of a rerouting to Internet.
The next particular objective consists of the development of the necessary
gateways between the common system with unique manual of BABEL and the
databases of the Museums and Libraries participants in the BABEL consortium.
It must not be forgotten that those databases have heterogeneous data
structuration, as a result of the personalization carried out by every
Institution, mainly the Museums. Furthermore, gateways must be also
developed for the Institutions joining BABEL as associate members (status
described in sections 1.1 and 1.2) for them to be able to join the BABEL
network in Internet.
Regardless of the above, the projection of the RAMA results in Spain
must be carried out taking into account the particularities of the Spanish
environment. The purpose of the European Commission in any initiative
financed in the past within the RACE Programme (RAMA, EMN), or actually
founded within the ACTS
(SICMA Project) and ESPRIT
(MENHIR Project) Programmes is to make feasibility prototypes supported
by experiences based on advanced network technologies. The purpose of
BABEL, financed in a Spanish Programme made as the mirror of the "Telematics
Application Programme" of the European Commission is very different.
The idea is to concentrate on expanding a real network providing services
for/from Museums and Libraries, using the existing technological resources
(mainly dealing with public network access); such resources must have
a reasonable cost in order to ensure that the number of Museums and
Libraries (as well as remote users of the services provided by them)
involved even as associate members is the largest possible. Hence BABEL
has not got advanced network experiences as a requirement, which would
mean a selection, and therefore a constraint, with respect to the Museums
and Libraries to join BABEL. This happened in RAMA (just when the Internet
was being born), and actually happens in SICMA, where ATM connectivity
among Museums is sine qua non condition.
On the other hand, the Spanish reality arises a number of specific lacks.
BABEL is paving the ground for the resolution of those lacks, by means
of pointing them as minimal requirements for Museums and Libraries to
join the BABEL network. Those lacks can be summarized as either the
non existence of digitalized multimedia archives, or the poor data population
of those archives in case of existing, or (mainly) the non existence
of access segments to public networks to be rerouted to the Internet.
This last lack is very important, since the most of the Museums and
Libraries have the normal telephone connection at most. The role of
BABEL is to act as engine to remove the lacks: this is another reason
why the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture is a sponsor of BABEL.
Another particular objective of BABEL is the creation of a Virtual Museum
and a Virtual Library in Spain, to act as common information point (PIC)
in the Internet. A PIC provides mainly a directory service, and will
consist of a database server populated with descriptors of the data
contained in the database servers belonging to the different Museums
and Libraries (BABEL members and associate members). The navigation
within this PIC requires a minimal commitment regarding some database
fields, therefore being the last but not the least goal of the project.
This unification does not break the heterogeneity and personalization
of Museums and Libraries archives, because the descriptors will contain
a very reduced number of fields, while their local databases can keep
local heterogeneities in any data structure. This is another reason
for the participation of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture
as a sponsor of the project to host any initiative on normalization
although involving minimal commitments and consensus. Hence, although
BABEL fundamentals are the respect to the heterogeneities to provide
services within a common system, it is also a platform for showing the
usefulness of a normalization regarding data structure by demonstrating
that the provisions of services is more powerful in a normalized environment.
The PIC can also reroute the communication to the desired Museums or
Libraries within the same session, although this is actually an open
issue. Furthermore, its physical implementation is to be decided if
distributed (server networks appearing as a unique virtual server in
the Internet) or concentrated (only one server in the Spanish network).
By means of the above objectives, BABEL is pioneering in Spain within
the field of the new role that the Cultural and Academia Institutions
are called to develop: the use of knowledge coming from their traditional
research to provide services to other Institutions or even to professional
and lay public users. Furthermore, the use of the Internet as the basic
network does not restrict the BABEL network to Spain. Any Museum or
Library can join BABEL as associate member, never mind its location
throughout the world.
2 Technological Bases
2.1 Products and Required Developments
The Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia
y Tecnología of the Spanish Government (CICYT) emphasized that
BABEL should focus on the following issues:
In the light of the above, it has been decided to install several products
already developed in other projects. Changes in the user interface of
such products have been discarded, and only gateways to new databases
will be developed. These decisions are translated into the reality as
- Any action directed towards the implementation of network experiences
is the most important one.
- Any development that is not explicitly directed towards network
experiences must be reduced or even removed.
. The MIRA client can be downloaded by free from the BABEL
. It requires the development of the gateways to the databases at
the server sites.
To make it possible the access from a conventional WWW navigator
to the same databases as from MIRA. This access type is mainly
destinated to the lay public user. The gateway technology to the
database servers has also been developed by the authors 
. It also requires the development of the gateways to the databases
at the server sites.
To develop and install WWW pages for the BABEL members and associate
members from contents given by the corresponding Museums and Libraries.
To develop the Virtual Museum and the Virtual Library (PIC)
and to start its service provision.
