István Moldován: During the early 90’s me and László Drótos were surfing the web. We met online, which was something of a novelty at the time. Even back then we found a great deal of material, mostly on English-language webpages, and it was striking how all that text just lay about haphazardly, undocumented in any way. Immediately the librarian’s instinct started working away at us, and essentially it was this experience that initiated MEK.
In the last fifteen or twenty years, many other projects had taken on the task of digitalizing texts. There happen to be texts that made their way into the archives of both the Digital Literary Academy (DIA) and MEK. Is this a problem for you?
Where do you get your materials?
For the most part, we search the world of culture, literature, education and science for book type documents. We must also mention the major American archives, where a great deal of Hungary-related and Hungarian-language material is already digitalized. We have incorporated numerous CD releases into the MEK corpus, but these can’t be put on the webpage unaltered, as they have special operational software, so we must first convert them. We also seek out audio books.
We have a constantly expanding capacity, the day after tomorrow it will be double what it is today, so that is not a problem. One possible limitation to digitalizing is the documents’ condition, because digitalizing must take place before a certain condition sets in. On the other hand, we lack the funding to develop our technical equipment. We do try to keep as intellectually open as possible. We do get our share of criticism for our main priority of text diversity.
What are your criteria for text selection?
Mainly we try to make format selections, not content. For example, we include the works of both official and alternative linguists in our database. We even have materials written in rune script. The Hungarian Electronic Library is well known and gives the impression of being a major service widely used, while it is in fact a small business, the work of a few people and run by only a handful.
Are you in contact with electronic archives outside of Hungary?
What other developments are you planning?
We would like to start a movement within the MEK framework, so we may join the initiative of LibriVox. This is an American project similar to Project Gutenberg, with volunteers uploading the materials, but their focus is on audio books and not texts. We have contacted them and are forming a cooperation, mainly because this webpage has hardly any Hungarian texts so far. We plan to launch a free programme where anyone with a standard microphone can make their own audio book. We’re still working on the concept; quality control, text formatting and filtering are still in a developmental phase.
What other goals does MEK have, besides preserving the digital heritage? How could all that text be put to good use?
Since the dawn of e-books, these texts have gained significance, and we have been approached by many publishers. Our texts were used by the Magyar Szókincstár dictionary as an aid to linguistic and stylistic analyses. But our primary aim remains to make the basic texts of classical learning available to people, young people in particular.