Presenting at Geoforum: Old Maps Online and Historic Digimap

Saturday, June 23, 2012

On Wednesday June 20th we exhibited Old Maps Online at EDINA's annual Geoforum event, held this year at the National Railway Museum in York, and gave a short presentation.

Geoforum is mostly about publicising EDINA's own geospatial services, of which Digimap is probably the most heavily used, including Historic Digimap. Enhancements to Digimap were announced, and another of the short presentations was from Landmark Information, who supply the content for Historic Digimap.

Like Old Maps Online, Digimap Historic is also funded by JISC, so why have two separate services?
  • To most users of Old Maps Online, there is a very obvious answer: they are not staff or students at a UK university, so they have no access to Historic Digimap. However, in a real sense our being an open access site is a problem for us: given that every penny of our funding comes from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, surely there are better things they can spend money on that a web site providing Americans with easier access to American map libraries? One answer is that because Old Maps Online does not hold any maps, only information about how to find maps, it runs on the most basic server our university can supply us with, so it would not be any cheaper to run even if we limited access to it. Further, people in UK universities are not interested only in the UK, and want access to as many maps as possible; but to get the assistance we need from librarians outside the UK universities we need to be seen to be improving access for their user communities as well -- so everybody wins! (still, we hope the rest of the world shows some gratitude to the UK tax payers ...)
  • Historic Digimap provides access only to old Ordnance Survey maps digitised by Landmark Information, at scales of 1:10,560 (six inches to one mile) and more detailed, while most of the maps accessible via Old Maps Online are much less detailed. A user on Presurfer, a genealogical blog, said about Old Maps Online "Not a bad resource, but the range of maps is fairly narrow and the of fairly poor scale. The best scale they offer for my area (the UK) seems to be 1 inch to the mile (1:63,360). [Landmark's direct sales site] offers a wider range of mapping for more dates on a much better scale. ... If you're interested in looking into the past of an area you really need large scale maps." If you zoom in hard within Old Maps Online on anywhere in Scotland, or a few other places, you will find we can and do provide access to exactly the kind of maps "Gareth" wants. However, we don't agree that larger scale is simply better: six inch maps are good for showing you your ancestor's house, but useless for giving you a sense of where their home town or village was, and absurd for tracing the progress of a war.
  • Given that Old Maps Online is not a map library but a search portal, the real comparison should be not with Historic Digimap but with EDINA's GoGeo geospatial discovery service. When Old Maps Online was first discussed, one idea was to develop it as an extension to GoGeo. However, we concluded that GoGeo was too "GIS-sy" for our purposes and it was better to base the project on MapRank Search, Klokan Technologies existing software for map libraries. Another interesting comparison, in fact, is between Old Maps Online and OpenGeoportal, software developed by a consortium of US research libraries which unlike GoGeo does provide access to old maps as well as to more conventional geospatial datasets. OpenGeoportal-based systems can be access here, for example, and my sense is that people with GIS training will prefer it to Old Maps Online, because of the extra functionality, but most of the planet will find it too complex. NB most of the historical maps in OpenGeoportal come from the Harvard collection, and we will be adding that collection in our next release, so everyone will be able to compare the two styles of search interface.
Different strokes for different folks ...
Tags: open access, best map scale, presentation