Contact: Jill Brett, Library of Congress (202) 707-2905; Helen Dalrymple, Library of Congress (202) 707-1940; Tina Thomas, EDR Sanborn (800) 238-1907

November 26, 1997

Library Announces Digital Map Project

Nearly 1 Million Maps To Be On-Line

See update at the bottom of the release.

The Librarian of Congress announced today a cooperative arrangement with EDR Sanborn of Southport, Conn., to scan approximately 1 million fire insurance maps held by the two organizations. The resulting electronic images will be made available, over the next several years, via the Library of Congress Web site in cooperation with EDR Sanborn. "As one of the major content providers on the Internet, the Library of Congress is making millions of interesting and important American historical items available electronically. We already have more than one-half million historical materials on-line now and this project represents a substantial addition to the educational and research value of our Web site," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

EDR Sanborn holds the copyright to the preponderance of the 700,000 fire insurance maps in the Library's custody, in addition to several hundred thousand copyrighted maps in its own custody. This arrangement will give the public viewing access to the digital version of all these maps. Because the majority of these maps are copyrighted by EDR Sanborn, electronic access to two-thirds of the collection would be impossible without EDR's participation in this partnership.

Sanborn Maps[TM] represent the most detailed graphic record of the growth of urban America, providing coverage for some 12,000 American cities and towns from the 1850s to the present. They are useful for a variety of research purposes. Because cities were mapped several times, the maps enable researchers to trace the architectural history of individual buildings or entire communities. Social historians have used them for analyzing everything from the commuting patterns of 19th century domestic workers to the evolution of major and minor league baseball parks. They are also extremely valuable for studying the impact on the environment of past uses of buildings on or adjacent to a specific location.

Over the years, the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress has accumulated approximately 650,000 maps published by the Sanborn Map Company and another 50,000 by other pioneer firms in this field, making this collection the largest in the world that is accessible to the public. The Sanborn Map Company (now a subsidiary of e data resources, inc.[TM]) has been depositing its maps for copyright at the Library of Congress since 1883. The Library has been the home of the Copyright Office since 1870.

There will be a development phase before the first maps become available through the World Wide Web and at the Library of Congress. During this phase, the Library and EDR Sanborn will coordinate scanning procedures, investigate the display of maps on standard World Wide Web browsers, and construct the links between the Library of Congress electronic finding aid and the EDR Sanborn Web site. It is expected that the first maps will be on-line in the summer of 1998. The Library of Congress and EDR Sanborn will also develop a site where users can, in addition to viewing examples of fire insurance maps, find explanations of their use and the history of this uniquely American form of cartography.

During the period of digitization, on-site use of the Library's maps will continue under current policies and practices without interruption in the Geography and Map reading room, except when limited numbers of paper maps are being scanned. Because the fragile condition of many of these paper maps precludes their handling by researchers, the new digital copies will provide researchers improved access to the collection. These maps were developed as a way to present accurate and reliable information that could be used by insurance agents to determine the cost and risk factors involved in property insurance. Extremely detailed plans of towns, they are usually drawn at the scale of 50 feet to 1 inch. Elements of building construction are indicated by color: yellow indicates wood frame construction, pink indicates brick, and blue indicates stone or concrete, etc. Other symbols identify the type of roofing style, placement of windows, thickness of walls, height of buildings and their distance from sidewalks. The maps included text or abbreviations to describe the nature of the building -- dwelling, factory, or business.

This project is an outgrowth of the Geography and Map Division's Center for Geographic Information at the Library of Congress, whose members support the goal of making the world's largest map collection available electronically. In commenting on this cooperative partnership, EDR Sanborn Chairman Peter L.Cashman remarked, "EDR Sanborn is extremely pleased to be able to play a significant role in making such important historical documents available to the public. We look forward to a long and productive relationship with the Library of Congress -- one that will bring great benefits to researchers, architects, engineers, schoolchildren and the public at large."

On June 13, 2000, the Library of Congress terminated its cooperative agreement with EDR Sanborn. The Library of Congress and EDR Sanborn could not come to agreement regarding issues of access and copyright notice for the digital files of the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.

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PR 97-204
ISSN 0731-3527

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