Open source interactive mapping is taking over the world!
Geographic technology and digital multimedia are a dominant force in understanding space in the information age, and Florida International University’s Library Geographic Information Systems Center (GIS Center) is on the cutting edge of it.
With the fresh launch of their Coral Gables Virtual History Project, three years of hard work and dedication by students, staff, and department head Jennifer Fu, with Assistant Director of Digital Collections for the FIU library system Jamie Rogers, results in a beautiful approach to academic study of The City Beautiful.
We caught up with Jennifer Fu, and Jamie Rogers to find out all about geospatial information, metadata, and crowdsourcing historic materials for use on bike friendly cultural tours.
Pacific54: Hello Jamie, hi Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Awesome project!
Jennifer, what is geo-spatial enabling?
Jennifer Fu: That means that you assign a location to a digital object which could be a scanned document or a photograph, or in some cases even a scanned historic map. So in this particular application, we scanned some of the historical maps and aerial photographs of Coral Gables in earlier times and geo-reference them and then put them on top of the Google Maps to allow users to see changes over time and access historical materials in a Google Maps platform.
How does it get in there?
Jennifer: We scan a document or a photo and then geo-reference it. The newer cameras have the ability to record the GPS of photographs taken, but that is not the case with a printed or old historic photo from earlier times, say the 1920s or 30s. Therefore, you have to scan them first, and then create metadata records. And in that metadata record you add the locational information. We develop ways of extracting the locational information from the metadata and geo-reference it using either addresses of the scanned photographs, or other hints of location (such as name of the place, or similar landmarks or reference points) of the scanned documents or aerials.
Is it algorithmic or human generated data?
Jennifer: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software programs allow you to geo-reference data or digital objects using methods such as address matching in case of a point location, geo-rectification in case of a scanned maps or aerials. The human part is to generate or prepare the data that goes in and makes sure the points are matched or areas of scanned maps or imagery are pinned down onto the geo plane correctly.
Jamie, in terms of the archival materials, how many documents are there and what kind of process do you use for the metadata?
Jamie Rogers: In terms of the volume, we have about 5,000 photos of just homes. So we scan the front and back of those, making 10,000 images mostly from the 1940s. We also have the legislative minute books dating back to the incorporation of the City of Coral Gables, and we have other photos on top of that. It’s organized by the photos of 5,000 homes, 3,000 streets, another 1,000 records in the system, and we continue to add content to the collection on top of all that.
As far as the metadata itself, we have a metadata librarian in our department and other staff that work together to create and enter it. It’s all about doing the research. In many cases, it’s not clear exactly where the photo was taken. Research indicates the temporal and geospatial information, our team enters it and then the metadata is harvested by a system called arcGIS, which is the georeferencing base, so the metadata is then placed on the Google Map using the arcGIS system.
How did this project come about?
Jamie: We at the FIU libraries have been working with the City of Coral Gables since 2005 when we started with a project in their historical resources department. That was a success and they wanted to continue the relationship. Jennifer and I met with the city clerk, Walter Foeman, discussed some new ideas, and the idea for this project really resonated.
What is important about geomapping?
Jennifer Fu: To answer that, I ask: “What’s the importance of Google Maps?” The world we live in, the information on the web and in apps is increasingly visual, and most information is delivered through a spatial framework. The location itself has become a means of getting information. Traditionally, before the map locator tool, the paradigm was to type a text search and retrieve information in text. Now, you can go the location first and retrieve information based on that space. So the location becomes a point of retrieval for accessing information. For example, the user can go into the Coral Gables Virtual History site and select a historical landmark, and then access associated video or audio narrative, documents, or photograph. Textual or imagery content combines with the space component create a new, virtual experience through the web provide the user a completely new experience of accessing historical archives.
Jennifer Fu: Next is phase 2 for the Coral Gables project, where we deliver the product on hand held or touch screen interface, and introduce the ecological and cultural tour to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to identify points in space, such as bike friendly routes. We will tie the cultural heritage to the cycle friendly, and recommend that bikes be used to explore Coral Gables, and prove the route mechanism to do so. With the hand held application the user can ride bike and stop to interact with the data. Then another layer will be crowdsourcing, where we invite students and the public to add content to the map, do more in depth research, and share their work. There are citizens with valuable historic content sitting in their house, and we offer them a platform to publish it.
Who on your team is responsible for the web development and coding aspects of the project?
Jennifer: We have a team of developers in our department, and in this case Boyuan (Keven) Guan and his team including Meng Ma and other FIU students participated in it.
What is the relationship between academia and technology?
Jennifer: The communities are like waves that just keep pushing each other. Often times in the academic world you develop ideas, and if these ideas have market value, the corporate world picks them up, popularizes them, and takes them further. There’s no doubt that ESRI, who is a big vendor, and Google pick on the braqins of academics. All of our research results are published, and the ultimate intention is to strengthen mapping on all fronts.
What did you learn throughout working on this?
Jamie Rogers: I learned a lot about “The City Beautiful.” I still get lost in the beauty of Coral Gables, and the citizens seem very interested in publicizing it. They’re very proud of the city’s cultural heritage and that is very evident on all levels from the Commissioners to the people. And I’ve also learned through sharing this project that there is so much interest in it beyond the audience of researchers, There is a broad community interest in interacting with the environment through location, historic objects, and this type of interface.
What role does FIU play in community based academic mapping of this variety?
Jennifer Fu: This project is just a reflection of how FIU as an academic institution can really engage with the community. This project can be utilized by K-12 students, college students, and citizens at large to enable their creativity in learning the process of how to publish and create a research project on this platform to benefit the learning community.
How long did it take?
From the idea till now, 3 years .
How could someone go about doing something like this on their own?
Jennifer: If they want to do it in South Florida, we do plan to expand this effort maybe to South Beach, or any area with significant architectural and historical significance. If they are in other parts of the country or world, there’s plenty of crowd sourced and vendor solutions like ESI Story Maps where they can provide a narrative, post images, and create a tour, so there are plenty of options.