D-Lib Magazine
December 2001

Volume 7 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

Implementing Digital Sanborn Maps for Ohio

OhioLINK and OPLIN Collaborative Project


Charly Bauer
Assistant Director of Library Systems - Digital Media
Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK)

Carol Lynn Roddy
Executive Director
Ohio Public Library Network (OPLIN)

Red Line



The Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK) and the Ohio Public Library Network (OPLIN) have collaborated to provide the state of Ohio with digital versions of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps covering the state. This is the first such collaboration between the two consortia, which serve distinctly different communities -- academic libraries and public libraries. To our knowledge, Ohio is the first state to offer digital Sanborn Maps to all its citizens. The collaboration between the two consortia has not been a luxury but a requirement. Despite strong interest, neither partner would have undertaken this project alone. This article describes: 1) the nature of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps in their paper, microfilm, and digital formats, 2) how the maps are loaded locally at OhioLINK and delivered over the Web to Ohioans, and 3) the two consortia and the nature of their collaboration.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Original, Paper Versions

Sanborn Maps are large-scale street plans produced by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company from 1867 to 1970. Sanborn Maps show the outlines of buildings, including the location of windows and doors, street names, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers. These maps are used heavily in both public and academic libraries by a wide range of researchers. The users include local historians who use them to locate and identify buildings and neighborhoods; urban historians studying the growth of towns and cities; and environmentalists concerned about the impact of new developments.

In Ohio, both the Cleveland Public Library Map Room and the Map Library of Kent State University own original printed Sanborn Maps. In addition, other public and academic libraries have subsets of the Ohio maps in their collections.

Microfilm Versions

Microfilm versions of Sanborn Maps are also available. Many academic and public libraries (in Ohio and elsewhere) own microfilm versions of Sanborn Maps, particularly of their own communities. Though the color information of the paper map is unavailable in black and white microfilm format, the convenience of microfilm helped justify the acquisition of the maps in that format for a large number of libraries, and most research purposes are still served even without the color provided by the paper maps.

Digital Versions

Sanborn Maps were digitized by Bell & Howell Information and Learning from its microfilm collection. Approximately 40,000 digitized maps were supplied to OhioLINK as black and white, Group IV compressed, Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) images. These images are generally about 4,000 to 5,000 pixels in width and height.

Bell & Howell supplied an XML file with information about each map. This map information includes the date, city, and county of the mapped community. The indexes appearing on certain maps were transcribed and supplied, as well. The XML for an 'index map' includes a street index of major street names, as well as the address range contained in that map. The text also may provide an index of 'Specials' such as schools, manufacturing plants, churches, and other facilities.

For additional information on Sanborn Maps, several useful resources are available on the Internet [1].

Implementation of the Digital Sanborn Maps System in Ohio

At the inception of the Sanborn Maps for Ohio project, the publisher of the Digital Sanborn Maps did not offer the on-line access mechanism that it provides today. Customers who bought maps were required to develop systems on their own -- as OhioLINK has done. The following sections describe this delivery system.

Interface for Searching, Browsing and Viewing

Images and text information are served to the Web from OhioLINK servers. Users are able to search by keyword (i.e., any word or phrase associated with a map) or by field, e.g., city (though there aren't many fields in the map record). Users can browse by city name, as well as by date. Once a particular map is identified, users can open the map within a browser and 'zoom' to several levels of detail.

The map system functionality on the Web required both image and text processing. The TIFF images were converted into MrSID format [2]. Combined with scripts on the web server, this format can serve portions of a full image in JPEG format so: a) the user can download sections of the entire image; and b) the user does not require a special viewer or plug-in to view the map image.

The XML map information was converted into a relational database format.

Rights and Authorized Uses

The maps are restricted to users within the state of Ohio for educational use. The terms of use are defined in a license agreement between OPLIN and Bell & Howell Information and Learning. The terms of this agreement are consistent with those of other licenses involving electronic resources for academic and public libraries. Generally, commercial uses are prohibited, but educational and personal uses such as viewing, downloading, and printing are allowed.

Users and User Authentication

The license stipulates that the maps will be made available only to Ohioans via the Internet. Specifically, users authorized to have access to the maps include: K-12 students and teachers; public library users; and students, faculty, and staff of higher education institutions.

Higher education users are authenticated through OhioLINK's existing authentication mechanism. The authentication involves validating users by IP address. If IP authentication fails, users are prompted for their username and ID or barcode number that are then verified against their institution's OPAC.

Public library users are authenticated similarly through the library's own established authentication systems and then users are redirected to OhioLINK's web server. The K-12 community, represented by a similar organization known as INFOhio, is authenticated in the same way as public library users.


Between the system's inception in May 2001 and November 2001, approximately 45,000 map downloads have occurred. A 'map download' occurs when a map is opened in the map viewer window -- subsequent navigational activity within the opened map is not counted. Slightly less than 20% of use has come from the higher education community with the remaining uses identified as coming from the public library and K-12 access points.

