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USM’s Osher Map Library unveils new website and cutting edge search technology

Image of Ian Fowler

USM's Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education hopes to reach out to a wider digital audience with a new website and embedded data aimed at drawing more students, researchers, historians and artists into its unique collection.

The new website — — launched in April. It came with a refreshed look and some cutting edge technology.

"We were doing some amazing things before," said Ian Fowler, the library's director. "But the way we were displaying them had fallen behind."

Already, the library's website awed visitors with its online collection of 48,000 digital items and the ability to zoom in on historic and one-of-a-kind maps and other documents with extraordinary detail. However, the site looked dated and searches were limited.

Today, the look is new and the capabilities have expanded.

The library partnered with HistoryIT, a digital history company based in Portland. The company created enhanced metadata for 1,000 of the most unique and beloved items in the library collection. The metadata is used by search engines to locate items based on a variety of keywords. It works within the site and, for the first time, with outside search engines such as Google.

Fowler hopes to bring more people into the already busy online destination. Last year, 82,000 people from around the world visited and viewed an estimated 317,000 pages.

Image from Osher Map Library websiteThe drive to improve the site drew praise from Kristen Gwinn-Becker, HistoryIT's CEO.

"OML's forward-thinking leadership recognized that 21st century digital collections must consist of more than scans and digital photographs connected to a rigid structure of metadata, the descriptive information that connects online searches with meaningful results," Gwinn-Becker said.

The library will continue adding more images and more metadata. It's all in the service of using the collection more effectively.

A student might want to use the search function to look at how Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator drew his maps. Yet another might examine how the compass was drawn, how the serpent on maps' edges compared or what the Maine coast looked like.

"This new approach to digital collections is the key to achieving our mission of making cartographic heritage widely accessible, not only to the university but to all of the people of Maine and students, scholars and the generally curious throughout the world," Fowler said.

Located on USM's Portland Campus, the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education has more than 1.5 million items in its collection, dating from 1475 to the present. Its publicly accessible globe collection is one of the largest in the United States, second only to the Library of Congress.