Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

To accelerate the multimedia digitization of collections and to ensure their accessibility to the public and as a learning resource for schools and universities.


During the G-7 Ministerial Conference devoted to the Information Society (Brussels 25-26 February) the G-7 members, along with the European Commission, decided to launch 11 pilot projects which are designed to demonstrate the potential benefits of the Information Society and to stimulate its deployment.

The key objectives of the pilot projects are to:

- Support international consensus on common principles for applications, access, and interoperability of networks;
- Establish groundwork for cooperation among G-7 partners to create a critical mass to address the global Information Society issue;
- Create an opportunity for information exchange leading to further development of the Information Society;
- Identify and select exemplary projects with tangible, understandable, and demonstrable social, economic, and cultural benefits;
- Identify obstacles to implementing applications related to a global Information Society;
- Help create markets for new products and services.

The pilot project on Multimedia Access to World Cultural Heritage is established to harness the potential of the Information Society to provide a wider access to the world's cultural heritage resources, particularly those in museums and art galleries, as well as an increased protection of national cultural heritage. Multimedia systems allow images, sounds and text to be combined in imaginative new ways, to be transmitted in digitized formats and to be stored and reproduced or networked for wide public access and use.

The activities envisaged by the project focus on striking a balance between current experiences being gained by each country in the field of information and digitization of cultural heritage, and a strategic vision of long-term cooperation. In ensuring complete and flexible circulation of information among partners, problems related to the diversity of cultural heritage need to be addressed, while autonomy and decentralization of all participating institutions need to be protected.

The project is to focus on the following specific objectives:

- Interoperability of multimedia cultural heritage databases;
- Availability of software products and services on telecommunication networks, for open multimedia access to the world's cultural heritage collection;
- A better appreciation of world cultures.

The development of information flows among cultural heritage information resources will create directories of these resources located in every country. They will contain the information necessary for identifying museums, sites, monuments, objects, the telematic address of the relative institutions and related databases. The importance of directories on cultural resources in each country will become all the more important with the increase of information flows between geographical boundaries. It will be up to each institution to ensure regular updating of their databases and listings in the directory.

The setting up of information flows will create a "virtual global directory" of the world's cultural heritage resources, available for international consultation. In order to achieve this, three issues need to be addressed:

- Digitization of museum assets should provide all cost-effective electronic information (data, pictures, texts, bibliography, video, sound) for a wide public, educational and professional use;
- Established agreements and emerging standards to support widespread exchange of cultural heritage information resources need to be identified and elaborated;
- Standards to be adopted should take due account the following aspects: user-friendly interfaces, easy and non-time-consuming operations for cataloguing material, and short charts describing museum assets.

Shared standards will not prevent individual institutions from adding their own features. Furthermore, such a project should enable, for example, virtual connections between objects and specimens within museum collections and the cultural assets distributed at other sites.

For practical reasons, the scope of the project has been restricted to visual arts, keeping in mind, however, the need to develop other fields such as science and technology, natural history and other cultural areas.

The other pilot projects which were launched at the Brussels G-7 Ministerial Meeting cover the following theme areas: Global inventory; Global interoperability of broadband networks; Cross-cultural education and training; Electronic Libraries; Environment and natural resources management; Global emergency management; Global healthcare applications; Government online; Global marketplace for SMEs; and Maritime information systems.


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Italy and France are responsible for the operational coordination of the Multimedia Access to World Cultural Heritage project.

Three working groups are to be created at both national and international level; the working groups will foster and build upon the work and experience gained by several national and international initiatives, and may include experts from their ranks. The main subjects covered by the working groups are as follows:

- Methodology: identification of common information standards for information on cultural heritage;
- Multilingual directors and thesauri: automatic correspondence of information contained in the cataloguing systems of various countries preserving the existing cultural and linguistic diversity;
- Software developments for access: reliance on a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of existing and planned initiatives and results to rationalize the use of existing and planned resources, and to focus the project on the application of emerging technologies.

The project is to be implemented in four phases:

- Phase I: Participants, keeping in mind the users and their needs, will analyze application requirements and will investigate existing databases and the investments already made for computerization. This phase will also include the identification of competent institutions and museums as well as experimenting with software, hardware and network technologies. Working groups will therefore identify social and economic market contexts (audiences), user interfaces for search and retrieval, cataloguing and mark-up specifications, communication and network specifications, imaging specifications. Standard development will be a priority topic. Participation of private sector partners will be a key element for the success of the initiative.

- Phase II: A demonstration system is envisaged that will include the tools, using multilingual thesauri, to store and retrieve data and images. The demonstration system envisions user-friendly interfaces. Procedures will also be developed in order to allow the creation and consultation of directories.

- Phase III: This phase comprises implementation in each institution (hardware, software and network, technologies), and testing of the demonstration project both from technical and user points of view.

- Phase IV: The demonstration project will be evaluated, and subsequent activities will be planned in cooperation with the private sector.

The financial implications and a timetable for the overall implementation of the project is to be assessed during Phase I; agreement must be made on these matters before proceeding to the subsequent phases.
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