The developments and installations require a series of actions to be
carried out directly by the Museums and Libraries involved. These actions
are as follows:
- To install the MIRA product for the professional user. As evolved
from RAMA, MIRA's manual is compatible with that of the RAMA project
for use in Europe. MIRA technology has been developed by the authors
All the above actions must be complemented with the search for associate
2.2 Network and Configuration
- Massive population of the databases in case of existence (all
the BABEL members have got it) or acquisition of a database management
system previously to make the database population (for associate
members, if they have not got it).
- Acquisition management and installation of commercial HW, SW,
and communication platforms.
- Installation management of public WAN access segments to the
- Management of the database contents during service provision
through the network.
- Agreement about the specifications and common fields to navigate
through the Virtual Museum and the Virtual Library (PIC).
- Aspects of intellectual property rights.
- Assessment from the viewpoint of the users.
BABEL project title is "Multimedia
Services for Museums and Libraries via Internet". Therefore, the
Internet is the public network supporting BABEL. All the participants,
either BABEL members or associate members must have access to the Internet,
regardless of how the access segments to this network are provided by
the public network operator. A general scheme is shown in Figure 1.
The Museums and Libraries which are BABEL members appear in the bottom
part of Figure 1. They are both information providers (servers) and
users (clients). The top part of the same Figure 1 shows the associate
members participation, which can be carried out either as users (clients)
exclusively, or as information providers (servers) and users (clients)
The BABEL architecture is based on the client server paradigm.
The client configuration is a low cost one, PC based, and the server
is a UNIX machine. Details of these configurations (including options)
are shown in http://www.gti.ssr.upm.es/~babel.
Actually, BABEL servers have been compiled and are working in several
UNIX platforms, such as HP, SUN, SGI, and IBM. The database management
system (DBMS) can belong to any manufacturer: the gateway to be developed
has different degree of difficulty depending on the manufacturer and
mainly on the internal data structure of every Museum or Library. The
recommended option is to have DBMSs with a precompiler supporting embedded-SQL
sentences (as native language of the relational databases) directly
into the BABEL server application. In case of database management systems
are resident in other machines where UNIX is not the operative system,
there must be another gateway between the UNIX machine where the BABEL
server application is resident, and the machine where the DBMS is resident.
This second gateway must be provided by products made by the DBMS manufacturer.
This is the case of some of the BABEL members, where e.g. the DBMS is
resident in a machine under SCO. Actually, the BABEL server is stabilized
with two DBMSs: ORACLE and INFORMIX.
3 CDs and Alternatives for Service Provision
Figure 1 - The BABEL
During several years, the multimedia applications
have been associated to CDs, because this was the only technology able
to combine random access, large storage capacity, and low cost for large
scale distribution. While other initiatives in this direction were undertaken
in the past or continued (CD-I), and the number of CD-ROMs to be edited
is expected to increase, large amounts of money have been also invested
in services based on telecommunications. These services reflect the
common strategy followed by the most of the enterprises involved in
the multimedia market: the common goal is to provide a transactional
value added, and not only to provide information on electronic supports.
This involves the use of databases in realtime.
Additionally, the sell of a service gives greater benefits because the
marginal costs to add new services based on the same information contents
are less than the investments required to create a new product. For
instance, the cost of updating and adding new items to a database is
completely marginal compared with the production cost of a new CD-ROM.
This cost is precisely the starting point where a service provided with
databases in realtime makes sense with respect to the production and
sell of a CD-ROM, even more when the information contents are changing
or very frequently updated. On the other hand, this point is more evident
for services involving remote and distributed databases (belonging to
different Institutions) in realtime, which can be considered as "electronic
libraries" with respect to the CD-ROMs, which can be considered
as "electronic books".
The explosion expected in the multimedia communication services market
has created the obvious necessity of the existence of contents to be
transferred. Actually, several service providers have invested large
amounts of money to achieve licences and rights on multimedia informations
coming from different owners. This race to achieve licences and rights
brings a description of the actual map as "information provider
paradise": in the risky market of the multimedia technologies the
information providers have the most privileged position because they
can license their information contents.
There are two ways to implement "Culture services provision"
as contribution to those "electronic libraries" in a telecommunication
network by the Culture and Academia Institutions:
Whichever is the formula adopted for the service provision (direct or
indirect), there is the need of emphasizing that given the coverage
of the service (may be international, as this the case of Internet),
there may be different laws about the intellectual property rights in
different countries. As a consequence, there may be different limits
about what the final user can do with the information contents. Particularly,
this issue is to be taken into account within the contract with the
service provider in the case of indirect provision.
4 Time schedule of the project
- Information (or content) providers: this is indirect service
provision. It is carried out by means of exploitation licenses
of their information contents to an intermediate entity who will
be the service provider. The contracts must reflect clearly the
limits and the way in which the property rights of the informations
licensed are to be handled by the service provider.
- Service providers: this is direct service provision. The Culture
and Academia Institutions directly assume the role of service
providers to exploit directly the services based on their information
contents. There is no contract with any intermediate service provider,
but the Institutions must have knowledge and experience on strategies
of service provider operators.
BABEL started officially September 19th, 1996.
It will be extended for 3 years. The tasks will be executed throughout
those 3 years as follows:
1. First year:
2. Second year:
- Museums and Libraries which are BABEL members will provide the
tables of their databases in order to make it possible the development
of the gateways from the BABEL server. Implementation of those
gateways to access the databases from the MIRA client and from
a conventional WWW navigator.
- Equipment acquisition plus SW installation (basic commercial
SW platforms plus project platforms, e.g. MIRA SW).
- Exportation of database contents to a UNIX machine with a DBMS
or provision of the gateway from a UNIX machine to the DBMS server.
- Installation management of the WAN access segments and first
3. Third year:
- Population of databases as well as management of network tests
with real information contents.
- Improvement of the flexibility of the gateway development procedure
(gateway between the DBMS and the BABEL server, using the database
- Associate members search, with installations and gateway developments
to their databases.
- User assessment during network real tests.
- Definition, specifications, and agreement of common navigation
fields regarding the Virtual Museum and the Virtual Library.
- Development, installation and provision of services of the Virtual
Museum and the Virtual Library.
- Agreement on information copyright aspects, converging with
the Memorandum of Understanding for the Culture Dissemination
signed by Institutions and enterprises under the umbrella of the
- Progress on associate members search, installations and gateways
developments to their databases.
BABEL is a project aiming to create a network
of Museums and Libraries in Spain, compatible being with the European
initiatives, to make it possible a teleconsult of their databases either
from the Internet or from any public network point with access segment
to the Internet. The teleconsult system must be based on a common manual,
but respecting heterogeneities, particularities, and personalizations
of the object registration cards resident being in the different Museums
and Libraries (may be also at the level of different Departments of
every Museum or Library). BABEL is a capitalization of results coming
from projects sponsored by the European Commission, and the idea is
to extend a network as much as possible by means of incorporating associate
members to BABEL. These associate members may be information providers
and users simultaneously, or only users.
Another objective is the creation of a common information point to enter
the Culture Spanish network (PIC) called Virtual Museum and Virtual
Library. The user can navigate through descriptors resident being in
this PIC, and then decide which databases are to be consulted. Normalization
of a few fields must be agreed to make it possible the navigation in
this PIC, but the personalization of the registration cards is kept
in the different databases belonging to the Museums and Libraries.
Actually the project is being carried out within the foreseen framework
to achieve both its general and particular goals. The technological
achievements and the dissemination of results have been balanced. The
commitment of important sponsors is crucial for the success of the project
and for the postproject continuation of the BABEL fundamentals.
BABEL is in line with the preparation of Museums and Libraries for its
new role of service providers, converging with initiatives such as the
Memorandum of Understanding launched by the European Commission.
The authors wish to thank to the Comisión Interministerial
de Ciencia y Tecnología of the Spanish Government for financing
, verified October 1997.
 G. Cisneros, J. Bescós,
and J.M. Martínez, "Telemuseum Services Via Internet:
Present and Future", Information Services and Use, 16(2)
IoS Press 1996, pp.81-101.
 J.D. Gilbert, "Are
we ready for the virtual library? Technology push, market pull,
and organizational response", Information Services and Use,
13(1) IoS Press 1993, pp.3-15.
 J.M. Martínez and
F. Morán, "A WWW Gateway for RDBMS", Proceedings of
the AACE: World Conference on the Web Society", 1996, pp.342-347.
 MIRA description in WWW
, verified October 1997.
 N.R. Smith, "The
Golden Triangle - users, librarians and suppliers in the electronic
information era", Information Services and Use, 13(1)
IoS Press 1993, pp.17-24.
 F.Visser, "The European
Museums Network, an interactive multimedia application for the museum
visitor", Information Services and Use, 13(3) IoS Press
is the acronym of "Multimedia Services for Museums and Libraries
via Internet", project financed by the Comisión Interministerial
de Ciencia y Tecnología (CICYT) of the Spanish Government.
is the acronym of "Remote Access to Museum Archives", project
financed by the European Commission under the RACE (Research on Advanced
Communications for Europe) Programme. This work was cofinanced by the
Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología of the Spanish
is the acronym of "Multimedia Information Remote Access",
product resulting from a project financed by the Comisión Interministerial
de Ciencia y Tecnología of the Spanish Government. It works in
the Internet, copyright of the authors under Universidad Politécnica
de Madrid, and protected by the Spanish and harmonized European laws
on intelectual property rights. The MIRA client can be downloaded by
free from the BABEL
is the acronym of Research on Advanced Communications for Europe, which
was a Programme for research and development projects promoted by the
is the acronym of Advanced Communications Technologies and Services,
which is a Programme for research and development projects promoted
by the European Commission, successor of RACE Programme being (RACE
Programme objectives were over by the end of 1995).
is the acronym of European Estrategic Programme for Research on Information
Technologies, which is a Programme for research and development projects
promoted by the European Commission, emphasizing the research aspects.
is the acronym of "Punto de Información de Cultura" in Spanish
(Culture Information Point).
E.T.S. Ing. Telecomunicación, Universidad Politécnica
de Madrid, 28040-Madrid Spain
Tel: +34.1.336.73.53; Fax: +34.1.336.73.50
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