Reviewed June 2017
Kiana Jones, Visiting Fine Arts Librarian
University of Pittsburgh
The David Rumsey Map Collection is an impressive and free online resource for the public meant to mirror and supplement the physical collection of over 150,000 maps residing in the David Rumsey Map Center recently donated to the Stanford University Library. Thus far, the digital collection contains over 75,000 items, a result of an ongoing mass digitization of the physical collection that began in 1996. In comparison to other digital map collections, the David Rumsey Map Collection offers the widest range of viewing environments and features. The site was the 6th Annual Webby Award Winner in Technology Achievement and is a registered data provider with Open Archives.
The website’s homepage contains basic information about the digital collection, links to the blog, “Quicklinks” to the many applications with which to view the collection, a link to buy reproductions, featured content, featured map viewing applications, and social media buttons. The drop-down menus at the top are helpful but sometimes redundant; they often feature links already placed on the homepage, resulting in a bit of an overcrowded and overdesigned feel. Despite this drawback, the drop-down help menu offers an option to toggle the background color to aid in site readability, and a detailed ‘Help Center’ with FAQs and contact information.
The site is unique in that it allows users to view the collection using a variety of digital imaging tools, including Google Earth, Second Life, Georeferencer and more. The Georeferencer feature can be compared to NYPL's Space/Time Directory, in which historic maps overlay modern maps to tell a story through space and time. Software must be downloaded to see the maps in some of the featured tools; for instance, users must have a plugin to view the Google Earth Application in their browser. Despite the need for software in some instances – which may be a drawback for some users, the viewing environments are highly impressive and the digitized maps are of a remarkable quality, averaging at about 200 megabytes per file size.
The newest software that the collection provides to power the map-viewing experience is LUNA Imaging, an intuitive and powerful software that includes a variety of attractive features that suit different types of users. To utilize most features, registering a free account is required, and helpful if the user wants to save their work and preferences. Creating “media groups” of images for public or private use is a prime feature. Users can annotate directly on top of images, then save and share them in the LUNA environment. Instructors may take an interest in LUNA’s presentation feature, through which images from users’ media groups can be added to presentations. Images can be exported to PowerPoint, presented in the browser, embedded in a website, or linked publicly or privately. LUNA would be of particular interest to archivists and art and museum librarians seeking software to aid management of their digital assets, image collections, and metadata content. The David Rumsey Map Collection in LUNA is an outstanding example of this software’s capabilities.
Because historical maps are important to humanities and science disciplines alike, the David Rumsey Map Collection is an incredible resource for instructors, researchers, and students looking for a variety of 16th to 21st century maps from across the world that would otherwise be difficult to access. The site could also be relevant to digital humanities practitioners or working groups interested in investigating imaging and browsing tools.