Elephant-Shaped Buildings and Other Curiosities: NYPL’s Map Librarian Talks About Making Historical Geography a Part of the Internet
One hundred years ago, a building-sized elephant stood across the street from the Coney Island Cyclone. The “elephant bazaar,” which once occupied the area on the North side of Surf Avenue, was an exciting discovery for The New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, which, with the aid of a generous three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is busy transforming NYPL’s historical paper map and atlas collections into a powerful digital resource.
Digitizing the old maps — in this initial stage, primarily detailed insurance and real estate atlases of New York City — is only the beginning of a multi-step process that turns map images into actual geographical data. Imagine Google Maps, but with a “go back in time” option. Here’s how it works:
Maps are scanned and converted to high resolution digital images;
The images are georectified (or more colloquially, “rubber-sheeted,” or “warped”): a process that involves aligning the pixels on an old map to the latitude/longitude on a virtual map;
The warped maps are then cropped to remove extraneous non-map information (such as page borders);
Finally, map data (such as building footprints or ward boundaries) are traced and transcribed into open, exportable formats.
All of the above work is carried out by a combination of Library staff and public volunteers through a web-based toolkit affectionately dubbed the “Map Warper”. The NYPL Map Warper website includes a how-to instruction video, along with a detailed georectification guide. There are also instructions on map cropping, a necessary step in the creation of map mosaics. (See Unbinding the Atlas: Working with Digital Maps for more information on this process.)
(More…)

Elephant-Shaped Buildings and Other Curiosities: NYPL’s Map Librarian Talks About Making Historical Geography a Part of the Internet

One hundred years ago, a building-sized elephant stood across the street from the Coney Island Cyclone. The “elephant bazaar,” which once occupied the area on the North side of Surf Avenue, was an exciting discovery for The New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, which, with the aid of a generous three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is busy transforming NYPL’s historical paper map and atlas collections into a powerful digital resource.

Digitizing the old maps — in this initial stage, primarily detailed insurance and real estate atlases of New York City — is only the beginning of a multi-step process that turns map images into actual geographical data. Imagine Google Maps, but with a “go back in time” option. Here’s how it works:

Maps are scanned and converted to high resolution digital images;

The images are georectified (or more colloquially, “rubber-sheeted,” or “warped”): a process that involves aligning the pixels on an old map to the latitude/longitude on a virtual map;

The warped maps are then cropped to remove extraneous non-map information (such as page borders);

Finally, map data (such as building footprints or ward boundaries) are traced and transcribed into open, exportable formats.

All of the above work is carried out by a combination of Library staff and public volunteers through a web-based toolkit affectionately dubbed the “Map Warper”. The NYPL Map Warper website includes a how-to instruction video, along with a detailed georectification guide. There are also instructions on map cropping, a necessary step in the creation of map mosaics. (See Unbinding the Atlas: Working with Digital Maps for more information on this process.)

(More…)

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