Competition 2016: Shortlisted in the category Research


Georgia State University, 2014
Area Mobility Planning Culture Civic Urban Development Housing Medium Information Visualization Type Research Journalistic

What happens when you layer a science project on top of a walking tour on top of an art experiment on top of an archival map on top of demographic data on top of a memoir? What if the archives of multiple universities and other institutions could be accessed on one platform and layered with the projects, stories, and data from researchers, teachers, students, and community groups?

The project attempts to answer these questions. The platform, a collaboration between Georgia State University and Emory University, combines archival maps, geospatial data visualization, and user contributed multimedia location pinpoints to promote investigation into any number of issues about Atlanta. While currently focused on one city to demonstrate the power of stacking thousands of layers of information on one place, this innovative online platform will eventually allow users to layer an increasing number of interdisciplinary data to address the complex issues that any city poses. The project looks to offer a framework that incorporates storytelling reliant on geospatial data and for normalizing input across a range of data sets so that material can be cross-compared in novel ways, allowing users to make connections between seemingly unrelated data sources and ask questions that would not be apparent when only looking at one particular project. The ATLmaps project will also encourage knowledgeable members of the university and local communities to curate data on the site to demonstrate the possibilities for synthesizing material across projects and data types.

Most large-scale mapping projects focus on one of three approaches: offering a collection of georeferenced archival maps, providing a way to visualize spatial data, or creating a platform for curated multimedia storytelling through location markers and guided tours. Some projects use a mixture of these methods to explore a particular problem or issue. Businesses, government agencies, community groups, and universities are collecting location-based data and producing incredible mapping projects. ATLmaps is being built as a platform to provide, create, curate, and layer all of these efforts.

The ATLmaps platform is currently under heavy development, but already houses over 2,000 map layers and a growing number of projects. Projects such as Religious Sounds, Stadiumville, and ATLas are being used in classrooms, at community meetings, and for art exhibits. As we see increased demand for our platform, we need to figure out how to move forward on several key issues, which we have received Knight Foundation funding to work on over the next year:

? Building better search functionality
? Creating walking tours
? Adding large dataset layers
? Adding more content from our library collections
? Allowing users to create and save projects
? Collaborating with universities in other cities

Libraries have more than just books. But until recently, important collections, because they are often rare, fragile, or unwieldy, were effectively unavailable to most of the public. Maps, photos, and manuscripts have been available to a small number of professionals who knew these collections existed and understood how to use them. Digitization is radically opening up access to these holdings, but this is only the first stage in making them useful to the public. The ATLmaps project seeks to not only provide access to resources, but also to create a platform that allows users to curate, layer, and use these collections across institutional boundaries.

ATLmaps has its roots in digitization projects at Emory and GSU. At Emory much of this process was centered on the digitization of a 1928 Atlas of Atlanta and Vicinity, which was the most comprehensive topographic mapping of the city. Over several years Emory students and staff produced a geodatabase with several thematic layers including the street networks, streetcar and rail lines, and building footprints to name a few. The digitization of map collections at Emory has opened new avenues to explore the original content and has amplified the opportunities in the area of digital heritage of Atlanta. The GSU Library is also a leader in digital library collection development. One example is the NEH funded Planning Atlanta collection, which consists of over 2000 georeferenced city planning maps and 460 city publications, recent and historical local demographic data, photographs depicting planning activities, oral histories, and aerial photographs. GSU digital collections are allowing students, educators, and the public to engage with their local surroundings and to connect the current built environment and the past.

ATLmaps advances the library field by providing an open source, web-based story map application that invites users to engage simultaneously with content across not only multiple collections, but most significantly, across multiple library institutions. While the Digital Library of America allows for aggregated, multi-institutional search, ATLmaps differs in that, while it also provides multi-institutional content search, ATLmaps allows users to directly engage with and see potentially hidden spatial connections in the material ? all within its map interface. This allows for unprecedented ways of engaging with and enhancing material across institutions. Another distinguishing feature of ATLmaps is that it allows users to create stories with the content directly in the ATLmaps platform, thus making the need for downloading content and bringing it into another software application unnecessary. This open source, multi-institutional platform advances the library field because it helps to breakdown unnecessary barriers between libraries and provides the end-user, who is likely more interested in content than in collections by library, with more meaningful access to digitized material.

The ATLmaps platform already has users who are students, teachers, researchers, community groups, government workers, and planning firms. By addressing usability issues and adding new features, we will better be able to serve their needs. The best way to define our audiences is to describe a couple of the projects already on the site. As more content is added to the site and more projects are created, we imagine that our audience will grow considerably.

Stadiumville seeks to tell the stories of the neighborhoods around Turner Field as the Atlanta Braves prepare to leave for the suburbs. The project was an early test case for the platform because it sought to connect two seemingly disconnected groups of layers- pinpoints documenting an art project in 2013 and planning maps from the 1950s and 1960s. The neighborhoods in this area have been drastically and repeatedly reshaped because of 3 interstates, 2 massive stadiums, acres of parking lots, white flight, and urban renewal funds. The project has been used in classes at GSU and Georgia Tech to discuss urban renewal. Community groups have used the maps to show the detrimental effects on their neighborhoods because of poor planning decisions in the past. Perkins and Will, a planning firm hired to work with these neighborhoods, the city, and developers has displayed the Stadiumville project at public meetings. Data and stories they are collecting about the community?s hopes for the redevelopment of the area will be added as layers to the platform. An urban geography professor at Kennesaw State University recently contacted the project team to see if his students could begin creating layers connected to the project.

A few strong examples of smaller projects demonstrate other current and potential audiences. 1)The Atlanta Art Scene map project is part of an art exhibit focused on Atlanta women who helped shape the city?s art community in the 1970s. Using the memories of eight women from the period who continue to shape arts in the city today, faculty and staff from the Universities of West Georgia, Kennesaw State, and Georgia State mapped the places important to the arts world forty years ago. 2)The Religious Sounds Map project documents the sounds associated with various religious communities, events, and individual practices in metropolitan Atlanta. Students, supervised by a Religious Studies professor at GSU, make the digital sound recordings as a class project and the layers will be expanded as more classes participate. 3)Years before ATLmaps existed, a local historical society had created a walking tour documenting the past presence of an African-American community in a now mostly-white neighborhood. A representative from the group learned about ATLmaps, allowed our team to upload their tour, and added an archival race map from our collection.

All of these projects allow users not only to find material, but to also add to, mash up, and curate a growing collection.



  • Collins, Brennan Georgia State University
  • Hurley, Joe Georgia State University
  • Miller, Ben Georgia State university
  • Varner, Jay Emory University
  • Slemmons, Megan Emory University
  • Page, Michael Emory University

Project Partner

Emory University John S. and James L. Knight Foundation