The Norwegian Museum Project

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Christian-Emil Ore

    University of Oslo

  2. 2. Øyvind Eide

    Unit for Digital Documentation - University of Oslo

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The Norwegian Museum Project




New York University

New York, NY




museum informatics
cultural history

Norwegian university museums are custodians of large bodies of knowledge and
data about societies, culture, nature and the environment in Norway, both
historical and current. An important role of the university museums has been
the compilation and dissemination of this information. It is no accident
that museums have formed the nucleus for the founding of Norwegian colleges
and universities.
Due to the magnitude and the organization of the university collections, they
have not been readily accessible for use in research, teaching and public
services or for inspection by the general public. In order to maintain their
position as the country's leading institutions and information pools for
object-based research, the university museums must revitalize their
collections. An important step in this process is the introduction of
information technology at all levels in the museums. However, this calls for
an extremely costly reassessment and conversion of existing archives into a
digital format, requiring extra effort and additional funding. In some
cases, establishing the databases will entail a complete revision of some of
the museum collections.

The project
The Museum Project (1) was established in the spring of 1998 as a national
collaborative project involving all four Norwegian universities. It is
planned to run until 2005 with an annual budget of 1-2 million Euro. The aim
of the project is to develop common database systems for the management of
collections for all the Norwegian university museums. Ideally, these
database systems should be able to handle all reference information related
to artifact and specimen collections inside and outside the museums.
Important aspects include internal requirements regarding the management of
collections, fieldwork, research and dissemination, and external demands
from the authorities and the public concerning access to reference data.
The work is motivated by an ambition to develop IT-based systems that will
offer users centralized and efficient access to information regarding the
Norwegian cultural and natural heritage. With the help of common user
interfaces and links between data from different fields of study, it will be
possible to generate new information combinations and new insights in the
various disciplines.
The Museum Project includes a systems development group that is responsible
for modeling and constructing the databases. This group is a direct
continuation of the systems development group in the Documentation Project
(2). In addition the project employs at least one scientific consultant from
a relevant discipline for each of the sub-projects. The consultant is
responsible for the follow-up of the scientific aspects of the digitization
process and works in close co-operation with colleagues in the relevant
field and with the project's system developers.
The Museum Project involves the museums of natural history as well as the
museums of cultural history. It is organized in various subsections, with
sub-projects in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, cultural history,
botany, zoology, geology and paleontology. Each of the sub-projects is
responsible for the digitization of large collections, some so complex that
getting even an overview is difficult. Once the digitized material is
recorded, it undergoes a quality control procedure before being entered into
databases. The completed databases are all built on the same platform. This
implies that while each database accommodates the specific features of each
collection the different databases will nonetheless be compatible with one
another. The computer programs and methods used for the electronic recording
of data are determined by the structure of each collection, and to some
extent by the traditions of each discipline.

Technical solutions
The Norwegian University Museums cover a wide range of disciplines, from
archaeology and ethnography to natural history. The project organization has
taken over the responsibility for maintaining and developing the data base
systems for the department of lexicography (old Norse and modern Norwegian)
and place name studies.
The development of the new systems has been continuous process for the last 6
years done in parallel with giving assistance to the ongoing digitization of
the museum collections and various reference informations. The design and
implementation of the common systems and interfaces is now completed and
will be presented at the conference.
To make data base systems for the large number of disciplines is a challenge
for a small group. An extra challenge is the requirement for
interdisciplinary searches. The number of databases and the
inter-disiplinarity has forced us to try to make as generic data base
solutions as possible. The new information systems replace in turn older,
mostly stand alone database applications. This is fortunate since it is
easier to create new interconnecting systems instead of connection old ones,
although technologies like the Z39.50 standard have open for relatively easy
interconnection of databases.
The system group has tried to think generically along two axis:
common interface tools and database functionality
common database solutions for common data types like geographical
data, bibliographical data, data about persons (legal and real),
classification systems in cultural and natural history and so

