Nov 172010

Note: This blog post is the tidied up and illustrated version of a post typed live from the venue during the AddressingHistory launch. Your live blogger today is Nicola Osborne of the AddressingHistory Project Team.

Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator, National Library of Scotland: NLS Digitised Historic Mapping Work

Chris Fleet worked in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and the National Library of Wales, prior to joining the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in 1994. His main work has focused on digital mapping, particularly scanning and making available historic maps on the NLS website, as well as working with modern digital map applications. He is currently Senior Map Curator at NLS, and a partner in the AddressingHistory and Visualising Urban Geographies projects.

“It is important to be sceptical about maps and the kind of views they give: decoding and understanding cartographic silences is a very interesting process and allows us to read maps much more intelligently. For example if we look at Broughton in the 19th Century the village of Broughton was encroached upon by the ever expanding New Town and we can see this vividly on a map of the time.

When we talk about the National Library of Scotland’s digitisation of historic maps we are talking about historical maps which are out of copyright and are listed on our website. But it is worth noting that we also have access to the last 15 years of the most detailed Ordnance Survey MasterMap data available to those visiting the NLS.

However for the last few years we have been making georeferenced historical maps available as applications – web applications, mobile applications and through a georeferencer tool. And there is a NLS WMS for 1930s historic maps which can be layered on a Google type interface.

A georeference consists of two numbers, an easting and a northing, and can identify a unique tile which can be set up as a URL. MapTiler is the tool that the NLS use, it is a free open source software for creating georeferenced tiled maps.

Chris Fleet of the National Library of Scotland talks about digitising historic maps.

Chris Fleet of the National Library of Scotland talks about digitising historic maps.

Using these tools we’ve been able to make available all sorts of resources from detailed historical town plans as well as the 1903 Bathymetrical Survey Maps. We also had a student interested in the military mapping of Belgium and 1940s mapping and he was kind enough to give the data he created around these resources back to us so we now have a good array of Belgian military maps as well. Despite our focus on Scotland we’re not fussy! We are happy to share georeferenced maps on our website from anywhere in the world.

In terms of collaborative applications we make mapping available and others are using these for their specific need. For instance Heritage Paths have been creating walking routes with heritage relevance and combining this with historical maps is very simple. Maps can be bundled in many ways and in the case of the Walking Through Time project maps were made available through mobile.

We have also recently developed a dynamic API and that allows sets of historic mapping from the 1930s to be easily delivered and incorporated into any other website – so they can be shown on an iPhone or on a website or used in OpenStreetMap. There are multiple servers so it can deliver maps for all sorts of uses. For instance:

  • For the Portable Antiquities Scheme finds are geographically referenced and though this is originally done on a Google Map interface a historical layer can also be used to show the find in it’s historic context.
  • Stravaiging Around Scotland is a personal website from a freelance eyewear designer in Edinburgh and he uses our mapping when he goes out, as a hobby, georeferences standing stones, burial grounds etc.
  • The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts (yes, there is a society for everything!) are neither pro or anti roads but are interested in researching roads. They are very hardworking and interested in historical maps. They have not only used our API but are also in the process of georeferencing a set of Bartholomew maps of England that we hope to put on our website as well.

Once the maps are in places new possibilities open up. One website we are now involved in engaging with is ScotlandsPlaces, an RCAHMS project to combine objects and places in one search. Around 18,000 maps are in use on that tool now and this is all done via our API via queries to our server.

Chris Fleet talks about the NLS mapping APIs and Georeferencer.

Chris Fleet talks about the NLS mapping APIs and Georeferencer.

The NLS Map Georeferencer

Georeferencing is usually quite complicated to do and tends to be left to geographers but we have designed this tool to make it much much simpler. It’s very much work in progress but the basic idea is that you select an ungeoreferenced map and you are then guided through the georeferencing process. The Georeferencer also makes use of the EDINA Unlock gazeteer API which allows you to look up a location and receive a georeference.