The number of downloads of Sanborn Maps, if annualized, would be equivalent to the number of downloads of the most popular electronic journal titles as measured from OhioLINK's Electronic Journal Center.

Future Developments

Because the Sanborn Maps are loaded locally on OhioLINK servers, functional enhancements must be developed with local resources. Several enhancements are likely over the next year.

Sanborn Maps are currently a stand-alone resource. However, OhioLINK is helping develop other locally stored image and other media collections of historic, Ohio-related content. Where it is possible to integrate such collections with the Sanborn Maps, users will be able to geographically locate many of the historic items they find via Sanborn Maps. As an example, parts of the Wright Brothers Archives at Wright State University are now available from OhioLINK. Researchers will benefit from being able to view Sanborn Maps of the Dayton area from within the same interface that offers them photos of Orville and Wilbur Wright's studio. Other enhancements to the interface are under consideration. The zoom and navigation within the map viewer will likely be improved. Browsing will be refined so that users can drill-down more narrowly. Users will be able to select and save maps in their own on-line accounts.

OPLIN and OhioLINK Collaboration

In this collaboration to bring Ohio Sanborn Maps to the state:

  • OPLIN executed the contract and funded the perpetual license for the maps.
  • OhioLINK implemented and will continue to manage the storage and delivery of the maps.

Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN)


OPLIN [3] is a publicly funded facility that delivers information to every resident of Ohio through the state's 250 independent public library systems. OPLIN is a consumer information network, and its mission is to ensure that all citizens have equal access to information regardless of location or format and regardless of the location of the user. OPLIN believes equity is particularly important in areas such as education, health, career, business development and access to state electronic services.

To carry out its mission, OPLIN provides telecommunications to public libraries by funding one T-1 line per library system and providing a wide area network for intra-state network traffic and library services.

Equally important is the provision and delivery of content not otherwise freely available on the Web. On behalf of Ohio residents, OPLIN manages three kinds of content:

  • OPLIN-funded content, which was developed by partners in Ohio and which is freely provided via the World Wide Web.
  • OPLIN-owned content that is unique to OPLIN, and for which it owns the copyright. Such material is also routinely made freely available on the World Wide Web.
  • OPLIN-licensed content, which takes a variety of forms.

OPLIN is state-funded. Until July 2001 (State Fiscal Year 2002), OPLIN was funded from general revenue. In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, OPLIN will be funded from the Library Local Government Support Fund (LLGSF), which is also the source of public library funding. Seventy-six percent of Ohio's public libraries get 100% of their support from the LLGSF.

OPLIN Licensed Content

Most OPLIN licenses are temporary and renewable annually. Where possible, perpetual licenses are acquired, though they are less common than renewable licenses. The license to Digital Sanborn Maps is a perpetual license. In cases in which OPLIN owns perpetual rights to licensed material, and that material remains vendor-hosted, the licenses provide for eventual migration to OPLIN should that become necessary.

Ohio Library & Information Network (OhioLINK)


The OhioLINK program is a consortium of Ohio's college and university libraries and the State Library of Ohio. Its mission is to leverage technology to increase the quantity and quality of resources available to the state's higher-education community. Serving more than 600,000 students, faculty, and staff at 79 institutions, OhioLINK's membership includes 17 public universities, 23 community/technical colleges, 38 private colleges and the State Library of Ohio. OhioLINK is a state funded program within the Ohio Board of Regents budget. A 13-member Governing Board approves strategic directions and financial decisions.

The OhioLINK program was formed in order to implement a shared electronic catalog system of library materials of the state's 6 major public universities. This central catalog [4] now offers access to more than 31 million library items from its 79 institutions in all subjects. Users can request items electronically while searching the OhioLINK central catalog. A delivery service among member institutions speeds the exchange of library items.

In addition to the central catalog, users can access electronic research databases, including a variety of full-text resources. These databases cover a variety of disciplines. Many of the databases are citation indexes, though electronic full-text resources include online encyclopedias, dictionaries, literature, and journal articles. More than half of these resources are stored and delivered from OhioLINK servers via custom interfaces.

Through its Electronic Journal Center [5], OhioLINK offers access to more than 2.5 million research articles in a growing collection. Over 2,500,000 research articles are downloaded each year.

OhioLINK Digital Media Center

OhioLINK launched its Digital Media Center (DMC) [6] three years ago. The DMC serves as an archive and distribution platform for a variety of non-text media such as images, audio, and video. Content is acquired from contributions made by affiliated OhioLINK institutions, partnerships with other institutions, and commercial sources.

Content is grouped by subject. The Art & Architecture database, for example, contains images from commercial sources such as AMICO [7] and Saskia [8], as well as 'local' contributions from partnerships with the University of Cincinnati and the Akron Art Museum. Users can search through the entire collection or search within a specific collection. Other databases include Historic and Archival Collections and a database of LandSat 7 Satellite data. More information about DMC resources is available on the DMC web site.

The DMC is an industrial strength architecture built for the long term. It offers virtually unlimited storage space on its servers; a multi-terabyte disk array is in use that has the capacity for expansion as needed. OhioLINK has a partnership with the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) to use its IMB Tape system to provide near-line backup of its media data and hierarchical storage management capabilities.

The OhioLINK DMC is the infrastructure used to support the Sanborn Maps. Sanborn Maps are one collection within the History & Archival Collections database.

Benefits of the Collaboration

The nature of the license agreement for the digital Sanborn Maps encouraged OPLIN to collaborate with others. Because the license allowed for access to Ohioans without regard to access mechanisms, OPLIN was free to pursue partners that could provide new access points within the state. At the time, a vendor-hosted map delivery system was not available by subscription; therefore, OPLIN needed to find a partner to host the content.

OPLIN and OhioLINK sought collaborations and partnerships before the digital Sanborn Map project. Among the most important of these partnerships has been Libraries Connect of Ohio (LCO), which includes -- in addition to OPLIN and OhioLINK -- the Information Network for Ohio Schools (INFOhio) [9], a resource sharing organization that serves the K-12 community. In the fall of 1997, LCO began informally to explore ways the three networks could work together for the benefit of their memberships.

INFOhio, though not a contributor of money or resources, is nonetheless an important third organization in this project. Because the license allows the distribution of digital Sanborn Maps through any secure channels to Ohio citizens, OPLIN and OhioLINK chose to leverage INFOhio's existing authentication mechanisms. Through INFOhio, K-12 users at school may access digital Sanborn Maps directly on menu driven systems with which they are familiar. INFOhio benefits from the convenient availability of the resource, while OPLIN is able to extend the visibility of the resource and enhance access.

Because OPLIN's server capacity is limited, OPLIN is not able to host commercial content itself and thus sought out OhioLINK to serve as data and application provider for the maps. OPLIN benefits because OhioLINK provides the service at no charge, and because OPLIN is able to influence interface and other decisions since the organizations are located across the street from one another.

OhioLINK benefits because it has access to content at no charge, and because OhioLINK can serve the maps within an integrated system that includes other historic, Ohio-related material.

A final benefit of this type of collaboration is the benefit to the lifelong learner living in Ohio. From elementary school to university to work, a consistent reliable resource will have been available.

Barriers to the Collaboration

Though -- as organizations steered by librarians -- OPLIN and OhioLINK have shared values, several differences between them make collaboration challenging. These differences include the audiences served, administrative positions in state government, and inequality of funding.

The audiences are different: the teaching and research community in the higher education community has different needs than those of public library patrons. For example, the health information needed by high-school students and consumers is not generally the same information used by medical or nursing school students.

Because OPLIN, OhioLINK and INFOhio receive their funding for mandated purposes, none is empowered to spend on behalf of the other. Collaboration must occur as a result of each organization meeting its own needs and finding that a resource can be extended without loss to the core constituency. The Sanborn Maps are one example.

Because the organizations were created at different times and for different reasons, they reside, fiscally, in different parts of state government. This means their processes for contracting and invoicing vary considerably. These bureaucratic differences make partnering non-trivial.

Generally speaking, inequality of funding is often the greatest barrier to collaboration. For online, vendor-hosted databases, it is particularly challenging to create joint license agreements in which all groups can participate. This project did not require outright financial contributions from all partners and was therefore less problematic.


Since April 2001, Ohioans have had access to digital Sanborn Maps of their state from home, school, work -- or anywhere a World Wide Web connection is available. Acquisition of the digital Sanborn Map content was funded by OPLIN, and it is hosted on OhioLINK's Digital Media Center. With limited data at hand, we can assert it is a popular resource -- anecdotal evidence and common sense tells us that it is far superior to its microfilm alternative.

The Sanborn Map project has demonstrated that public and academic library communities can maximize limited public funding through collaboration. Neither OhioLINK nor OPLIN had the combination of financial resources and technical infrastructure to implement this resource independently. Based on the success of this project, the two consortia will continue to seek partnerships of many types where appropriate and feasible.


[1] Information Sources for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps by Maureen Farrell and Thomas Gates: OhioLINK, <> and University of Virginia GEOSTAT, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, <>.

[2] MrSID® software from LizardTech <>.

[3] Ohio Public Libary Information Network (OPLIN) <>.

[4] OhioLINK Central Catalog: <>.

[5] OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center: <>.

[6] OhioLINK Digital Media Center <>.

[7] Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) <>.

[8] Saskia Ltd Cultural Documentation <>.

[9] The Information Network for Ohio Schools (INFOhio) <>.

Copyright 2001 Charly Bauer and Carol Lynn Roddy

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DOI: 10.1045/december2001-bauer