Open the gates to the virtual visitors !
(The MA.M.A -Hungarian Museums' Database- project)
Attila Suhajda, Ministry of Culture and Education 


1. Abstract 
2. The aims of the "MA.M.A" (Hungarian Museums'  
    Database) project  
3. The problems of creating a general museum 
    documentation system  
4. What is expected of the system? 
5. The realization of the project  
    5.1. The unified data structure 
    5.2. Fields on the query form 
    5.3. The physical structure of the MA.M.A system 
6. The Importance of the MA.M.A  
7. The Future and Aims of MA.M.A  
1. A panorama view of the Museum of Ethnography 
2. Interior view of the Museum of Ethnography  
3. The INGRES version of the graphical thesaurus   
    (Hungarian National Museum)  
4. The ORACLE version of the graphical thesaurus  
    system (Museum of Ethnography)  

 Abstract: (toc) 

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 M.A.MA database is accessible on 3 main levels. The first for the public, limited searching capabilities but accessible for everyone from the internet. On the 2nd level the general database can be found with free searching capabilities, and the third level is closed, this is the researchers database, which contains detailed information about the objects of collections. The project didn't standardize at the level of the different collections data, but it has attempted to serve provide for general searching. This paper will present the results of this project include the solution of the museological problems and the professional technological background.  

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 artifacts.  

What is expected of  the system? (toc) 

  1. Our primary aim was to create a public, well searcheable database that is accessible for everyone. Based on this concept we have defined a so called basic data structure containing 12 pieces of information. Each collection can provide data to this structure, let it be a zoological museum collecting butterflies or a technical collection with steam engines. We have called this simple database structure "MA.M.A" which is in fact a common unified index database of artifacts. 
  1. The second requirement concerning this system was its open endedness, which means that without difficulties a museum can join later (applying new collections - adding new description fields).
  1. Easy maintenance is also very important, to be able to allow customization - according to the different needs of museums - without endangering the integrity of the system. The significance of this element will be clarified later in this paper when I shall discuss the physical realization of the system. 
  1. The next important expectation was to provide a user friendly client software with minimal hardware background which does not require special training from the user may it be the museologist maintaining the system or an virtual visitor. 
  1. Data protection - as is the case with similar valuable databases - is treated naturally as a question of special importance. 

  2. 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:  

  1. Museum of Applied Arts 
  2. Hungarian National Gallery 
  3. Hungarian National Museum 
  4. Hungarian Institute of Theatre History/Hungarian Museum of Theatre History 
  5. National Museum of Science and Technology 
  6. National Library and Museum of Pedagogy 
  7. Hungarian Museum of Literature 
  8. Open Air Museum of Ethnography 
  9. Museum of Fine Arts 
  10. National Museum of Natural History 
  11. Museum of Ethnography
  12. Budapest Historical Museum 
  13. Museum of Agriculture
These museums house the vast majority of the Hungarian cultural heritage and art treasures such as the Hungarian Crown, the Corvinas manuscripts and many other unique art treasures.The number of the objects preserved in their collection is remarkable high, approximately 20 million items. Similarly sized collections exist only in the biggest of the museums in the County network.  

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.  
One of the most complicated tasks of the project has been the creation of the unified data structure accepted by all institutions involved, as each of the participating museums had different approaches to this problem. There were museums which would have liked to issue only 3 items of information about the objects in their colections, which would have made adoptation of the system practically impossible, whilst another museum would have freely agreed to total access to their whole documentation.We could characterize the common database structure as a solution of compromise. All museums involved provide the data specified on the common index database, although not all data will be searchable in the public system.  

The unified data structure: (toc) 
Field name Comment
1. Object ID eg. inventory number
2. Identification (genus/ name of object/ name of work of art)
3. Acquisition method excavation / purchase / present, etc.
4. Date  
 - date of acquisition  
 - date of preparation  
 - date of usage   
Date interval (-from, -to year)
5. Chronology  
 - usage
free text field (eg. XIth century, Middle Age, etc.)  
Chronology are appeared in the following 4 context:  
(Age / Culture / Century / Style)
6. Location  
 - origin  
 - usage  
 - acquisition
field of locations wich related the object in different context
7. Material  
8. Technique  
9. Register of Names  
 - acquisitor  
 - master  
 - craftsman  
 - designer  
 - workshop  
field of names wich related the object in different context  
eg: workshop/acquisitor/master/designer/subject/user, etc
10. Multimedia informations   multiply values field (image, voice, video)
11. Maintenance internal technical field 
eg. to indicate the object is sequestered 
12. Storage exhibition / store

Fields on the query form: (toc) 
Field name
1. Identification
2. Date/Chronology of preparation
3. Locations
4. Register of Names
5. Material
6. Technique

The following secondary information are attached to the index database: 

1. Locations  
2. Institutions  
3. Collections  
4. Material  
5. Techniques  
6. Methods of acquisitions  
7. Register of Names  
8. References (publications)  

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 
The database server can only communicate with one other machine from the outside of the firewall.  This is a smaller capacity SUN Ultra 1 server. This machine will be the web server, the only server visible for outside visitors. This server will not store any data, its task is to forward requests to the database server which in return will only transfer back data found for the particular request. The webserver will also store forms necessary for the use of the collections of the various museums as well as the downloading and maintenance software supporting these forms. Data entered on these forms will then be utilised by the ORACLE Application Server program to generate the tables or html pages that will eventually appear on the end users's screen.  
The client program itself operates in a regular internet browser environment, apart from a password, a user needs nothing else to start work.  After logging on the MA.M.A server and entering a valid password, a program module containing the dataforms of the requested museum will be downloaded on the user's computer.  As the client application is used for the maintenance of the database as well as the search function, the more complex functions are provided by the use of JAVA scripts and applets.  

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.  
Consistency is the task of the central server, which regularly replicates the central database. The Museums currently have an Internet connection capability of 64kb/s, whilst the server has a capability of 128kb/s.  If necessary this can be extended to 2Mb/s.  

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 also appeared.  
Should the Museums appear on digital culture markets as important content providers then they may acheive a much better position for themselves and won't be without a share of the spoils  either.  

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.  
In 1996 Hungary signed the EU initiated "Multimedia Access to Europe's Cultural Heritage" memorandum of understanding.  We would like to participate within this large project as a smaller independent project.  It is important to discover new sources - here we are not thinking of technological - to assist us in building our databases and making our system multilingual 

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.  
We would like to extend an invitation to visit Hungary for the celebrations of 2000, either in person or virtually through MA.M.A. 

Attila Suhajda 
archaeologist & computer programmer 
informatical advisor 
Ministry of Culture and Education 
1055 Budapest, Szalay u. 10-14. 
Tel: (361) 302-0600/1581 
Fax: (361) 3319-508 


Last modified: April 3, 1998. This file can be found below 
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