The EUREKA E! 2918 ONLINE CATALOGUE project has developed a cost-effective and easily configurable database system to simplify access to and management of almost any type or size of museum collection. The web-based Museum Collections Management system was intended to widen and deepen cooperation between the national institutions in the Baltic States. An additional aim was to increase understanding of Baltic history and culture throughout the world. The system is already providing innovative and informative Internet access to museum collections in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, for researchers and citizens. The resulting open- architecture- based documentation system will be marketed worldwide.

More and more museums are providing online access to their collections, making it possible to visit the world's great cultural and historic treasures from the comfort of your home or office, without having to travel all over the globe. And, while web page design is important, the key to simple use is well structured information, data access and site architecture.

The EUREKA museum online catalogue project therefore set out to create a standards-based and scaleable solution based on a powerful search engine, allowing online access to the content of all museum and gallery collections in the Baltic States. The project targeted some 300 state, regional and municipal collections. A key objective was to improve functionality and ease of use, enhancing research, education and training.

National museum organisations in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia share similar approaches to collection organisation from their common history and cultural heritage under Soviet control. However, absence of local standards for museum documentation made it difficult to build a mutual multilingual database system. Online Internet access was seen as particularly essential to provide innovative services for museum specialists, researchers, scientists, students and tourists alike.

EUREKA helped all partners to find finance in their own countries, funding that would not have been available in any other way.

Andris Kovalausks ,
IT Consulting, Latvia

Close cooperation between the state museum organisations and their information technology (IT) system specialists has resulted in the development of a universal database engine capable of working on both Windows and open-source Linux operating system platforms. The open-architecture approach provides a very low cost solution for maintaining the system by tens to hundreds of user organisations, with millions of museum and cultural objects in a single central database.

The museum online catalogue project started in 2003 as a joint initiative between the Latvian state museum organisation and a Riga-based IT systems developer with extensive experience in the museum sector.

State cultural organisations in neighbouring Lithuania and Estonia, together with their IT systems suppliers, were quickly attracted by this approach and the result was the establishment of ONLINE CATALOGUE as a EUREKA project.

The main intention was to improve functionality, usability and accessibility to museum collection information through Internet access. Additional goals included stimulating creativity and strengthening the digital skills of museum research workers, enhancing education and training activities, and deepening relationships between museums in the three Baltic States.

Latvian museums had little collection management software before the project started and lacked financial resources to acquire it. For many museums, a centralised system would not be too expensive as development and maintenance costs could be shared. In addition, the system could provide innovative services as all the collections would be in one common database.

"The universal nature of the Museum Collections Management system provides total freedom in defining fields in the database," explains Andris Kovalausks of project partner IT Consulting, which managed the project of behalf of the project leader, the State Authority on Museums of Latvia in Riga.

"Therefore there is no need to order additional changes in the software for documentation of specific or new collections. The approach used provides a mechanism to configure any number of additional fields and input forms. The resulting web pages can both offer text and audiovisual information about the individual items involved, simplifying collection management as well as encouraging public access to our cultural heritage."

We've developed very configurable and cost-effective management software.

EUREKA played a key role in establishing the ONLINE CATALOGUE project and providing support to seek funding. "EUREKA helped all partners to find finance in their own countries, funding that would not have been available in any other way," says Kovalausks.

"Our cooperation was very successful, particularly in standardisation of documentation for our museum collections," he adds. A pilot project was carried out in the Latvian museum system for demonstration. The resulting software is already in the production phase. Eventually all the information about museum collections in the Baltic States will be in one common centralised database, simplifying access both by researchers and by the general public to important historic and cultural heritage.

IT Consultants is continuing to develop the software involved to provide a global service for museums around the world. "We hope to start marketing our product in 2006," says Kovalausks. "We've developed very configurable and cost-effective management software but it is now necessary to make the system more attractive in terms of presentation and to increase the interactivity. We want to go beyond the database and could for example add some interactive games."

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