Over the next few years this tool will be significantly improved as it needs a more powerful server to work more snappily and we hope to get funding for that soon. At this stage it’s limited but the potential is there to do a lot more with it. And the georeferencs are built up via a Google spreadsheet that we hope will help us in building up our resources.

We have various Ordnance Survey and Bartholomew maps coming soon, we are hoping to do more with automatic edge matching of maps and we are also working with MapRank Search, another mapping project with Petr Pridal.”

Kenny Beaton, School Of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh: Tobar An Dualchais

Kenny Beaton is the Technical Manager of the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches project and also runs the Edinburgh office of the project, based at the School of Scottish Studies. Kenny was previously employed by HMV and educated at the University of Paisley. His is a Gaelic speaker from South Uist, from a family of pipers and singers.

“Today I won’t be talking about maps per se but more about using technology to make historical material available.

The Tobar an Dualchais project has digitised 12,000 hours of Gaelic and Scots material. Our materials were sampled at an archival standard of 96KHz/24 bits. Although this sampling rate is more than required right now it should meet future needs because as technology increases expectations do too. We required some 12 terabytes of server space for the collection as a result of this decision. The Tobar an Dualchais material is the University of Edinburgh School of Scottish Studies archive, combined with a smaller collection from BBC Alba, and a smaller collection still of the National Trust of Scotland’s Canna Collection from John Lorne Campbell.

  • School of Scottish Studies: 10,000 hours of material, two thirds in Gaelic, one third in Scots. There are folklore, music and all types of materials here
  • BBC Alba: All Gaelic and from reel-to-reel and DAT tapes, these are radio programmes, spoken word, song and music.
  • The National Trust of Scotland Canna Collection: material from Scotland and Nova Scotia.

The project has cost £3 million with funding, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, starting in 2006 and running until the end of this year. Our digitisation centres are in Edinburgh and in South Uist: one of the aims of the project was to put money from the funding into some of the areas where the materials had originated. Our head offices are in Skye but our cataloguers are based all over Scotland (and a few even further afield).

Kenny Beaton of Tobar an Dualchais talking about how the project was set up.

Kenny Beaton of Tobar an Dualchais talking about how the project was set up.

There is quite a complex process involved in capturing the audio and processing it to the end point of the audio appearing on the website. The main technologies we use are Otari tape machines (MX5050); Sadie BB2 (a sort of high end sound card); Skype; FTP; and a browser based cataloguing application – which EDINA developed for us, they also developed our website.

Our official launch is 9th December 2010 but our website is already available. We discovered in the course of the project that it would not be possible to catalogue all of the data in our collection to the depth we needed sp we have only catalogued what we can do in-depth. However over 50,000 hours of material will be available online in December. And who is this resource for? Well, schools, researchers, local history societies, and anyone interested in the history of Scotland.

We find the idea of a map very seductive too so on our website you can browse a map or search the counties to discover materials (based on pre-1976 county boundaries). I have searched for Midlothian here and there are lots of records because many of the sound files were recorded at the school of Scottish studies but we hope to do more with the mapping feature. For instance for people who have been recorded we have their full name, their Gaelic name, their nickname, their alternative name, their patronymic name (as many people had the same English names but more unique patronymic names).

We record the county, parish, and the village names but the Gaelic villages do not necessarily relate to Ordnance Survey placenames. The Scottish Place-Names Survey relates to this as it is the listing of multiple placenames that were not necessarily recorded by map makers at all. There is potential to develop the map features further using these alternative place names.”

Ines Mayfarth, National Library of Scotland: Digitisation at the National Library of Scotland and the Internet Archive digitisation project

Ines Mayfarth is a graduate of the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and started working as the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Project Officer in 2009. She coordinates the library’s current mass digitisation project which focuses on the digitisation of Scottish Post Office Directories. Ines will be talking about the Digitisation of Scottish Post Office Directories at National Library of Scotland bringing us full circle to the AddressingHistory project.

