WAML 2014 Meeting Summary

by Ken Rockwell
University of Utah

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KenRockwellThe 2014 meeting of the Western Association of Map Libraries (WAML) occurred at the University of California at Los Angeles, in its Covel Commons building. Arrangements for this meeting were somewhat “ad hoc” after an intended host had to cancel, but Louise Ratliff, with a lot of help from WAML President Jon Jablonski at U.C. Santa Barbara, brought it off quite successfully.

As usual, the first event on the schedule was the meeting of WAML’s Executive Board on Wednesday afternoon, September 3. This meeting included several subjects that reflect the time of change the organization is experiencing at present:

  • Discussion of two proposed amendments to WAML’s by-laws, to be voted on at the Business meeting on Friday: expanding the principal region; and number of votes needed to authorize a meeting outside the principal region.
  • Discussion of the transition of the Information Bulletin from paper to electronic production. Editor Tom Brittnacher is experimenting with formats but hopes to get everything in order by November. It will be open access on the web, no longer dependent on membership, but there will be a members-only section. Free access to the IB cuts off a revenue source, but also eliminates a major expense. Only six members have requested paper copies and correspondence; all other communication has gone digital. Tom also asked for a volunteer to help him write a statement of copyright and article submitters’ rights, and Katie Lage agreed to do this.
  • A consequence of the IB changes is that there is no longer a need for a subscription manager. Some responsibilities related to that position and those of the membership manager will be consolidated into a position tentatively called the “community manager.” This officer would review the membership list annually and cull obsolete listings; provide members with log-ins; and coordinate the WAML mailing list.
  • Plans for future meetings. Several potential hosts include members at UC-Santa Barbara, Stanford, ESRI campus in Redlands, and the University of Texas at Austin. Jon recommends co-hosting with MAGIRT at ESRI. There is the issue of breaking our longstanding unwritten policy of not having too many meetings in a row in California, but in reality we have to go where the volunteer hosts are.
  • Guidelines for conference fees. The board has adopted a policy of giving a year’s membership to any new or lapsed attendee. This has led to 16 new or renewed members in connection with this year’s meeting.
  • The need for a permanent mailing address for WAML. This arose in connection with the IB’s transition to electronic, which will necessitate applying for a new ISSN number. Unfortunately, P.O. boxes cannot be used. Tom has volunteered his Santa Barbara address for the ISSN address, and we will use this address for the time being, though another logical address would be Stanford as home of our archives.
  • Our efforts to secure our status as a tax-exempt organization. Treasurer Lisa Lamont recounted her experience over the past year with the State of California and the federal government. We applied as a “non-profit corporation.” Recognition got delayed at the federal level during “sequestration,” but word came recently that we’ve been recognized—and had been for two years! This case of “crossed wires” triggered a statement by the state that we were in arrears for $1,600 for failure to file certain paperwork. Lisa is trying to work it out with both governments, but she says it may be useful to dissolve the “corporation” and re-file as a “non-profit association,” with less paperwork to worry about. For now, our status is in limbo. The board thanked Lisa for dealing with this, which is much more than she’d bargained for, and Jon suggested we change the by-laws to allow an honorarium to the Treasurer (currently barred from same as an elected official), given that the job is much more strenuous than other elected positions. Lisa also wants to drop our Bank of America account (given their poor customer service of late) and use PayPal’s debit card option. With the board’s approval, she is going to pursue this. Passwords involved will by kept by the Treasurer, President, and Secretary, and should be changed annually with the rotation of those offices.

UCLA_Powell300x210Once the meeting got underway on Thursday morning, we had a series of presentations over the course of two days that once more reflect our changing times, with subjects ranging from the history of cartography to managing geospatial data. Presentations were:

  • John Russell, Scholarly Communications librarian at the University of Oregon, discussed the use of computational tools and geospatial techniques in the digital humanities. There are various ways in which humanists use maps and geospatial data in their research: historians portray change over time; literary studies interpret spatial influences on the literary landscape. These scholars want alternatives to complicated GIS programs—appropriate software for their projects and their skills. Map librarians can help scholars find the right mapping tools as well as provide training or point to online tutorials (such as the ones found at geospatialhistorian.wordpress.com ). Map librarian skills and knowledge – regarding software, hardware, data, and metadata – are needed by digital humanists and WAML has an opportunity to play a leading role.
  • Daniel Brendle-Mochuk of the University of Victoria continued a theme from his presentation at last year’s meeting involving the identification of remnant orchards in the Victoria, B.C., area. He has used historical aerial photographs, current satellite imagery, and cadastral maps to chart the history of development in a selected neighborhood. He came across a YouTube video in which its creator, one Louis-Pascal Rousseau, demonstrated an interactive historical map being developed at the University of Pennsylvania (in collaboration with the University of Virginia). This application displayed change to an area over time using a time-line application; pull the date time forward, and the display changes, with maps and airphotos of the location fading into each other. (See “Touch History,” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_l8Vjb-87uE ) Daniel was unable to learn what software was used here, but it inspired him to go looking for a way to apply this technique and was able to do so using Mapbox (See: https://www.mapbox.com/ ).
  • Matt Zebrowski, a Geography professor at UCLA, presented on the airphoto archives that his department manages, giving an overview of examples of the imagery in the collection. The collection includes 40,000 oblique photos from Fairchild Aerial Surveys (covering many U.S. regions); 80,000 photos from the William Cross Air Photo company (primarily California and the Southwest); and 10,000 Robert Spence airphotos (again southwestern). The department is scanning the photos as they are used by customers, but there are too many to do systematically, as they lack staff to dedicate to such a large job.
  • David Y. Allen, retired Woods Hole map librarian, continues to pursue interests in cartographic history, and presented on the systems he uses in his pursuits. MapAnalyst (mapanalyst.org ) allows him to compare old and new maps to see how accurately early cartographers got the locations and coastlines. He also fed some maps into ArcGIS and “warped” them to conform to modern projection. (A limitation is that ArcGIS doesn’t recognize certain obsolete projections used centuries ago.) PhotoShop can also be used to edit and tile ungeoreferenced maps for later use in GIS and MapAnalyst, as David Rumsey has done—but it shouldn’t be used with GeoTiffs, as it would destroy the georeferencing!
  • Susan Powell, GIS and Map librarian at UC-Berkeley discussed using ArcGIS Model Builder to create a process for managing the Sanborn maps at Yale University, where she previously worked. Initially, Yale scanned all of their Sanborns for Connecticut and access was through Google Earth. (See old project page at: http://www.library.yale.edu/MapColl/print_sanborn.html) They wanted to extract sheet bounding coordinates, but lacked the time and money to georeference 6,500 images manually. So, drawing upon past work Yale had done with series indexes in GIS (also the basis for Chris Thiry’s series indexing project), they found a way to automate the generation of bounding coordinates. It takes a lot of up-front time to get it right, but once the model is in place, it saves a lot of time and produces spreadsheets for shapefiles with bounding coordinates for every sheet in a set. Although Yale’s current digital library interface does not use or display bounding coordinates, the metadata is in place for future platforms to exploit. The current Yale digital Sanborn collection can be accessed at: http://web.library.yale.edu/digital-collections/connecticut-sanborn-fire-insurance-maps
  • Kim Durante, metadata librarian at Stanford University, discussed her work establishing a data repository. She has developed a program using stylesheets to curate geospatial raster and vector data in accordance with ISO standards 19115 and 19139. The script includes iterative commands that allow multiple files to be processed in a single running, as she demonstrated live. The script can also use spreadsheets of LC subject headings to establish links between the files, important for the coming era of linked data. Here is a link to the website she used for her presentation: https://sites.google.com/site/wamlmetadata/
  • Jon Jablonski, head of the Map and Imagery Lab at UC-Santa Barbara, gave an overview of his library’s Fairchild Aerial Surveys collection, 650,000 photos purchased in 2013. He gave a brief history of Sherman Fairchild and his work, including an invention of a shutter that was much more stable for aerial photos, allowing aerial photogrammetry to largely replace ground surveys. The large new collection joined other large sets at UCSB, and Jon described the challenges of managing and processing such collection—including those in sensitive formats such as nitrate film.
  • Glen Creason of the Los Angeles Public Library discussed a major map gift that the library has acquired and is endeavoring to manage. John Feather, an avid map collector, recently died, leaving a house full of maps ranging from service station maps from the 1920s to the 1970s; street guides; atlases; and much more. The house was in poor shape and condemned to be torn down, when the estate attorney contacted the library and others, saying to come and get them—the place was to be torn down three days later! Creason brought this to his director, who happens to be a former map cataloger, and he said, “Take them all!” So they did, and now they are trying to put it into order. The library’s many genealogical users have need for maps from all over, and the staff have already found that unique map reference questions have been answered with the holdings of this comprehensive collection. In addition, all the publicity about this gift has led to further gifts, and even attracted the attention of a buyer for the property, who is now fixing up the Feather house.
  • Yoh Kawano of UCLA’s Institute for Digital Research and Education discussed the use of social media and “crowdsourcing” to gather information on the geospatial aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan. This participatory approach allows for the creation of graphics that reflect many perspectives. This work is part of the Hypercities project (see: http://hypercities.com/ ) that uses Google maps and overlaid information, such as historical maps, to present information about the history of a place; he referred to this as “thick mapping” that includes “spatial layers, histories, narratives and futures that are in some ways beholden to a common space.”

