Access and Usability: Connecting Archives to Platforms

Curator's Note

As libraries find, digitize, catalog, and provide open access to their collections, they are allowing unprecedented possibilities for the public to interact with their archives. Previously, those without the credentials, travel funds, or the knowledge that a particular collection existed were practically barred from entry, but having internet access now opens the door to vast amounts of material. This is particularly true of rare, fragile, and unwieldy material. Access to special collections of manuscripts, photos, maps, and other artifacts has understandably been limited to a small number of researchers, but these objects are increasingly digitally available. Even with this unprecedented access though, how usable is much of the material on library websites without the functionality to allow users to interact with that material?

The ATLmaps project attempts to connect digital archives with a useable platform. The site allows users to curate, connect, and mash up geospatial archival materials. Currently, the site has over 300 archival maps from Emory and Georgia State University, and as we improve search functionality, with a grant from the Knight Foundation, we will add thousands more maps that have already been digitized and georeferenced. We are working to connect with other local institutions to add their collections to the platform, and as photos and other documents are digitized and tagged with location information, we will add these as well. In the near future we hope to add large data sets, like census and city government information.

Hannah Palmer’s I’m From Here project, uses the ATLmaps platform to combine quotations from her upcoming memoir, Flight Path, with photos from Jonathan Kelso, and a 1967 airport map in Georgia State University’s Planning Atlanta collection. Palmer points out that access to maps of the airport and the surrounding neighborhoods allowed her to see the “scale of displacement” that her story attempts to document. Finding the outline of one of the houses she grew up in was “finding evidence of a whole part of your life that you thought had been completely wiped out.” Using a platform like ATLmaps allows her to pinpoint this official planning document with her own story. When more airport maps and census data are added to the site, they can easily become a part of Palmer’s story. Other users can then add layers of their own stories that complement or challenge more official accounts of airport expansion.

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