“I should start by saying that although this project is very linked to the AddressingHistory project now it was an independent initiative when we started work on it.

Ines Mayfarth talks about the digitisation projects at the NLS.

Ines Mayfarth talks about the digitisation projects at the NLS.

This material, the historical Post Office Directories, was hugely in demand for family history uses and we wanted to make a huge amount of data available very quickly. Our current mass digitisation project will digitise 600,000 pages within 15 months. And, in fact, there are no longer 400 Scottish post office directories but some 750 volumes. They run from 1770s to 1911 and we end there for copyright reasons.

The areas covered include Edinburgh, Lothian, Glasgow, Stirlingshire, Perth & Kinross, Fife, Dundee, Angus…. etc. A huge area of Scotland

This project would not be possible without the participation of partner libraries that have helped us fill the gaps in our collections – Aberdeen, Angus, Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverclyde, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, South Ayreshire, Stirling, Glasgow Mitchell, etc.

I want to get onto the process of scanning – we have already heard a video of this process mentioned – but we use a v-shaped scanner. This is very very lovely for many reasons. The book rests on a v-shaped rest and a v-shaped glass then sits on the book so the book only has to be open to 110 degrees, it doesn’t damage the spine, it is a lovely way to scan. The nice side effect is that you do not get curvature issues in the scanning even for books with tight bindings. In fact we actually don’t use a scanner but a 300dpi image shot with two Cannon 5Ds. The pages are shot with a colour chart for reference. The pages are then delivered as PDFs to the readers.

The Internet Archive's V-shaped POD Scanner used at the National Library of Scotland.

The Internet Archive's V-shaped POD Scanner used at the National Library of Scotland.

The OCR for the pages has a line division (the text has been processed as separate lines that break at the end) but as you’ve already heard today that this doesn’t always make sense. We know that these cause problems for the EDINA AddressingHistory project but it also causes some issues for our project so how we get readers aware of these issues when they look at the scanned materials is an important question for us.

The directories are so much more than A to Z’s. They are directories listed in multiple ways with church directories, law directories, insurance directories, etc. There are so many interesting items in these. There are crane sizes, ferry rates etc. They are fascinating.

The alphabetical lists of people – the groundings of the georeferenced data – include phone listings in the later books. But the adverts in these volumes are also fantastic. There is advertising throughout the volumes and these are wonderful records of the place.

There is a new element to this project – an indexing project on the PODs – to help return just the relevant set of pages. So the index is looking at the first three letters of each name as a simple guide to which page a name occurs on and this will be applied to all of our directories.

Ines explains how the PODs are licensed and shared.

Ines explains how the PODs are licensed and shared.

All of the directories will be online at the Internet Archive and they are available freely there as soon as a week after scanning. It takes a little longer for them to go on the NLS website but we will be putting some of the directories online before Christmas 2010. The indexing will come in in Summer and Autumn 2011.

Both websites images are made available for free under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 UK: Scotland Creative Commons license, allowing for non commercial use worldwide. But if you want to use them commercially you just need to contact the NLS directly.”

Peter Burnhill, Director of EDINA: Wrap Up

Peter Burnhill summarises and closes the launch event.

Peter Burnhill summarises and closes the launch event.

“Although AddressingHistory is the excuse for today this has been more a digital gathering to celebrate the history and place of Scotland. And the day has been very much about coming together and learning about the many resources and tools that exist. There is another blend, not only between the working together of the University of Edinburgh and the NLS and EDINA but also a blending of computation and documentation. And today we have been reminded that maps and records, just because they are there are not necessarily true: we take away the sense of capturing the past but not necessarily believing in and always critically appraising those materials.

I’d like to thank everyone who has organised the day – not only the AddressingHistory team but the many other projects that contribute to and support this work.

And now go forth and wine and nibble and discuss!”