Dying aggregators and archives floating in the cloud

Public collections and scientific projects are inconceivable without existing or planned digital databases. The dilemma whether online searchable archives are necessary or not is a thing of the past in scientific and public discourse alike. Over the last few decades, thousands of terabytes of public collection data have been added to the digital world daily all over the world; however, new problems have arisen in the wake of this. How can data be stored and used well? We put these ailing questions to four researchers who come from different areas but have made spectacular achievements in the area of building digital databases and connecting them to aggregators. Krisztián Fonyódi works at the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery, is a countrywide inspector and a staff member of Múzeumdigitár. Literary historian Iván Horváth has been dealing with digitisation for almost fifty years, Zsuzsanna Toronyi is the director of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, and Gábor Zólyomi participated in outstanding digital projects in Sumerology.

As Krisztián Fonyódi said, it was three or four years ago that museums started to work with cloud-based technologies, which, besides offering the only viable alternative in an underfinanced area, dispenses with the risks of storage. A central server – in the case of Múzeumdigitár a server park in Germany – can provide far more advanced technology and far better qualified experts who can control vast databases. Museums only need to worry about producing and developing content and can leave the technical tasks to experts. A server centre with numerous locations can easily tackle technical problems. Gábor Zólyomi asserts that digitalisation is not about storing data for good but about access, and the primary goal of public collections, museums, libraries and archives is to preserve the original objects. Zsuzsa Toronyi added that digitalisation also contributes to preservation by reducing the physical damage to the original works. Confirming this view, Iván Horváth believes that better access results in better preservation as an ever-greater role is played in the preservation and survival of cultural assets by improving access.

Iván Horváth spoke in defence of aggregation, thanks to which less and less energy is used to code signal carriers, and content is preserved more and more in and through increasing numbers of copies. Aggregators are used to save data to central storage devices and to reproduce them.

The Digitisation Strategy for Public Collections, adopted by a new government decree in 2017, places the focus not on aggregators but rather on data usage. According to this, using data for educational purposes is the simplest and most important role of public collections. Public collection databases should, therefore, be made part of public education and future curricula; however, this requires suitable public collection databases, which we do not yet have.