Mapping the Future: Digitizing the Map Collection of the South Caroliniana Library

By Ann Merryman, Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections, USC-Upstate

There are many reasons why libraries are interested in creating digital collections or online digital exhibits.  Showcasing legacy materials that support the library’s core mission, bringing together disparate materials that as a group can enhance scholarship and learning, or providing a link from the past to modern day events can all be driving forces behind the development of a digital collection.  Then there are instances where a digital collection is born out of necessity, perhaps to combat or prevent extreme deterioration of the materials, or simply because a library’s collection is outgrowing the building’s physical space.  Regardless of the reason for creating a collection, the goal for each is the same:  providing a high-quality, useful, easily-navigated, and visually appealing resource that will be accessible to a diverse and far-flung user group.  This is the story of how one particular digital collection, The South Caroliniana Library Map Collection, was developed.

The South Caroliniana Library, located on the historic Horseshoe of the University of South Carolina, has created a number of digital collections showcasing the wide variety of materials owned by the library.  From the William Gilmore Simms Digital Edition, to the Planter’s Guide and Family Book of Medicine, to the 1956 edition of the Negro Traveler’s Greenbook, the collections cover a broad range of topics.  One of the largest collections owned by the South Caroliniana Library is the map collection, which numbers thousands of items.  The map collection of the South Caroliniana Library has always been a significant resource for geographers, historians, and genealogists, but in terms of physical space it occupies a fairly with approximately 10 flat file cases of 12 drawers each. In a building dating from 1840 where the collections continue to grow, the perfect storm was brewing.

"Plan of the Battle Fought Near Camden, August 16, 1780."

“Plan of the Battle Fought Near Camden, August 16, 1780.”

Besides the obvious need to increase physical space in the library, however, what else about the map collection made it a good candidate for digitization?  In the past two hundred years, technological changes have substantially altered the landscape of South Carolina, and the library’s map collection visually documents these transformations. The maps show airports, battlefields, cemeteries, churches, cities, highways, Native American territories, postal routes, railroads, schools, topographical features, towns, and urban, rural, and African-American slave populations. Taken together, the maps chart the state’s urbanization over time. The collection also contains a number of maps dating from the 16th through the 21st centuries, which are vital to researchers interested in the history of cartography.  In short, there were many reasons supporting digitization of the collection.

I began working at the South Caroliniana Library as a graduate assistant in August 2011 when I entered the MLIS program at USC’s School of Library and Information Science.  From the earliest days of my job, it was evident that finding space for the library’s growing collections was a daily challenge, much like a real-life game of Tetris.  In conjunction with this, I was always on the lookout for ways to practice the skills I was learning in my MLIS program and apply them in a real-life library setting, and the SCL map collection and its accompanying challenges provided me with the perfect opportunity to get some hands-on experience creating and working with a large digital collection.

The South Caroliniana Library’s map digitization project was begun in February 2013 with the original goal of providing wider access to the SCL map collection outside of the library. The planning phase of the project involved SCL’s Director, Henry Fulmer, and catalog librarian Craig Keeney, along with Digital Collections librarians Kate Boyd and Ashley Knox. A test batch of 55 maps was scanned in late February by Timothy Hyder (MA Public History 2013); descriptive and technical metadata following Dublin Core Metadata best practices and SCDL Metadata guidelines was created by Sara Chizari (SLIS Ph.D candidate) in collaboration with Keeney. These maps were randomly selected to represent all sizes available in the collection. A second batch of 51 maps, documenting the Civil War period was scanned in late April 2013 by Chizari, and accompanying metadata was again generated by Chizari and Keeney.

"Plan of the Seige of Charleston, in South Carolina." 1787. South Caroliniana Library.

“Plan of the Seige of Charleston, in South Carolina.” 1787. South Caroliniana Library.

In August 2013, the scope of the project significantly expanded to encompass digitization of the entire collection, in preparation for relocation of the maps to offsite storage. At this point I picked up the project from Chizari, and worked with Fulmer and Keeney to develop a revised workflow and documentation to provide guidance and continuity throughout the remainder of the project.  Two of the main issues I needed to address were determining which maps had already been scanned in the first two batches, and developing a system for tracking future scans.  With a collection this large, the most logical method was to scan the maps in chronological order by size, beginning with the smallest.

My primary responsibilities required me to review and edit the original descriptive metadata, upload the revised data to CONTENTdm (software used by numerous libraries that handles the storage, management and delivery of digital collections to the Web), develop search facets for the collection, and work with Knox to develop and publish a webpage to USC’s Digital Collections.  I know, I know…that sounds fascinating, right?  So, what if I told you I got to work with what I fondly dubbed on campus as “the Ferrari” of scanners?  The Zeutschel is a large-format overhead scanner that allows us to scan even the largest maps with minimal editing, and it is quite the cool piece of technology!  With the large scanning area, even the largest or most fragile maps can be scanned in one piece, eliminating the need to “stitch together” multiple images into a complete map.  Additionally, the ability to operate the scanner using hands-free controls means less time between scans, and eventually faster completion of the project.  For fun, this is a picture of me scanning, below:

Ann Merryman scanning map for South Caroliniana Library's map digitization project.

Ann Merryman scanning map for South Caroliniana Library’s map digitization project.

I worked on the project through February 2014, when I was hired as a full time librarian at USC-Upstate in Spartanburg, SC. The project is ongoing, and The digital collection will expand as content is added, and until all maps have been scanned.  This is an incredibly ambitious project, and one that I am proud to be associated with.  By digitizing this wonderful collection of maps and providing access to a broader audience, the South Caroliniana Library continues to uphold its mission of documentation and preservation of the history of South Carolina.  You are invited to view the collection on the USC Digital Collections Library webpage.

This entry was posted in Digital Collections, Maps, South Carolina, South Carolina history, Special Collections. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *