In 1996 the Ministry of Culture and Education began
(together with 11 state museums) the "MA.M.A" Hungarian Museums Database
project.The aim of this project is to establish a searchable artifacts
index database. Each state museum implemented a local network with a local
server plus internet connection. The project designed and developed a database
management system for each museums collection. Over these local databases
we put an index database -called M.A.MA- containing 12 elements available
in each collection. The local databases are stored and maintained on the
local servers, however for security reasons only the well protected central
computer is serving information to the Internet. This central computer
will provide place for individual museum home pages too.
The aims of the "MA.M.A" (Hungarian Museums' Database) project (toc)
"MA.M.A" is a multimedia database of artifacts collected
by the most prominent Hungarian museums. The aim of the project is
to create a database which contains information about historical
relics, art, technical and literary products of the Hungarian nation, which
can be used for scientific and educational purposes and which at the same
time would also help to recognize and better preserve our cultural heritage.A
further aim of the project was to provide at least basic informatical
infrastructure for the national museums.
The problems of creating a general museum documentation system (toc)
To create such a system has been a goal of the sphere of public collections for a long time, but these efforts -although they had some results - mostly failed.
Unified way of documentation has been regulated since the 1950's by law in the Hungarian museums. This has greatly helped the development of a general computerized register of artifacts, but is much less useful in the creation of special collection structures.
Since the systems of object description are varied from museum to museum, and even between the collections in the same museum, at this stage of the project our efforts towards a uniform inventory system are restricted to solving the problems at the level of content retrieval.
As a further problem, the different nomination
of the same artifacts causes additional difficulties in the retrieval.
In order to build up a well searcheable database, we have to face this
problem of nomination as well: in other words we have to create thesauruses
which contain standardized expressions concerning the different types of
What is expected of the system? (toc)
The museums' databases will be accessible on 3 main levels. The first level is the "MA.M.A" database. It will have free public access and will contain no more then the 12 pieces of information about each object which is stored in the common index database, but the and searching will be limited. The second level will contain the individual museums' databases with more detailed information. These databases are protected by passwords, it is the right of the individual museum to grant access to the password. However, there is read-only access to the data provided.
The third is the level of researchers' database, where a double key protection system is applied, which provides access and the right of modification only to authorised users.
The realization of the project (toc)
At the end of 1996 the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education started to develop the informatical systems of the national museums. This was the starting point of the "MA.M.A" project (Hungarian Museums' Database) involving the following 13 museums:
The project can be participated in by any of the
public collection, admission is open to all. All "MA.M.A"
services are free of charge for participants, who receive their
own home page on the "MA.M.A" server and software to build and maintain
their databases. In return it is the task of the individual museums to
digitalize and make their databases permanently available. To date
the program has been financed totally by the state - the National Museums
are entirely funded from the Budget. Private collections and those
maintained by local governments have the difficult task of providing the
necessary informatical infrastructure, consequently the upgrading of their
own documentation system, and preparation of their individual "MA.M.A"
version attracts a smaller fee.
The unified data structure: (toc)
Fields on the query form: (toc)
The following secondary information are attached to the index database:
During the physical creation of the system we took into account new technology suitable for the publication of databases on the internet. For this reason we chose the new database handler by ORACLE, particularly useful when dealing with large multimedia databases. Publication of the database is facilitated by the ORACLE Application Server, whilst client software is provided in the form of Netscape Communicator (luckily received free of charge).
The table below illustrates the physical structure of the MA.M.A system: (toc)
There are 2 SUN servers at the MA.M.A Centre. The
database server is a SUN Ultra 450 machine, which is the
most advanced machine ever used by a museum in Hungary. This machine
hosts the joint index database of all the participating museums, and the
individual databases of those museums which do not have a suitable server
of their own for the servicing of their databases. This machine is shielded
and protected from the outside world by a firewall system
which also prevents unauthorized access. Authorization will be provided
by Netscape Certificate's Server.
All participating institutions have their own NT or UNIX operation system servers and have the ORACLE Workgroup Server and the Application Server appropriate licences. The key concept of the system is that the local servers use the same applications as the main, central server, the only restriction being is that they can only access dataforms of the requested institution. All structural changes are first to be registered with the central server, which will then automatically syhchronise and update the application used on the local server of the institution which requested the changes. This way it is possible to ensure the uniformity of the index database which has the advantage that if a researcher outside of Hungary (naturally who possesses a valid password) wishes to use the system, via the central server it is possible to access the data system of the researcher's own local collection.
As the individual institutions are presently lacking firewall protection and the configuration of the servers is still under way, the decision was made that the databases would only be served through MA.M.A central server. In time and with the development of appropriate protection these functionns can be taken over by the individual institutions and MA.M.A would only provide the index database, acting as a type of compass for browsers.
Maintainence of the Museum databases can be undertaken
both on the local servers and on the MA.M.A server also. As exactly
the same program runs on both the local and main servers
no appreciable difference can be discerned when using the two. Data exchange
between servers is practically automatic, synchronisation of the databases
is programable. This means that new and/or modified data is registered
on the central server, from whence the jointly constructed secondary databases
(e.g: names, materials) return to the individual museum servers.
Database storage of visual and audio multimedia data occurs according to standard formats and can be viewed using standard browsers. We plan to store the image data in the up to now little used but advantageous .FIF (Fractal Image Format) format. This requires however the acquisition of special hardware for the institutions.
It is also worth mentioning use of the ORACLE CONTEXT module, which enables the identification and accessability of artifacts upon the basis of even the smallest fragment of a word in any of the attached documents (Word, Excel, etc).
The MA.M.A centre is presently located in the Ethnographical Museum, where its operation is overseen by suitably trained personel.
A panorama view of the Museum of Ethnography: (toc)
Interior view of the Museum
of Ethnography: (toc)
It is not our intention to resolve the issue of standard, consistent terminology within the framework of this project: a special graphic theosaurus has been created seperately and made available without charge to each and every institution.
The INGRES version of the graphical
thesaurus (Hungarian National Museum): (toc)
The ORACLE version of the graphical
thesaurus system (Museum of Ethnography): (toc)
The Importance of the MA.M.A (toc)
It is essential to underline the real importance of the
project. It is obvious that information technology has reached
the stage where it requires quality information for the manufacture of
newer and newer products. This is an ideal moment for the Museums
to profit from the situation, yet at the same time certain dangers have
The Future and Aims of MA.M.A (toc)
A database containing valuable cultural material has a right to exist. Its existence is not primarily determined by economic considerations but rather is of great importance to the fields of education and research. It is not without importance either the fact that such a small country as ours can appear on the internet, bringing together those interested, being able to introduce them to the country's riches, to our past and present, perhaps even through a visit to a virtual museum.
Presently we have no knowledge of similar european projects
aiming to unify country size public collections.
We intend to continue operating our services free of charge. In the future however downloading of higher quality images and sections of film and audio will become chargeable.
Realisation of the project is presently underway - the system is in experimental phase. The "Museum and the Web '98" conference is the international debut for MA.M.A. At the time of writing the loading of information into the database is taking place. The initial database will contain between 1.5-1.8 million records.
Hungary is preparing for the Millenium celebrations
of the State in 2000. The country would like to celebrate
and begin the 21st century in a fitting manner. We hope that our
project can contribute to the preservation and introduction of our country's
past and present to the entire world.