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GeoMAPP and the Future of Digital Geospatial Preservation

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At the beginning of April 2012 we published States of Sustainability: A Review of State Projects funded by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) (PDF), a report written by Christopher A. Lee.

The comprehensive report neatly wraps our recent digital preservation work with state governments, but in the case of the Geospatial Multistate Archive and Preservation Project (GeoMAPP), the report only touches the surface of our decade-long engagement with preserving digital geospatial information.

Topographic North Carolina by user baggis on Flickr
Topographic North Carolina by user baggis on Flickr

GeoMAPP, led by a unique partnership between the North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis and the North Carolina State Archives, began its work in 2007, but the groundwork for the project was laid several years before.

NDIIPP recognized the value of geospatial information as a national asset early in the program, noting in 2002’s Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (PDF) that “even more complex digital media types, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS)…will take libraries, archives, and museums beyond the formats that they have expertise in preserving.”

This acknowledgement of the importance of GIS data manifested itself in two of the original NDIIPP-funded digital preservation projects, the National Geospatial Digital Archive Project and the North Carolina Geospatial Data Archiving Project.

NGDA focused on collecting and preserving geospatial data on a large scale by defining a minimum level of preservation while also making preserved data available to the greatest degree possible.

NCGDAP took a slightly different approach. They explored the challenges of preserving geospatial data within the confines of a single state, exploring how the participants in a geospatial ecosystem (libraries, archives, local producers of data and the state geospatial data clearinghouse) interacted.

In the future orientation will be simple by user cole007 on Flickr
In the future orientation will be simple by user cole007 on Flickr

Both projects made it a point to engage with existing geospatial infrastructures. NGDA leveraged their natural base of academic map libraries to leverage the activities of the  Cartographic Users Advisory Council and secure the 2009 publication of a special issue of the Journal of Map and Geography Libraries on the preservation of digital geospatial materials. They also published an influential geospatial metadata report (PDF) and later provided consultancy to the Library of Congress on its Geospatial Data formats sustainability site.

NCGDAP developed a deep understanding of the relationships between government entities throughout the geospatial ecosystem, from the local producers of geospatial data, such as city and county governments, all the way up to the national Federal Geographic Data Committee. In the course of their work they developed methods to build trust across these interactions, and worked to leverage existing infrastructure to build preservation actions into existing patterns of behavior.

They also brought a deep understanding of the special technical challenges facing geospatial technology, represented by the project participation in the Open Geospatial Consortium’s Data Preservation Domain Working Group and their co-authoring of the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Technology Watch Report on Preserving Geospatial Data (PDF).

GeoMAPP successfully built on both of these projects as they took the basic work of NCGDAP and expanded it to include Kentucky and Utah (and later, Montana), working to replicate NCGDAP’s work within each of the partner states, but also working to collaborate across state lines.

Two of the original GeoMAPP co-principal investigators were in the inaugural class of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee, a group that reviews geospatial policy and provides a forum to convey views representative of non-federal stakeholders to the FGDC. This participation gave GeoMAPP access to a national network of geospatial decision makers to engage in support of preserving digital geospatial data.

In addition to its national outreach and engagement efforts, GeoMAPP tackled practical preservation issues of interest to both archivists and geospatial professionals. They began their work by conducting both state-specific and national surveys to identify geospatial creation and archiving trends among state and local agencies in North Carolina as well as among state archives and members of the national geospatial community.

The results of these surveys guided their efforts, which eventually included tools for agencies to objectively evaluate their potential (XLS) to archive geospatial data; a primer (PDF) on data storage concepts and technologies; guidance on geospatial appraisal, data transfer, and archival processing; and a geospatial file formats reference guide (XLS).

The richness of the guidance and tools developed by GeoMAPP provides a template for other states to follow as they begin to address geospatial archiving. GeoMAPP also modeled potential next steps, especially their geospatial archiving business planning toolkit. The toolkit can be leveraged by funding agencies and organizations such as the National States Geographic Information Council and the FGDC to work towards incorporating geoarchiving as part of national activities such as the Geospatial Platform that will have a huge impact on the ways that geospatial data is created, shared and (hopefully) preserved in the future.

Risky Games by user centralasian on Flickr
Risky Games by user centralasian on Flickr

While GeoMAPP has come to a close, its work continues in the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Geospatial Content group and FGDC Users/Historical Data Working Group.

The long-term stewardship of digital geospatial information is an issue that will only become more important over time and NDIIPP remains interested in supporting the efforts. Explore the work of GeoMAPP and let us know what you think. If you’ve got pointers to other activities in this area we’d love to hear about them.


  1. Way to keep the ball rolling with an excellent sweep across time. I enjoyed how you tied it all together.

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