by Ken Rockwell
University of Utah
The 2015 meeting of the Western Association of Map Libraries (WAML) was held in Redlands, California, on the campus of Esri, the giant of the GIS industry. As Geographic Information Systems have become an increasingly important tool in academic settings, including libraries, it was appropriate and exciting to visit the center of the GIS universe and hear from the experts.
The first event of the meeting, as usual, was the Executive Board meeting, early Wednesday afternoon. It was immediately followed by the four-hour workshop provided by Esri’s Aileen Buckley, on “Building and sharing historical map collections online.” Aileen walked us through a sample project, from scanning to metadata and file storage, using Esri’s “Quad-G” program, which automates various aspects of the work, including georeferencing and adding various metadata details. The process is covered in a detailed instruction manual that will soon be available online.
Thursday morning saw the onset of various presentations in the main auditorium at Esri headquarters. Several of the presentations over the course of Thursday and Friday were by Esri staff, demonstrating the use of Esri programs and apps for various projects:
- Aileen Buckley was back to cover a few highlights and added points on the process of creating an online collection of historical maps. The slides from this presentation are at: http://www.slideshare.net/aileenbuckley/building-and-sharing-historical-map-collections-online
- Mac King discussed his efforts to build a spatial data library for Esri over the past two years, something that didn’t exist in its previous 40 years. He gave a brief survey of the history of spatial data collecting, from the days of field surveys with plane tables through the AutoCAD era to modern GIS programs. One major issue is that the languages for AutoCAD and GIS were different and “didn’t talk to each other,” so King started finding ways to convert one to another, while working for an engineering company in the East, and Esri hired him to help them bring order to their scads of data. He put this data library on “the cloud” using ArcMap, and it’s now up and accessible for ESRI employees. His presentation slides are at: http://edcontent.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/?appid=b1f055537baa4c0980d63803a3abc82b
- Marten Hogeweg discussed the value of metadata in making digital data accessible, as his title says: “If you can’t find it, you can’t use it.” While brief metadata may be sufficient for the public, the more verbose it is, the better, for specialized communities. He noted the creation of Esri’s Geoportal server to enable the discovery and use of geospatial data in a heterogeneous environment. The portal is open-source and accessible. See: http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/geoportal
- Courtney Claessens presented another Esri tool, “Open Data,” that allows one to sort through large data sets and find the specific part of interest to the user. See: http://opendata.arcgis.com/
- Brendan O’Neill gave demonstrations of other ArcGIS tools, including its map viewer (see: https://doc.arcgis.com/en/arcgis-online/use-maps/view-maps.htm ) and the Community Analyst application (http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/community-analyst )
- Charlie Frye’s presentation on “Creating and using spatial bibliographies in ArcGis” highlighted the need to document where the information that goes into a map comes from. He noted that historians have refrained from creating maps for lack of ways to cite their sources, and proposed a format for doing so with online maps. Using some of his own historical maps, he demonstrated how online maps can provide links from individual features to citations; and he suggested a format that begins with the original date, then place, and finally the author and publisher; or starting with place, then date. The traditional bibliographic approach of starting with author and title produces filenames that quickly become confusing. Frye showed us his detailed historical map of the Revolutionary War battle at Breeds Hill, Boston, which can be seen online at: http://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=9ce17d59346341059d14b7e50c3c779d
- Jim Herries introduced the “Living Atlas of the World,” another Esri initiative that brings together the work of Esri, its partners, and community users in a gallery of maps that tell interesting stories. See: http://doc.arcgis.com/en/living-atlas/
There were also presentations by others, in particular GIS users from various academic libraries:
- Patrick Newell of California State University at Fresno discussed his participation in an initiative of the California State Library in Sacramento to conduct a survey of spatial data being created by diverse state agencies and to try to create standards for their digital preservation and access. A major meeting occurred in April of 2015, and he’s hoping it will lead to actual results. He urged the California WAML libraries to get involved and encourage the State Library to follow through with the goal of a geospatial data clearinghouse.
