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HistoryIT Partners with Leading Map Library to Launch Cutting-Edge Digital Collection

HistoryIT and the Osher Map Library lead way in making digital map collections accessible to a broad audience

Portland, ME, April 10, 2017 – Digital history company HistoryIT and the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education (OML) at the University of Southern Maine today unveiled a new website designed to make the map library’s world-renowned collection accessible to a vast and still-untapped online audience.

The new website launch comes after a yearlong collaboration in which HistoryIT and OML transformed the library’s decade-old website into a new digital collection site that rejects an antiquated approach to digital libraries, focusing more on user experience and discoverability. This shift in direction has moved OML’s digital interface from a simple online catalog that mainly served dedicated researchers to a robust digital collection that engages diverse public audiences. The more robust and searchable digital collection is housed in HistoryIT’s software, which delivers better interconnectivity with the digital materials.

“OML’s forward-thinking leadership recognized that 21st century digital collections must consist of more than scans and digital photographs connected to a rigid structure of metadata, the descriptive information that connects online searches with meaningful results,” said HistoryIT CEO Kristen Gwinn-Becker, PhD.

A modern digital collection does much more than hold scanned materials, Gwinn-Becker said. It also makes them organized, discoverable, and navigable through a system of smart tags associated with each item. This more sophisticated process also involves creating new types of consistent metadata for individual items in order to understand the web of relationships among diverse and formerly disparate materials.

HistoryIT created cutting edge enhanced metadata for a representative sample of 1,000 of the OML’s more than 1.5 million items. HistoryIT and OML will continue to expand the accessibility of the collection over the next few years, as part of OML’s ongoing digitization efforts.

“It was clear to us that when done correctly, a comprehensive 21st century digital collection would open the door to an extraordinary range of benefits for OML,” said Ian Fowler, OML’s director. “This new approach to digital collections is the key to achieving our mission of making cartographic heritage widely accessible, not only to the university, but to all of the people of Maine and students, scholars, and the generally curious throughout the world.”

“The history of cartography is so rich and detailed and this new process with HistoryIT was the only way we could replicate online the lessons we teach in person with the depth and attention a collection of this caliber deserves,” he said.

Fowler pointed to Robert Sayer’s 1755 map of the English empire in North America, commonly referred to as the Anti-Gallican map, as an example of how HistoryIT and OML are making the site more accessible. While the previous OML website made this map searchable by title and map creator, the new website allows users to discover this map through 23 newly created tags, including each of the seven inset maps on the parent map and five new subject tags that go beyond the academic language of traditional subject headings. HistoryIT also took the unprecedented step of individually cataloging the map cartouche, imagery and insets. Now, a map that is populated with numerous sea monsters, such as Jan Jansson’s 1652 map America noviter delineata, will have an associated record for each of the creatures.

“This project is so much more than a website redesign – it demonstrates how to make digital heritage materials accessible to the general public, not just scholars,” Gwinn-Becker said.

About the Osher Map Library

The Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education at the University of Southern Maine is one of the premier map libraries in the United States. The scope of the collection covers the history of cartography, as well as the founding and exploration of America and New England. This collection consists of over 1.5 million cartographic objects, dating from 1475 to the present. The libraries collections are anchored by the founding gifts from Dr. Harold and Peggy Osher in 1989 and Eleanor Houston Smith in 1986.  The Osher Map Library’s historic globe collection is considered to be one of the most important in the United States both for its historical and scientific value. It is the second largest, publicly accessible globe collection in the United States, after that of the Library of Congress.

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