Leveraging Library Expertise:

Infusing Collaborations and Collections with Geography

Kevin Dyke      •      Ryan Mattke      •     Justin Schell
University of Minnesota Libraries

At the University of Minnesota Libraries, we're engaged in a variety of geohumanities work.

Some of this work occurs at the level of a subject library (in our case, the John R. Borchert Map Library).

Elsewhere in the Libraries, DASH is a cross-disciplinary project fostering collaboration around emerging digital tools and methodologies.

Outside the Libraries but with strong connections is U-Spatial, a spatial research support center at the University of Minnesota.

Building interfaces for analog collections

Making use of “raw” digital material

What came first, the digital collections or the engaged audience?

It turns out, digitized maps (like pretty much all other digital objects) benefit tremendously from some kind of presentation.

now what?

Targeting different audiences



Generally used as part of an exercise in one class session.

By 2007, the Borchert Map Library had a collection of over 15,000 digitized aerial photographs.

1939 aerial photograph showing the Duluth, MN harbor

How to help users quickly find the most relevant aerial photos?

Aerial photo from 1961 of what would become Voyageurs National Park in far northeast Minnesota

Back in 2008, a student worker was tasked with using the Google Maps JavaScript API and XML (learning both simultaneously) to put together an application.

Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online

aka MHAPO (the "H" is silent)

The original MHAPO interface

Today's MHAPO

Uses Esri products for front and back ends.

Recently added large scale Minneapolis photos.

University of Minnesota Campus History

Hundreds of historical campus maps from University of Minnesota Archives

Used current footprints (provided by U of M Enterprise GIS) as a baseline.

Next, used georeferenced maps to recreate building footprints across campus over time.

Working with other collections in the Libraries

Upper Midwest Jewish Archives

  • Map created by Clarence Miller in partnership with the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center
  • Illustrates an area of North Minneapolis during the 1920s where many Jewish immigrant families lived
  • Tying information from photos and oral histories to locations on the map in hopes of understanding a neighborhood that was basically demolished in the name of urban renewal.

YMCA Locations

  • Kautz Family YMCA Archives
  • Part of Archives & Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Collects the historical records of the Y's national resource office, YMCA of the USA, and also holds records of the Greater Twin Cities and Greater New York YMCAs.
  • Created a prototype map showing YMCA locations in the Greater New York area over time.


Move towards "born digital" projects that aren't necessarily rooted to a particular collection.

How to Do (Digital) History

  • Undergraduate history course focusing on digital history
  • How undergraduates interact with and create different conceptions of history as part of their digital lives
  • 1853-1854 Pacific Railroad Surveys
  • Materials from Borchert Map Library and the Library of Congress, and support from U-Spatial and DASH.
  • Used ArcGIS Online for mapping aspect and Google Sites for the final report

Joy/Pain Mapping

Working with Rebecca Krinke, a local artist and faculty member in Landscape Architecture

Large wooden map (around 5ft by 8ft) of the Twin Cities

Borchert Map Library

Took the map around town and asked people to draw on areas of the map that they associated with either joy/pain

  • We're now in the process of recreating the project for the Web.
  • How to channel the communal/collaborative spirit of the original?

Mapping La Comédie Humaine

  • Three Balzac novels
  • 1814 map from the Borchert Map Library collection
  • Created a list of place related French phrases
  • Used Voyant to identify places
  • Manually plotted on the map
  • Geocoded for reference and future web version
  • Traces movement of three main characters throughout the city

Semantic Mapping and the Minnesota Hip Hop Archive

  • The Twin Cities are home to a (for some) surprising number of hip-hop artists.
  • Placenames are a common part of lyrics
  • We're scraping lyrics and running them through a customized geoparser (utilizes Named Entity Recognition)
  • End up with a nicely formatted JSON response with a list of the places, organizations, and people mentioned in the inputted lyrics.

Thank you!


Kevin Dyke (kevindyke@umn.edu)

Ryan Mattke (matt089@umn.edu)

Justin Schell (schel115@umn.edu)