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Mapping the Geospatial Format Landscape

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Most people think of books when they think of the Library of Congress, but in fact, the Library is one of the largest collectors of maps in the world.

It’s a challenge for any organization, even the Library of Congress, to keep up with the quantity of maps now being created digitally, but there is tremendous interest across the government in digital mapping and geospatial information and that trend will not diminish any time soon.

Which is why it made complete sense for the Library to host the third meeting of the Geospatial PDF Working Group, an informal gathering of (mostly) federal government employees with an interest in creating and using geospatially-enabled maps created in the portable document format (PDF)].

Screenshot of the Army Geospatial Center PDF guidanceThe yearly meeting of the working group, spearheaded by large data creators the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, brings tool developers and mapping agencies together to discuss the latest technologies and to share best practices on the creation and distribution of geospatial PDFs.

One of the greatest challenge for these organizations is ensuring that the digital maps they create can be universally accessed across different computer operating systems and environments, while retaining the trustworthiness and reliability of the items as they move through time and space.

This is where geospatial PDFs come into play. PDF files are already ubiquitous across the information landscape, with cross-platform readers available for most any operating system.

The large install base of “generic” PDF users provides a significant target audience for geospatially-enabled PDF files, and the federal government is working with a number of companies to build tools to support these files. At the same time, the government is working to ensure that the methods for encoding geospatial information in PDF files are standardized in ways that secure the ongoing accessibility of the information.

[Without getting too technical (brace yourself!), it’s worth noting that there is more than one “flavor” of geospatial PDF: the trademarked GeoPDF flavor, which has been standardized under an Open Geospatial Consortium Best Practice (PDF); and the International Organization  for Standardization 32000 flavor, explicated in the BaseVersion 1.7, ExtensionLevel 3 supplement to the ISO 32000 standard.]

The Library keenly wants to leverage the energy taking place across the government when it comes to geospatial PDFs. Geospatial PDFs may prove to be a worthy technology for the Library to invest in when exploring ways to provide access to its own rich collections in the future.

At the same time, the Library is already receiving geospatial PDFs as part of its collections and must be able to ensure that these files can be preserved over the long-term. NDIIPP has supported a number of efforts looking at how to preserve geospatial information, including geospatial PDFs, over time.

The Geospatial meeting provided plenty of opportunities for the Library to talk about its historic engagement with mapping and to call on the mapping community to work with the Library to ensure that its work remains accessible over time. In both regards the meeting was a huge success.

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