During the model phase, the collections of each discipline has been described
as a set of different object types. We will here use a simplified model for
archaeology as an example. The collections of an archaeological museum
consist of artifacts, classification and acquisition catalogues, excavation
and conservation reports, photos and so on. We have modeled this as object
types such as:
a type of artifact objects
a type of finding circumstances (stray finds and excavation)
a type of conservation objects
a transportation type

The latter used to describe the movement of the artifacts inside and outside
of the museum and is shared with other museums and collections. Other shared
object types are persons, publications and geographical places (both natural
formations and abstract geographical entities like counties and
All the object types are implemented as relational databases in Oracle8i.
This is not an object oriented DBMS, but the object view of the data is
taken care of by a common meta database containing a subset of the data
model of each database (scheme). The user interface applications comes in
two version, one advanced version implemented in DELPHI5 and a somewhat
simpler WWW-interfaced based on plain HTML and Java-scripts. Both versions
use the information in the meta database to automatically create a user
adjustable search forms and result tables or grids. In the DELPHI5 version
each object type is also supplied with one or more object viewers presenting
the data connected to a given object. That is, by clicking on a line in the
grid of result, a more detailed view of the data is presented. In the photo
database a digital photo filing card with detailed information and a thumb
is presented. In a dictionary database a formatted entry will occur.
The second common feature of the system is the so called list module. The
visual metaphor is the ordinary file hierarchy with nested folders and
files. The "file icons" represent stored queries, hand compiled lists of
parts of one or many search result. A list can consist of objects of
different types, say, photos from a site, information about artifacts and
excavation reports. The folder hierarchy is used to systematize the lists.
The lists and the folders can be global, shared by a group or private. When
opened, a heterogeneous list will be presented as a collection of icons and
some basic information. Each element can be inspected by a viewer
corresponding to its object type. A list of objects of the same type can
also be seen as a result grid with a predefined layout.

Work with Sites and Monuments Records (SMR)
Norway has five archaeological museums. They are situated in Oslo, Bergen,
Trondheim, Troms¯ and Stavanger. With the exception of Stavanger, all are
university museums. Each museum has a collection of items from its own
district. Previously, however, the geographical division between the museums
was not so rigid, resulting in the different museums having artifacts from
other museum districts. The five archaeological museums have traditionally
had the responsibility of keeping and updating the SMR for their part of the
country. In 1993 the responsibility, but not the actual records, was
transfered to a central body, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage
Research (NIKU). In 1998 the Museum Project was asked to design and develop
a central database solution for a national SMR. The task was completed in
March 2000 and the national SRM database is now operating. The system is a
client-server solution based on Oracle and a client application developed in
Borland Delphi. In addition the SMR has a WWW interface used by local
authorities throughout the country. The SRM system is developed so that it
will be a seamless part of the information system which is the main
objectives of the Project. The WWW version will be demonstrated at the

Electronic exhibitions
Based on the digital collections we are building up, we have designed and
authored some electronic exhibitions: a folk music exhibition installed on
an ambulating Nordic exhibition celebrating a Queen Margerethe the first and
the so called Kalmar union (1397 a.d.) and a exhibition over Norwegian
coinage the last 1000 years originally used as an exhibition kiosk in the
exhibition hall at the University's Coin Collection. The original exhibition
contains video and sound which are excluded from the web-version due to
copyright limitations. An English version of this coinage exhibition is
available on the web and will be demonstrated at the conference.
The Museum project has also developed an image database for the photo
collections at the university museums, both for storing and cataloging
photos. The conversion and cataloging is an ongoing process for the next
decade. There are currently 110 000 images in the system. The web version of
this system will be available for demonstration.


The project ran from 1992 to 1997, see .

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at New York University

New York, NY, United States

July 13, 2001 - July 16, 2001

94 works by 167 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (21), ALLC/EADH (28), ACH/ALLC (13)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC