Wednesday, February 11, 2009


For my digital library exploration this week, I visited a site that I was previously familiar with, but one that only recently did I realize could be considered a digital library: the PCL online maps collection. I thought it would be interesting to evaluate the Perry Castaneda Library Map Collection because of how often I've seen or heard mentioned the difficulty of digitizing maps. The site does not indicate when it was first created, but I remember visiting it at least as early as 1999, and I think it was up prior to that. Indeed, the site has the look of an older web site as its interface is solely text on a white background. Nonetheless, it is a very interesting site through which to browse, if you like maps.

The collection itself is quite impressive. Just about every inch of the globe is covered, and the PCL has put many historical, thematic, and topographic maps on the site, as well as the common political and road maps. The PCL seems to have followed pretty clear collection principles in that they digitized parts of their print map collection free from copyright and made sure to cover the expanse of the globe. The fact that they only digitized maps free from copyright also solves any IP issues with the digital library. Furthermore, the collection is clearly curated in that the page was last modified two days ago and as seen by the fact that the site maintains a section at the top entitled "Online Maps of Current Interest." The major downside of the collection is that it lacks a search function. Essentially, one has to browse through the site's hierarchy tree to find something specific. For instance, to find a map showing Dublin, OH, birthplace of Dublin Core, one would have to follow a link labeled U.S., then a link for Ohio in the state maps chart, and then choose a map to look at without an image preview. This all makes searching rather clunky, but is great for browsing. For instance, while searching for a map showing Dublin, OH, I found the above historic map of the Cincinnati sewage system in 1880. (Historical note: in 1880 the Cincinnati Reds were expelled from their league for violating league rules by serving beer to fans. Just one of many thins made possible by having a good sewage system.)

The online map collection by the PCL does contain sufficient metadata for each object, as you would expect from a sight maintained by an academic library. Each map is identified by title and date and includes information on its creator, provenance, and publisher. In fact, the information provided looks as if it were taken directly from the UT libraries catalog entries for the individual print maps. I suspect they did in fact harvest it directly from the catalog. The one weakness in the metadata is the lack of digital provenance, as the metadata, because of its harvested nature, refers to print maps in the collection. The site does, on its FAQ page, though, state that all maps were scanned by the PCL, currently using a Digibook scanner. (The site started with an Apple Color One Scanner at 150-200 dpi, though they now scan at 400-800 dpi.) The FAQ also states that all maps are presented as originally published which addresses the digital provenance issue, albeit not directly side-by-side with individual objects. Overall, the forms of the objects, and the standard nature of their accompanying metadata do indeed promote ongoing preservation and continued use of the maps in the PCL online collection.

I can infer that the PCL's intended primary users are researchers. First of all, they provide links to other map resources, which would be of use to someone actually researching. Also, they make a clear statement on copyright, saying that the images are free of IP burdens, but that the PCL would like a credited mention in anything published. Furthermore, they provide instructions on accessing the larger PCL print map collection. Beyond that, though, the site also possesses features geared to the more casual browser, such as the Online Maps of Current Interest section mentioned supra. Essentially, then, I think that the PCL probably views its digital users in pretty much the same terms as users of the physical library, except with greater geographic access.

All in all, it is a digital library site that I thoroughly enjoy browsing, despite its lack of preview images.

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