Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Discovering the Library with Google Earth

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Discovering the Library with Google Earth

Article excerpt

Libraries need to provide attractive and exciting discovery tools to draw patrons to the valuable resources in their catalogs. The authors conducted a pilot project to explore the free version of Google Earth as such a discover tool for Portland State Library's digital collection of urban planning documents. They created eye-catching placemarks with links to parts of this collection, as well as to other pertinent materials like books, images, and historical background information. The detailed how-to-do part of this article is preceded by a discussion about discovery of library materials and followed by possible applications of this Google Earth project.


In Calhoun's report to the Library of Congress, it becomes clear that staff time and resources will need to move from cataloging traditional formats, like books, to cataloging unique primary sources, and then providing access to these sources from many different angles. "Organize, digitize, expose unique special collections" (Calhoun 2006).

In 2005, Portland State University Library received a grant "to develop a digital library under the sponsorship of the Portland State University Library to serve as a central repository of the collection, accession, and dissemination of [urban] key planning documents ... that have high value for Oregon citizens and for scholars around the world" (Abbott 2005). This collection is called the Oregon Sustainable Community Digital Library (OSCDL) and is an ongoing project that includes literature, planning reports, maps, images, RLIS (Regional Land Information System) geographical data, and more. Much of the older material is unpublished, and making it available online presents a valuable resource. Most of the digitized--and, more recently, born-digital--documents are accessible through the library's catalog, where patrons can find them together with other library materials about the City of Portland. The bibliographic records are arranged in the catalog in an electronic resource management (ERM) system (Brenner, Larsen, and Weston 2006). Additionally, these bibliographic data are regularly exported from the library catalog to the OSCDL Web site (http://oscdl. and there integrated with GIS (Global Information System) features, thus optimizing cataloging costs by reusing data in a different electronic environment. Committed to not falling into the trap that Clifford Lynch had in mind when he wrote, "I think there is a mental picture that many of us have that digitization is something you do and you finish ... a finite, one-time process" (Lynch 2002), and agreeing with Gatenby that "it doesn't matter at all if a user finds our OPAC through the 'back door'" (Gatenby 2007), the authors looked into further using these existing data from the library catalog by making them accessible from a popular and appealing place on the Internet, a place that users are more likely to visit than the library catalog.

The free version of Google Earth, a virtual-globe program that can be installed on PCs, lent itself to experimenting. "Google Earth combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3-D buildings to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips" ( From there, the authors provide links to the digitized documents in the library catalog. Easy distribution, as well as the more playful nature of this pilot project and the inclusion of pictures, make the available data even more attractive to users.

"Google now reigns"

"Google now reigns," claims Karen Markey (Markey 2007), and many others agree that using Google is easier and more appealing to most than using library catalogs. Google's popularity has been growing spectacularly. In August 2007, Google accounted for 64 percent of all U.S. searches (Avtec Media Group 2007). In contrast, the OCLC report on how users perceive the library shows that only one percent of the respondents begin their information search on a library Web site, while 84 percent use search engines (De Rosa, et al. …

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