News 1/1999



MUISTI (MEMORY) - Digitization and Network Delivery of Finnish National Collections

Leena Pärssinen

The technological development has brought new possibilities for the transmit of information in libraries, archives, and museums. The transmit of information about what is available in existing collections with the aid of reference databases is no longer the only possibility, now it is also possible for the inquirer to see the actual material.

The Muisti project investigated the possibility to digitize and deliver on the net copyrightfree national materials in libraries, archives, and museums. Muisti is the first joint project between libraries, archives, and museums to take material form. It produced the basic facilities and tools for the digitization and networking. The experiences and results of the project show that the co-operation can continue and that also other institutions than the original participants can now join into the work.

The Muisti project and its results

Muisti (http://www.lib.helsinki.fi/memory/) is a joint project within the Ministry of Education's programme "Finland as Information Society". The aim of the project is to promote the usage of Finnish cultural heritage by applying new information technology. The work is coordinated by Helsinki University Library and participants are the National Archives of Finland, the National Board of Antiquities, the Finnish Literature Society, the Computer Centre of the University of Helsinki, and the Audiovisual Centre of the University of Helsinki. The project established close cooperation with Åbo Akademi University and Turku University Library. Library Director Esko Häkli was the chairman of the Leading Group and Mrs Leena Pärssinen was Project Manager, both from Helsinki University Library. The Leading Group consisted of representatives for all participating organizations. Mr Timo Hellgren was the project's researcher. The contributions of all the specialists of the participating institutions, was an vital part of the project. The project was set up 1.5.1995 and ended 30.4.1998.

The mimeographed final report in Finnish was published in the summer of 1998 and is also available on the net on the project's homepage (http//:www.lib.helsinki.fi/memory/raport.html) as html- and pdf-formats. The report has an abstract in Swedish and English. The English abstract can also be found under the address http://www.lib.helsinki.fi/memory/raporte.html. The report gives an account of the technical details, such as digitization, image database applications and networking solutions, and also of the material selection, cataloguing, search possibilities, and of the service goals and solutions, and the total expences of the digitization.

The Muisti project realized all its aims and

  • developed special digitization techniques for a wide range of national materials
  • planned and implemented a joint system for digitized images, that includes the MUISTI-database and the operative image databases of the participants
  • produced local and networked search services for digitized images
  • produced totally 8 500 digital images of 3000 copyright-free national documents for use on the Internet
  • created user adapted service environments for digitization
  • calculated the cost of digitizing image material
  • arranged a user appraisal of the digitized material and analysed the answers.

The cooperation was based on the agreement that the digitizing processes and database solutions could be different for each of the participants, but that the user interface had to be common. This led to a decentralized joint system. Now the digitized materials in archives, libraries and museums can be used through the same interface regardless of the different functions and work processes.

Looking at the results of the Muisti-project it is quite clear that by combining the resources of national institutions much more can be gained than by any institution on its own. This fruitful co-operation has increased the know-how that the institutions acquired during the project. It is a great advantage for the user to be able to reach national digitized materials in several institutions through one interface.


In the summer of 1996, when the project started, the archives and museums had only just begun planning their own reference databases. The VTLS software for the reference databases of the Finnish research libraries was not suitable for an image interface. It was clear that the project had to find completely new database solutions for digitized materials suiting for all participants. The aim was a graphic interface and a search mode that was both smooth to use and easy to adopt. Although the Z39.50 information retrieval standard for accessing on-line catalogues was during the initial phase taken under consideration, the facilities for Z39.50 were not sufficient because of its development phase at that time. The project started to search a network solution based on such a new interface that would allowed the participants the greatest possible local independence from the joint system. An economic solution was looked for, that would permit a progress in phases from a more economic alternative to a more advanced system. The basic idea of the interface was first developed by the Data Manager of the National Archives, Mr Matti Pulkkinen. The WWW-interface, a reference database working in a graphic surrounding and providing an easy search device combined with the local image databases forming a decentralized joint system, was then developed.

The MUISTI-database was established in the spring of 1997. The database and its WWW-interface were produced by CCC Companies in Oulunsalo. The data content of the database is based on the recommendations from March 1997 of the KAMUT-workgroup, a workgroup co-ordinated by the National Archives and financed by the Ministry of Education. The minimum level information about the digitized material recommended by the KAMUT-group was chosen for the MUISTI-database. When the database was further developed at the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 the present release 2.0 was provided with an author, title and subject index that made the use easier. That proved to be necessary because of the diversity of the material, its age and the names in many languages that complicated the freetext searches.

Because the MUISTI is a reference database it required simultaneously local image databases of the participants. At the end of 1996 a survey of the development situation of existing packages for image databases was made. The packages had already been viewed in 1994 and 1995 during an image project on a smaller scale co-ordinated by Helsinki University Library. The WWW-interface and the convertibility of data in the MUISTI-database were general requirements.The application of Helsinki University Library required that the images could be recorded also outside the database, the marc-format, and the possibility to link large units, such as the linking of the pages of entire publications. In this way the possibility to access the digital images also from other databases, the possibility to convert the references into VTLS-databases, and the integrated use of traditional and electronic materials in the future was ensured.

Åbo Akademi University Library had already in its database changed from the former interface to the Trip-application. In co-operation with the Computer Centre of the University of Helsinki, also Helsinki University Library, instead of the software package, started to create a Trip-application for its own image database. The Computer Center's representative in the project was Service Manager, Mr Olli-Pekka Rissanen and with the aid of his expertise this solution was chosen which was of crucial importance for the project. The Head Systems Designer, Mr Torsti Linnanmäki, produced the database and Special Analyst, Mr Lars-Dan Beck, developed the WWW-interface and some other parts, the most important of them being the possibility to link several units containing digitized images. Other useful features are the author, title, and subject indexes, the possibility to list the material according to type of material, and the possibility to get an inverted listing of the most recently registered references.

The specifications for the database were made in Helsinki University Library by Researcher, Mr Timo Hellgren in co-operation with Ms Maija Suhonen and Ms Eeva Murtomaa. The reservation for conversion from the Trip-database to the VTLS-database required special attention on the factual contents. The Finnish Literature Society, Turku University Library, and the National Archives chose the same solution. By doing the development work themselves the participants got the image databases at a reasonable price and could fully utilize their common experience in the planning work.

Searches can be made either from the MUISTI-database, where the material of all the participating organizations are placed or from the image database of a certain organization by using more versatile search possibilities.

The Internet addresses of the databases are:

Digitized images from the collections of the National Board of Antiquities are in the MUISTI database, but the image database does not have an Internet connection.

Hämäläinen [A Man from Häme in his Winter-Clothes], R.W. Ekman, 1831 R.W. Ekman: Hämäläinen Talvi-voatteissaan, 1831. [A Man from Häme in his Winter-Clothes, 1831.]

The Digitization Process and the Material

The national material that the participants chose from their collections for digitization included photographs, printed pictures, historical maps, printed texts from books and ephemera, printed music, and also manuscripts and archival materials. The digitized material dates from the 12th century through the centuries up to the beginning of this century. They are all valuable historical sources that now are available as digitized images. In other words they can be viewed as originals. The aim was to apply the best cataloguing and digitization practices for each type of material.

Helsinki University Library produced for use on the net national classics and rare books, medieval fragments from the 12th century, archival materials, ephemera, such as playbills and concert programmes, menus from various occasions, price lists and prospectuses for different products, and travel guides. There are also pictures of landscapes from different parts of Finland; especially large is the collection of photographs from Turku/Åbo, produced by Åbo Akademi University. The collections of this University contain pictures mainly related to the Finnish-Swedish culture. Almost half of the amount of pictures in the MUISTI database and an even larger share of the titles are from Åbo Akademi University, and the University's library already had an ongoing digitization project of its own. But the Head of their project, Ms Catherine af Hällström has been a very active partner also in the Muisti project. The National Board of Antiquities has digitized the drawings and water-colours of an art historical expedition to the province Finland Proper and the Aland Islands in 1871. Researcher, Mr Jouni Kuurne was responsible for the selection and cataloguing expertise of the drawings and water-colours owned by the National Board of Antiquities. The Finnish Literature Society's material on the net consists of collections of folklore, portraits of authors and their manuscripts. A special method for digitization and indexing, and a special database solution was developed for this material by Researcher, Mr Jukka Saarinen. Printed historical maps over Finland starting from the 16th century from the collections of Helsinki University Library and handdrawn parish maps from the 19th century in the collections of the National Archives have been digitized. Turku University Library chose to digitize a collection of pamphlets from the years of oppression 1899-1905.

