Maps (and other things) online

Lise Summers Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 11:22

Map of Western Australia, showing the boundary with South Australia, from Series 50

When we launched our new archive management system in August 2015, we did so without the images which had been a feature of our previous system.  It meant that we had to keep the old system open for the dedicated GIS and map enthusiasts among us, briefly, while our dedicated staff and volunteers worked to load the digital images to the new catalogue. We've now loaded over 6,600 digital objects to the system, and over 7,200 images (remember that the pdf files also allow for each page as an image). We're now going through a process of double checking the images loaded against the number of images we hold on disk. One volunteer, Dr Michael O'Connor, has developed a stringent methodology to enable us to identify where images have been incorrectly loaded, or not loaded, and where items have been misidentified or not identified at all in the original cataloguing. All this means that you can now enjoy your maps online  and a range of other digital goodies, via our new catalogue.

Why did we not import the images with the descriptions at the start? Well, for one thing, it would have substantially complicated and slowed down our migration. For the other, our old system and our new display digital objects and handle the descriptive metadata (the information about the objects) in slightly different ways.

In our old system, we were restricted to only being able to load .jpg files, and originally, only as a single images.  With some funding from the Friends of Battye Library, we were able to develop a new way of loading images to a description, in bulk. When loading images in bulk, we attached them with their digital file names to the metadata of the item to which they belonged, so that users looking at the item as a whole could see that there were multiple pages or images to an item. We had the option of adding metadata about the images to the back end system, on a one to one basis, following the upload; however, this metadata was not viewable by our clients.  The project  also developed a new way of displaying the images. A viewing frame was created, in which users could magnify and move the images around. The frame was an appropriate size for a PC screen of the mid 2000s, but as we moved to larger screen sizes the frame was not resized, meaning that the images were not taking full advantage of the viewing environment.

When we moved to AtoM, we identified that the system allowed us to upload not just .jpg files, but a range of image formats. It also meant that we could upload text documents and audio files. Not only that, but the system enabled us to either link digital objects to an original description, or directly upload digital objects to the system for which descriptive metadata could then be created. This meant that when we digitised an item, such as a map or a plan, we could add the image as a representation of the item, and have all the original metadata in place.  Clients wishing to browse through the digital objects were able to identify the item through its description, and develop references to the original item.

The new displays are appropriate for larger screens, with three levels of zoom at the click of a mouse. Where multiple single objects are loaded to a single descriptive entity (items to series, and pieces or pages to item), a sliding bar provides a 'cover flow' teaser to the entire set of images for that entity. Copying and linking by clients is also easier. The system allows us to upload pdf versions of multi page items, both text and digitised images, and provides a small and large thumbnail for greater ease of identification. Logged in users can download the pdf to their own computers, to zoom in on content, annotate information and develop a sense of the whole item. While the individual images lack metadata, other than the file name, the system also provides for additional descriptive metadata to be created and displayed for users at a future date. For those interested in digital archives, the system also allows for the uploading of digital objects as descriptive entities in their own right.

Please remember to provide us with feedback on the new system. As it's an open source project, your query may prompt another user or developer to create a solution, or we may put it in our list of ideas for further improvements, once we have the resources.