Behind the Stacks: Libraries and Geospatial Technology
Despite what you may have heard, libraries are not dead! From the local bookmobile to the Library of Congress, libraries thrive, fueling a thirst for knowledge that has lasted for thousands of years. Libraries are not just archives, but dynamic institutions that thrive and discover innovative ways to integrate geospatial technologies into their operations. In this article, we’ll explore how libraries use, teach, and share geospatial resources.
“Reading is fundamental”
Does anyone remember the program, “Reading is fundamental? As a boy, I was fortunate to have a local library within walking distance, the Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana. Their programs have grown over the past three decades, and when I spoke with a librarian there, I was happy to know that the library’s mission continues and adapts to meet the needs of a new generation.
Other public libraries are also adapting and integrating GIS and geospatial technologies into their programs. Seattle Public Library staff frequently help clients create public AGOL accounts and provide basic tutorials. It’s a wonderful feedback loop – staff keep their AGOL skills up to date without formal training, and clients learn new skills and opportunities.
The Seattle Public Library’s Maritz Map Room also recently released its collection of over 40,000 maps and over 100 current and historical atlases, proving, as I said in my very first article, that the death of the paper map has been greatly exaggerated. Now that the public is allowed to view these maps for recreational or research purposes, attendance at the Map Room has increased dramatically, especially as people are eager to get out. (My librarian friend assured me these are duplicates, so if they get damaged or lost, they can be replaced.)
Several cards are still reserved for library use only, including the Incredible Sanborn fire insurance cards, who mapped the individual plots of Seattle from 1893 to 1959 at a scale of 50 feet to one inch. They have been digitized, but the originals are too valuable to be put into circulation.
Academically, many universities have strong GIS programs in their libraries. At the local and municipal level, it’s a different story. I called libraries in places where I lived, as well as a few random picks in Albany, Georgia, and Albany, NY (I didn’t make it to Zanesville, Ohio.) The general response was, “No, we don’t. have or use the GIS at the library, but we would have liked to do so. Usually there isn’t a lot of demand for this, so there is little funding. When people need GIS maps, libraries typically return them to city or county GIS departments, which have more capacity and expertise than library staff.
One exception is the Monroe County Public Library in Indiana. They developed a participatory mapping project, Monroe County Field Notes, to “expose history to people who did not have cameras or who could not read or write.” Participating cartographers conduct plot-level searches of the historical archives and enter their location with a text description, using GIS databases of cities and counties. These are then entered into an Excel database maintained by the county library system. The project is nascent, but the ultimate goal is to build a history map showing the history of Bloomington and the surrounding counties.
The MCPL also maintains a geocoded database of addresses for nonprofit organizations that help those in need, with a public map easily accessible from a library computer.
Maps, as we know, are essential to an informed and engaged society, but only if people are willing and able to use them. In presentations for the lay audience at library events, I’ll display a base map online and ask someone for an address, then zoom in on it (or I’ll use 1060 West Addison, Chicago.) ‘illuminate. Then do mine! Then I explain, “You can do it! It’s easy and free, and the world is right at your fingertips. You just need to find it.
In our Basic GIS course at Oregon Tech, we primarily use AGOL with dabbling in other programs. When students begin to see the potential, their nimble young minds begin to flicker with curiosity. If students can do it, so can others. No one is too old to learn and be curious.
If you can’t come to the library, the library can come to you!
Whether by mule or automobile, libraries have been pushed to bring materials to those who do not have easy access to a library, literally and figuratively. the Pack Horse Library, a construction project of the Construction Administration from 1935 to 1943, “covered remote creeks and mountain sides… of the Appalachians,… on foot and on foot. These were the first bookmobiles, and they are still operational today.
With the pandemic, bookmobiles are more popular than ever, but understaffed, so they must use their resources as efficiently as possible. The Seattle Public Library uses QGIS and ArcGIS to deliver books to underserved communities. They analyze external data, such as standardized test results, census data, and transportation availability to determine where bookmobiles should be deployed.
Likewise, the Burnaby Public Library in British Columbia has developed An application in order to automate the mapping of routes for the delivery of books in the city. Using ArcGIS Navigator, library and GIS staff were able to streamline route selection for drivers, who make 10-20 stops a day to deliver books to people who can’t get to the library, whether due to lack of transportation, disability or otherwise. the obstacles.
Of course, the story is vast, well beyond the temporal and spatial scope of a small county or town. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with over 55,000 items in its card collections, many of which are downloadable as images. They also offer a plethora of story cards, as the D-day invasion, told by veterans of this epic battle.
The Smithsonian also has a site with rich resources from their own collections as well as other collections and training materials.
“The library is the heart of the university”
So read it engraved stone arch at the Yale University Library. University libraries have adopted GIS as an essential tool. Working on my thesis at Oregon State, I spent hours browsing drawers of maps and aerial photographs, scanning the hard copies, and georeferencing them in ArcInfo.
Much has changed since 1997. Dr. Joseph Kerski has an inspiring (and entertaining!) Podcast with Stace Maples, the cartographic librarian at Stanford University. Academia have the resources and talent to build GIS capacity, but as Maples says, it’s also about creating demand through awareness and communication. To paraphrase many colleagues (and the movie “Field of Dreams”), “If you build it, they will come.” But … only if they know it’s there.
Along with dozens of other universities, including Princeton, the Big Ten Academic Alliance, MIT, and NYU, Stanford is participating in the GeoBlacklight project, a searchable portal where universities share access to their collections and metadata. Blacklight has been used as a search tool for years and GeoBlacklight has improved its capability by adding a geospatial component.
Related to this is that of Stanford Earthworks, another portal that offers searches based on location, card type, date, and author, among others. Searching Oregon, I got 831 results!
Also at Stanford is the famous David Rumsey Collection, with “more than 200,000 maps, atlases, globes and related documents. But more than that, it is an archive of the landscapes and environments of our world as well as of human cultures, myths, arts and scientific developments.
Preservation of the ephemeral
Stace Maples told Dr. Kerski that his biggest concern is the preservation of ephemeral digital data. Paper maps, for a librarian, are treasures; some have been around for hundreds of years. the Louisville Free Public Library is one of the many cards that are unique snapshots of the past. Digital maps show these same images, albeit in a shorter time frame, and they can be lost with the click of a mouse. Nevertheless, decades or centuries from now, they could be as valuable as a world map from the 1500s.
Partnership and collaboration are essential to the goal of preservation. Not only local libraries but also government organizations (eg, county surveyors) seek to partner with each other and with universities to preserve this data for posterity. Awareness is essential to these efforts, but it must be supported by infrastructure and training. In my interviews with librarians, I evangelized AGOL and Google Earth. There are many great free training courses available, from Esri, the GeoTech Center and many more.
Libraries understand the power of geography as an archival and dynamic resource. As Maples says in his podcast with Dr. Kerski, “Geography is like bacon; it makes everything better! “