Europeana Data Day: how the Hungarian National Museum and Europeana help institutions with digitisation

Aggregation in museums has been one of the main focus points of the National Center of Museological Methodology and Information (OMMIK for short) in the Hungarian National Museum. One of the Centre’s mission is to help institutions discover the advantages and opportunities offered by the nation-wide Public Collection Digitisation Strategy (Közgyűjteményi Digitalizálási Stratégia (KDS)) which started in 2017. At the forthcoming MuseumDigit 2019 conference in November participants will hear the latest updates on the national aggregation and digitisation process and can take part in a specially dedicated workshop by the Europeana Foundation on day O. 

We asked Éva Kómár, head of the Digitisation and Content Development Department at the Hungarian National Museum and Fiona Mowat, data specialist at Europeana, Europeana Data Day workshop leader about digitisation, the KDS and its pilot project.

OMMIK: Why has digitisation become so important in the cultural field?

It’s been a very long time since cultural institutions that safeguard, store and preserve our cultural heritage discovered the opportunities offered by digital technology. It took a bit longer for the Hungarian GLAM sector to recognise these trends and benefits, but we are catching up quickly. There are several ways that digital copies are used in museums from restoration to publishing online content. Nowadays perhaps the most important aspect is making sure people have open access to them.

Events from the recent past have also raised the significance of digitisation: the destruction of monuments in Iraq and Syria or the fire of Notre-Dame made us realize that mementos from the past can easily turn to dust. Safeguarding our cultural heritage is one of the best things digital technology enables us to do. Even if it will only exist in a virtual space, lost or demolished cultural heritage can be reconstructed.

In any community, cultural heritage is a basis of common identity. This is why Europeana was established in 2008. It is a platform that makes digital content from its partnering institutions available, strengthens our shared European identity and aims at giving a boost to the creative industry.

OMMIK: What are the most important factors of aggregation?

For us, aggregation means that a central aggregating institution collects digital content from different providers which is then shared on its online platforms with additional information on the records. The aim is to provide as much content to as many people as possible. In Europe, the biggest provider of such digital heritage content is the Europeana Foundation with more than 50 million records. MuseuMap, launched by the Hungarian National Museum in 2014, is a trusted partner of Europeana and as such, serves as the bridge between Hungarian museums and the international GLAM scene by publishing more than 97,000 records. 



OMMIK: Why is the nation-wide Public Collection Digitisation Strategy important for Hungarian museums?

What we’ve seen is that museums tend to develop services and work on their own system developments on their own, they publish content on their own website only and in this way, they cannot reach a wider audience. This is certainly a problem because important collections remain basically invisible in the online space, many rural museums don’t reach audiences it could and should. This is what makes aggregation efficient: it makes sure that even the collections of the smallest museums are published on a higher level, are used in different applications and thus, become more popular and widely known. 

OMMIK: What role does the Hungarian National Museum play in the central Digitisation Strategy?

The Hungarian National Museum is the centre responsible for the digitisation of Hungarian museum collections. This means a 3-year cooperation with the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest on a pilot project whose aim is to collect 11,000 digital records from Hungarian museums. These records will be accompanied by easy-to-understand and accessible descriptions which can also be used in education. This content will be available on the MuseuMap site and numerous educational mobile apps. Users can already make their own galleries with My MuseuMap, an application on MuseuMap, and export them in pdf or ppt format which can be later used as a presentation or shared on social media.

OMMIK: Regarding the descriptions, what difference does the Public Collection Digitisation Strategy make? 

First and foremost, an object’s description is not limited to information on its size and material. It has to be accessible and enjoyable for a lay reader and has to explain why that certain object is interesting, what the historical context is, and the tone and vocabulary have to be different from what we use in researcher circles.


OMMIK: What resources are necessary for a museum to be able to join the Digitisation Strategy?

Ideally, museums have a digital strategy for how they want to present their collection online and the director is aligned with the aims of the Digitisation Strategy. We know that many institutions do not have the necessary infrastructure for digitisation, so during the pilot project, a mobile lab operated by the Museum of Fine Arts will take photos and scan the objects. 

OMMIK: Why is the Europeana Data Day workshop a great opportunity for museum workers?

Hungarian museums create more and more digital content. However, the increase in volume is no guarantee for quality. Records have to be digitised in good quality in order to be widely used later. Good quality, informative content requires special expertise which is sometimes missing in museums. The Europeana Foundation played a crucial role in launching mass digitisation in the cultural field in Hungary by providing resources as well as the necessary know-how. 


OMMIK: portal has become the biggest cultural aggregator since its foundation in 20…in Europe. There are more than 57 million artworks, artefacts, books, films and music from European museums. Who are the potential visitors and end users of this impressive content?  

Fiona Mowat: Our users can be anyone, and they can have different interests in our content - from those who want to discover their family history or to learn about a certain topic for fun to those who can use Europeana Collections for research. You can use Europeana to find free to use images to remix for a creative project. Teachers can even use to create learning scenarios for their students. 

OMMIK: What are Europeana’s goals with better metadata quality?

Fiona Mowat: Through good metadata quality, our users are able to find more content, more easily and to get more from it! The better the metadata describes the cultural heritage object the better the user can understand, connect and interact with the digital representation of that object.

OMMIK: Why it is important for the partners?

Fiona Mowat: We would like to enable our partners to connect with a wider audience as our users discover their data on Improved data quality leads to more interaction with the partners content. In addition, if the image quality meets our standards then we can feature certain images in thematic collections and, if the licenses allow, in exhibitions and as hero images - but first we have to be able to find the content, which is why metadata is so important!

OMMIK: What are the benefits of a face-to-face program? 

Fiona Mowat: A face-to-face programme allows for more of a hands-on approach to data quality. We can use real example records, discussing where and why these fit into the Europeana publishing framework and quality assessment.

OMMIK: Who can get extra knowledge from the Europeana Data Day workshop?

Fiona Mowat: Anyone who works for an institution with a digitised collection that they would like to share on or that is already available on the platform. Ideally they would already have some knowledge and experience working with the metadata and digital content they would like to supply to Europeana, as well as an idea of what is required for publication on our site.

OMMIK: What are your expectations from this Budapest workshop in the Hungarian National Museum?

Fiona Mowat: I am really looking forward to meeting partners who already publish with us and some prospective partners. I think it's really great to meet people in person. It will also be really interesting to hear of any potential difficulties and problems faced by Cultural Heritage Institutes who are delivering content to, or who would like to do so. I hope we can learn what we at the Europeana Foundation can do to make publishing with us easier and to help partners with their own digital transformation.