Digitising the map collection: new toys

A geological map of Sicily‘Do you have a digital copy of that map?’ 

It’s probably the most common question I get asked in the Map Room.

Currently our collection is almost 100% hardcopy mapping, collected by Fellows and librarians throughout the 200 years of the Society’s existence.  We hold all sorts of maps including one printed on silk and relief maps made from plaster-of-Paris.  Most of them are on paper and in varying conditions ranging from pristine, through slightly foxed, to ripped-in-half-and-covered-in-a-century’s-worth-of-Piccadilly-smog-and-diesel-fumes.  They also come in various sizes, but nearly all of them are ‘large’ or ‘extremely large’.

One of the Society’s aims is to preserve the map collection by digitising it.  This means scanning or photographing more than 40,000 sheets, and to do that we need specialist tools. Tools that we do not have.  We have been sending some of older and rarer maps to an outside supplier for scanning – but this is expensive and can only be done in small batches.

Step forward Peter Wigley of Lynx Information Systems.  He happened to have a large format, continuous feed scanner to spare and knew of our need.  Kindly he donated that scanner to the Society and after finding space for it in a small room in the basement, we can now digitise maps up to 94cm across (as long as they aren’t too crumbly or bound into a book).  Our thanks go to Peter for his kind gift.

Our new map scannerThere is however, a much bigger hurdle to creating a digital archive of our maps: The Law.  Currently no library can scan any map that’s protected by copyright even to preserve it in an archive.  That means nothing published after 1940 can be scanned at all and even some of those maps published before that date aren’t legally scannable either.

The recently published Hargreaves Report seeks to change this and hopefully the sections recommending that libraries be able to scan maps and other images for archival purposes will be implemented soon.  We would like to be able act sooner that it takes politicians to pass an Act and hopefully I will have more news on that front soon.

In the meantime, if you’d like to buy a print of one of the historical and very much out-of-copyright maps we have scanned, head to our website where you can browse the prints currently available for sale.

Once I get to grips with the nitty-gritty of how to make the most of our new toy, I hope to bring you a blog showing you the step-by-step the processes involved in digitising maps.

4 thoughts on “Digitising the map collection: new toys

  1. @Aidan Karley – we do have maps for Africa. Quite a lot of them, in fact they’re likely to be the priority for scanning when the various technical and legal hurdles have been overcome.

    Unfortunately the GIS isn’t working right now and I don’t have a time/date when it will be 😦 In the meantime there is a trick you can do with the library catalogue to allow you to search the map catalogue.

    Step 1 – go the library catalogue
    Step 2- select ‘Maps’ from the ‘Search in’ drop down menu
    Step 3 – click OK in the pop-up box – this will take you to the GIS (which doesn’t currently work)
    Step 4 – click on the back button in your brower. This takes you back to the library catalogue with ‘Maps’ now selected. You can then use the library catalogue to search only the map collection.

    Hope that helps

  2. Geological Society of London blog RSS feed request to Before It’s News

    Hi Team at Geo Soc,

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  3. Pingback: map over london | The London Guide

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