The Alexandria Digital Library and Geolibraries

Cyberinfrastructure’s post on the design of gazetteers sparked an investigative light. Taking a test run on the Alexandria Digital Library, a search for “Northern Canada” focuses in on the majority of Newfoundland. Immediately, as a GIS user with some appreciation of its underlying principles, I was struck by the lack of transparency and feedback on how the geolibrary decided on Northern Canada as referring to Newfoundland. I tried typing in the name of several towns in the territories, northern Ontario and BC to establish a search history that pointed towards my definition of northern Ontario (to see if the engine would contextualize future results based on previous ones). No such luck.

The service seems much more oriented towards the delivery of data and is more reticent towards acknowledging the uncertainty of the gazetteer and how people have different ideas of the extents of places. Cyberinfrastructure’s post alludes to a growing and increasing diversity of users to match the need for constantly updated gazetteers. As the number of users and their purposes for the data grow, it becomes increasingly important to explicitly discuss the (compound) uncertainty in the datasets provided.

Based on initial impressions, a rudimentary system can be developed that allows for more flexible, user-defined boundaries. If a user defines an area that overlaps two formalized regions in the gazetteer, the system could return datasets for both regions involved. More control needs to be given to the user to understand how things are geolocated within the ADL and to include more contextual fields that tailor searches to the user’s preference. These issues are clearly in line with Goodchild’s 7th research concern on the cultural barriers inhibiting cognitive understanding of geolibraries. Presently, the ADL seems designed for planners that follow legal, administrative boundaries rather than for the general public user. Even simple contextual algorithms that Google uses in its search engine could be implemented to enhance the querying experience in ADL.

– Madskiier_JWong

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