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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Hold history in your hand
Scottish Parliament Building BBC
So when did Scotland last have a parliament?
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

If you are taking a Scottish holiday or visiting a museum in Scotland, your mobile phone could soon be the only tour guide you need.

This week sees the first trials of an ambitious plan to make information about almost every Scottish monument, museum exhibit or work of art available via mobile phones.

Once complete, the project will mean that culture vultures and tourists will no longer need to use a headset when they are strolling around a site of historical interest.

Instead, all the background and trivia they ever wanted to know about a particular place or object will appear on the screens of their handsets.

Cultured computers

Since 1996, the Scottish Cultural Resource Access Network project has been collating information about sites and buildings of historical interest, as well as many of the objects on display in museum collections throughout the country.

Now, it has over 400,000 text records in its database and expects to expand this to one million by the end of 2001. In addition to the text, which details the history of an object and its cultural context, Scran is preparing 120,000 multimedia records including image, sound and video clips for some of the more historically important items.

The database holds information about everything from earthenware salt cellars to Viking brooches and neolithic flints, as well as paintings such as the impressionist works at Glasgow museum.

The Scran database is already accessible via the web, but the organisation hopes the mobile plan will make the information much easier to reach.

Phone for facts

Scran is collaborating on the project with wireless technology specialist Message Central.

Scran wants to make the database searchable via anything that tourists have to hand at the time, be that the short message service (SMS) on a an ordinary mobile, one that can use the wireless application protocol (Wap), or even a handheld computer.

Wap turns a phone into a tiny internet browser.

"Eventually you could be standing in front of a Degas or other painting and it will come up with all the information about it," said Graham Turnbull, publishing manager of Scran.

When third-generation mobile phones start to be used, the image, video or sound clips will be downloaded to the phone to give people even more information about exhibits and their history.

One of the first places to use the Scran system will be the Glasgow Museum at Kelvingrove, which houses many Impressionist works of art.

Half of the 15 million price tag for the five-year project has been given by the Millennium Commission. The other half has been raised from businesses.

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