- Andrew Nicholson of the University of Toronto has put together an Environmental Studies course for Freshmen to introduce them early to GIS as a research tool. The GIS program through the University’s Geography Department previously required courses on GIS to begin in the second year, and its steep learning curve could be an obstacle; so it was thought that early exposure to GIS as part of a local-based project could get them familiar with it early.
- Leslie Wagner of the University of Texas-Arlington discussed her work processing maps in her library’s collection of land records from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company. This was a more “traditional” presentation, dealing with paper maps in poor condition that needed accessing and inventorying. It will be a while before they have the capability to digitize these maps, but her finding aid is the first step in making them accessible. Link to the guide: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utarl/02309/arl-02309.html
- David Hodnefield, founder of Historical Information Gatherers, talked about the history of fire insurance maps, especially Sanborn, and how the company updated them with sheets of correction slips. Owners of Sanborn sets would paste the updates into the original volumes, and the result could be several layers of corrections. The original layer and the intermediate corrections, of course, got covered up. He showed an example of how one can sometimes see the older information through the correction slip, and aired his “pipe dream” of scanning an original sheet and applying the updates digitally so that you can see the changes over time. But this requires a lot of unused update sheets, and he has been looking for them in various repositories.
- Bruce Godfrey of the University of Idaho demonstrated his efforts to generate vector data from scanned historical maps. The manual approach is tedious, so he is developing an applied semi-automated, practical workflow in ArcGIS. He uses image classification techniques analogous to remote sensing procedures. Using a Python script and a reiterative process, get one class of objects to classify well, pull it out, and run an unsupervised classification for the next class with fewer pixels, so that there are fewer decisions each time.
- Julie Sweetkind-Singer of Stanford University gave us a first look at a scanning project of Japanese imperial and military maps. The maps, confiscated from Japan at the end of World War II, were distributed to various major libraries in the U.S., and Stanford will be working with other libraries to fill in gaps in their collection. Stanford has used ArcGIS to create online indexes, and the scans of the maps are available to download. See: or http://library.stanford.edu/guides/gaihozu-japanese-imperial-maps or http://stanford.io/1MFfq7i
- Stace Maples of Stanford University spoke about EarthWorks, Stanford’s GeoBlacklight-based app for finding and accessing geospatial data. (See: https://earthworks.stanford.edu/ ) While other apps are good for data analysis, no one had focused on discovery, which is the entire purpose of this app. You search for geospatial data using a map, and search results are ranked based on scale and extent. A federated search allows you to discover data from other institutions. EarthWorks metadata is maintained in an open consortial repository on GitHub; See: https://github.com/OpenGeoMetadata His PowerPoint presentation and demo is at: http://bit.ly/waml2015earthworks
Besides the longer, formal presentations, there were two sessions of “lightning talks,” at which meeting attendees could give brief presentations or announcements about projects they have been involved in. Among the participants:
- Mike Peters of EastView Spatial gave an update of their projects, including the EvGeoCloud.
- Colleen Connor of Esri is compiling a GIS bibliography that will be full-text searchable. They’d like some user feedback. See: http://gis.library.esri.com/
- Chris Thiry gave an update on his online indexes to map sets. Over 300 sets have been covered, only a few to go…
- Lizbeth Langston at UC-Riverside has been creating a Google Earth map for Ohio Native American land grant treaties, working for a history professor.
- Kathy Stroud of University of Oregon said a UO alum is thinking about donating $250,000 to digitize their air photo collection.
- Susan Powell of UC Berkeley discussed a monthly “Maps and More” program the library hosts to highlight their collections. See their libguide at: http://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/mapsandmore
- Jon Jablonski of UC Santa Barbara gave an update on their project of managing 2.3 million aerial photos; they’ve begun scanning them and putting them in Google Earth.
The meeting wrapped up with the business meeting and “sounding board.” For further details, see the Secretary’s report.