The aim of the digitization was to produce an image on the net that could be retrieved rapidly. On the other hand the digitization should produce a high quality copy, that could be used for example for printing. These aims are, however, contradictory - from one aspect high quality, from another rapid net transmission and a file format that takes as little memory resources as possible. The problems were solved in Helsinki University Library by producing three types of images: a high quality uncompressed archival image on CD-R, a smallsized jpeg-packed image on the net, and a somewhat larger browsing image. A special index structure was developed for the images on the net and the images were recorded outside the image database. The pictures have at this moment URL (Uniform Resource Locator) locations which can later on easily be transformed into URN (Uniform Resource Name).

When the project started it was found that the cataloguing practice in the participating organizations differed considerably. Only the libraries used a Marc based automated cataloguing system. Those organizations that catalogued manually, did it in completely different ways and they used subject words of their own. Now it had to be solved to what extent a cataloguing uniformity was necessary for the digitized material so that the information retrieval system would work. As previously mentioned the contemporaneous Kamut project brought the solution for the cataloguing level of the MUISTI-database. In the local image databases the cataloguing was carried out according to the specific needs and practices of each organization. In the project general application rules were developed for the registration and indexing of digitized materials together with rules for the conversion of them into the MUISTI-database. This did not require great uniformity of the local systems.

To improve the information retrieval system further co-operation is needed for the development of the registration and specially of the indexing. Another thing that needs to be developed was discovered during the testing and in the user inquiry. That is the problems related to Internet when many different materials in many languages are involved. The culture of Finland and its documents are for historical reasons in many languages. To this is added the bilingualism of the country: Åbo Academy University Library registers its material in Swedish, while the other institutions use Finnish. The result is that the freetext search does not give a very good result. Multilingual thesauruses are needed. Also the search habits of the users on the net differ considerably from the habits of those who do their searches in the library where guidance and staff are available all the time.

In the beginning of the project it was discussed if the registration item should be the original publication or the digitized image of it. Although the Finmarc format from 1996 onwards also contains electronic documents it was not selected as the format for registration in the Muisti-project. It was considered that this would limit the search possibilities. Especially as most of the digitized originals were previously uncatalogued. So the original document was chosen as basis for the registration. Technical data necessary for the use was, however, added to the image database. This data includes the host computer's name, packing format, URL, the data transfer protocol etc. Only Turku University Library chose another solution and registers the digitized record.

Digitization is a process that has many phases and historical collections require a lot of individual work. Valuable and fragile original documents in themselves already need very safe and careful handling. This adds to the costs of the process.

Nicolas Sanson: Scandinavie où sont les Etats de Danemark de Suede, 1648. Nicolas Sanson: Scandinavie où sont les Etats de Danemark de Suede, 1648.

Future Plans

Digitization is a worthwhile method for using and preserving collections. The advantages are great because of the versatile methods of use of digital images. The digitization work will continue and it will be used by more and more organizations that own old collections. The MUISTI database and the co-operation within it are open for new participants. The advantages are obvious also with the future in mind in a rapidly developing net world, where you need special knowhow and many kinds of skills. The MUISTI database is already a wellknown channel for Internet users retrieving and using digitized materials. That is why it is an excellent gateway for new participants planning to digitize their collections. The Computer Centre of the University of Helsinki, that was one of participants in the Muisti project, will put a free Trip image database application at the disposal of all institutions under the Ministry of Education. This is a great advantage because it was developed specially as an image database for national materials. The Muisti project has produced free samples of many types of historical documents related to Finnish culture for use on the net. An extension of the supply will serve research and education and general information service in a significant way.

Leena Pärssinen, Project Manager
Helsinki University Library
Email: Leena.Parssinen@helsinki.fi

Translation by Kristina Nyman

Tietolinja News 1/1999