Archivist and National Archive /RLUK Digital Fellowship recipient Caroline Bolton and Digital Archivist Chris Grygiel share a new approach to making collections searchable by place.  

People’s connection to place provides a great opportunity to engage new audiences and stimulate research with collections where locations feature. The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (LAVC), currently subject of the NLHF funded Dialect and Heritage Project, is one such collection. For material relating to dialect and customs, access by locality matters. To enhance access we have been looking at how to transform traditionally narrative catalogue descriptions that reference places, into structured geo-referenced data that can be plotted on a map. Over the last months this has involved experimenting with, and addressing: 

  1. Standards: Understanding what to record about place and how the cultural and heritage sector can do this using thesauri such as Geonames and Getty TGN and resources like Google Maps. Especially important is the format for recording geo-co-ordinates. This can easily end up with points mapped to an entirely different continent if done incorrectly! 
  1. Resource/tools: With thousands of records/items in the collection, how best could adding geo-co-ordinates be done at scale? We experimented with a manual approach. We also tried automating the process with online tools that can add geo-co-ordinates to a spreadsheet in a matter of minutes but that require quality control.   
Experimental map interface (test) created for online catalogue. Image credit Leeds University Library.
  1. Presentation (how to visualise): How can we use this indexing to present collections via interactive maps in our online catalogue? How might researchers help in creating and re-using the data to create their own maps (Google My Maps)?  

The specific requirements of the LAVC project mean the planned approach might not be possible or warranted for all collections. However, this exploratory work has enabled us to begin to establish some internal standards and workflows to support similar projects/collections that have the potential to be put on a map. 

Digital Archivist Chris Grygiel tells us about one such collection: 

The Godfrey Bingley Photographic Archive is a collection that would benefit from an approach allowing users to view results on a map, and to browse by location. Under lockdown we have been able to make great inroads into this work. A small group of staff have extracted location data and begun the task of standardising it, creating supplementary metadata giving a more general location to the nearest town or village such as “York” for Castle Howard. It is hoped that, quality control permitting, we will be able to move forward with this work and begin to test outputs on our website later in the year.