Our hosts also set aside a block of time on Thursday afternoon for “Sounding Board,” a time for free and open discussion, questions and project-sharing that is a longstanding tradition at WAML meetings. In recent years, Sounding Board has been squeezed in at the end of the Business Meeting without much time, and some have wondered if its time has passed, thanks to the ease of listserv communication. But this year’s session went on for over an hour, touching on many topics, demonstrating the value of face-to-face communication. Highlights:

  • Jon Jablonski recounted recent developments at UCSB, its library construction project, his taking over ESRI licensing for the entire campus (every UCSB user will have access, with the institution paying the license via six participating departments); and their ongoing project of mapping the centerpoints of their airphotos—200,000 so far in a collection of 6 million.
  • Chris Thiry gave an update on his project of indexing topographic sets for foreign countries. (See: http://tinyurl.com/ksnep8e )
  • Chris also noted the National Mine Map Repository in Pittsburgh, Pa., which grew out of recent coal mine disasters and a need to promote mine safety. If you have unique maps of underground mine works, you can send them here, and they will scan them. Besides your originals, you’ll receive the scan with high-quality metadata. (See: http://mmr.osmre.gov/ )
  • ESRI employee and WAML member Patty Turner noted that ESRI has posted a public bibliography of over 200,000 references to GIS articles. (See: http://edcommunity.esri.com/Resources/Bibliography )
  • There was a discussion of the status of USGS topographic mapping, the lack of printing and repository distribution, etc. It seems odd that Oregon still receives paper copies for U.S. Forest Service-updated quadrangles; why no other states? Kathy Stroud noted that USGS has received complaints about the current “photomap” version and has started to add back in some data layers needed to reproduce a traditional topo map without the photo-imagery. There was also a discussion of why we should keep our paper archives even though USGS is putting historical topos up online; three reasons: to ensure access during sequestrations and shutdowns; to guarantee preservation by storing in diverse places; and we sometimes have versions that their own archives lacks! (Though they’d love to have us donate these for their scanning.)
  • Some discussion on the end of CUAC (Cartographic Users Advisory Council) and the hope that we can continue our contact with federal agencies through the use of webinars. MAGIRT has initiated a webinar platform and has offered WAML access for this purpose. Perhaps we can put on such a webinar in conjunction with a WAML meeting.
  • Julie Sweetkind-Singer gave a progress report from Stanford, where the new Rumsey Map Room is looking at a January 2016 opening. Their digital philanthropy outreach continues to reap new donations, including a collection of maps from the Gold Rush and Comstock silver rush to be scanned soon.
  • David Hodnefield, President of Historical Information Gatherers, Inc. (see: http://historicalinfo.com/index.php ), discussed his group’s recent contract with the Library of Congress to digitize their Sanborn maps, real estate atlases, and similar resources over the next 18 months. They are also interested in scanning unique items from other libraries. The company uses these resources to provide data to libraries, environmental engineers, government agencies, attorneys, and others. David spends a lot of time tracking down repositories of resources that few have access to.

Following the close of Sounding Board, at the end of Thursday afternoon, a long conversation followed between David Hodnefield, Kathy Stroud, Jon Jablonski and myself. It started when David approached me, expressing appreciation for the Marriott Library’s work of scanning Sanborn maps, one of the first such projects in the country. He has found some non-Sanborn fire insurance atlases and real estate atlases of Utah cities that he may be able to scan, and we could purchase them. Then Jon joined us and the conversation developed into a free-flowing exchange that dealt with the logistics and economics of airphotos and other historical resources; long-term preservation issues; how the universities are disallowed from undercutting the commercial sector and thus having to charge higher prices; the competition between David’s company and EDR, present owner of Sanborn data, etc. I wish this whole conversation, which lasted well over an hour, could have been recorded; it would have made a great panel discussion.

