ISAW Library research on geographic search published

By Gabriel McKee

A paper describing the ISAW Library's recent work in creating a geographic search interface has been published in the journal Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL), the official journal of the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). The paper, by ISAW's Librarian for Collections & Services Gabriel Mckee, details how the ISAW Library has leveraged Linked Open Data (LOD) to integrate book cataloging, map creation, and bibliographic search. 

Gabriel's article explains the rationale behind creating a geographic search interface:

Library of Congress classification and subject cataloging tend to provide greater granularity for political developments in the modern era, presenting a challenge to students of ancient history. A scholar of the ancient Caucasus, for example, is likely to be interested in materials that are currently classified under the History classes for the historical region of Greater Armenia (DS161-199), the modern countries of Armenia (DK680), Azerbaijan (DK69X), Georgia (DK67X), Russia (DK5XX), Ukraine (DK508), and Turkey (DS51, DS155-156 and DR401-741); for pre- and proto-historic periods, materials may be classified in GN700-890; and texts in ancient languages of the Caucasus will fall into the PK8000-9000 range. Moreover, an effective catalog search may require familiarity with the romanization schemes for Georgian, Armenian, Russian, and Ukrainian. Materials on the ancient Caucasus fall into a dozen or more call number ranges, and there is no single term within the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) that connects them—but if their subjects were represented on a map, they would fall within a polygon only a few hundred miles long on each side. This geophysical collocation of materials from across many classes of knowledge can enable unexpected discoveries. As Bidney and Clair point out, “Organizing information based on location is a powerful idea—it has the capacity to bring together information from diverse communities of practice that a research may never have considered. . . ‘Place’ is interdisciplinary.” With this in mind, the ISAW Library has set out to create an alternative method of accessing items in its collection: a browseable, map-based interface for the discovery of library materials.

Gabriel's article also provides detailed background information on the changes to the MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) cataloging language that made this particular project possible: developments that have made it easier to include Universal Resource Identifiers (URIs), one of the key building blocks of linked open data, directly into records for library resources. The article explores similar mapping projects, describes hurdles the project needed to clear, and discusses some future directions for the map interface. It is our hope that this paper can provide a model for other libraries to follow in creating their own geographic search interfaces or other projects that combine bibliographic metadata and LOD. Moreover, ITAL is an open access journal, ensuring that libraries and scholars worldwide will be able to access our account of this project. 

This publication is the result of a project Gabriel first undertook in 2016, as detailed in the library's blog that fall. The project has taken several large steps forward since that time, as reflected in this article. Gabriel is working with Associate Research Scholar Patrick Burns on the project's next phase, which will eliminate our reliance on the deprecated Google Fusion Tables platform. Gabriel and Patrick presented an early version of this more advanced map at the 2017 Digital Humanities conference, and plan to officially launch it later this year. 

For the full article, see:

Mckee, G. (2019). The Map as a Search Box: Using Linked Data to Create a Geographic Discovery System. Information Technology and Libraries38(1), 40-52.