There was also time set aside for committee meetings on Friday morning. There was only one actual meeting, that of the Publications Advisory Committee, of which I am Chair. It was basically a discussion of where the Information Bulletin stands in the transition from paper to digital format and some of the remaining issues. Besides IB Editor Tom Brittnacher and the erstwhile production editor, Jon Jablonski, Katie Lage, Chris Thiry, Matt Parsons, and Daniel Brendle-Mochuk sat in and contributed to the discussion. Highlights:

  • Tom has been experimenting with formatting, including seeing how the last issue (vol. 45, no. 3) looks in WordPress using various themes. It has the ability to include moving graphics, and Jon is experimenting with embedding content using Prezi.
  • Contents of the IB will include book reviews, a cataloging column (which Louise Ratliff will take over), the “New Mapping” feature; a link to the News and Notes (which is becoming an open-access blog), and articles—when we can get people to contribute them! One which people would like to see is one from Chris Thiry about his topo indexing project.
  • Discussion of the indexing of the IB. Do we still need to do it, with the electronic content being available on the Web? But it was agreed that the indexing should continue, as more precise than keyword searching and has a reasonable cost. But now is a good time to consolidate the past three years’ supplemental index into master index. But there’s also the issue of whether the new format facilitates the indexing; will it look like the paper issues, and thus have actual page numbers that the indexer can use?

The official business meeting was held on Friday afternoon, May 5, 2014. Secretary Chrissy Klenke recapped the minutes of the Executive Board meeting; other officers and liaisons gave their reports; and the membership discussed outstanding issues and took some important votes. Highlights:

  • We voted on an amendment to the definition of WAML’s principal region so as to include the state of Texas. The vote was unanimous, which certainly pleased the two members in attendance. They are interested in hosting a meeting at some point in the future, and this vote will certainly facilitate that goal.
  • A second vote to amend the by-laws was related: the number of votes needed to authorize holding a meeting outside of our principal region. Previously, it required a two-thirds vote of the entire membership, which is difficult to obtain; so it was voted (again unanimously) to require only two thirds of the votes cast.
  • A recap of the IB transition to electronic format and the need for a position that combines functions of the subscription and membership managers. The Executive Board will continue discussions online.
  • The status of WAML’s wiki that has been used for work on the by-laws and other documents in the past. Mary Douglass, Julie Sweetkind-Singer, Kathy Stroud, and Katie Lage will look into it, see if it’s still accessible. (Post-meeting update: they found it, at pbworks.com and Katie will take on getting it back in operation.
  • Reports from officers and liaisons, including a recap of Treasuer issues (we’re still solvent).
  • Chris Thiry as President-Elect has been working on a 2015 meeting venue, and his discussions during the 2014 meeting with ESRI folks makes that option look good. There is a hotel with reasonable rates, we can fly into Ontario and have a shuttle to the hotel, and there will be meeting space at ESRI. MAGIRT may be interested in co-hosting, and it’s possible that there will be a large turnout due to the many ESRI users out there. Julie at Stanford will be ready to host in 2016, and possibly our Texas members will be in a position to host in 2017. If not them, Jon’s library at UCSB should be done by then.
  • Kathy Rankin reported on recent MAGIRT activities, including creating a LibGuide for “accidental map librarians”; it includes links to recordings of recent webinars. See: http://magirt.ala.libguides.com/basic-map-librarianship
  • Julie Sweetkind-Singer reported attending a June meeting of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC, see: https://www.fgdc.gov/ngac ). A major project is working to support the continued funding of the Landsat Earth observation satellites, and they are drafting papers addressing questions from a recent study. Landsat 7 and 8 are currently operational. There were 4.8 million scenes downloaded by users in 2013, and the Office of Science and Technology found Landsat the third most important Earth observation platform, after GPS and weather satellites. This bodes will for Landsat 9, now in the planning stages, but it would still be a good idea for us to write Congress, encouraging continued support for the program.
  • Susan Powell went to a meeting of all state geological surveys, where it was noted that they are creating a lot of important data but often lack the resources to archive them. She encourages us to make or continue contact with our state governments and express support for archiving of geospatial data.

The formal meeting drew to a close Friday evening, and those who stayed into Saturday found various activities to do. The only official field trip was to the Armand Hammer art museum in Westwood on Saturday, and turnout was light; but various groups got to different venues, including the Santa Monica pier on Friday evening; the La Brea tar pits and Page Museum on Saturday morning; and the Getty Museum on Saturday afternoon. For all of our angst about the future of our organization, the actual meetings from year to year show plenty of energy and highlight the value of working together, exchanging ideas and networking on projects that promote the use of geospatial information in all forms. Good show, everyone; and especial thanks to Jon Jablonski and Louise Ratliff for making this meeting happen!

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