April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Interactions: Description

From Cardboard Boxes to Google Maps: How Multiple Institutions’ Digital Collections Can Find a New Life on the Internet as a Consortium

Deborah Boyer, Azavea, USA
Carissa Brittain, Azavea, USA

Have you ever wished your collections were online and publicly searchable but can’t imagine managing it all by yourself? You want to increase your online interaction with the public but have limited resources and funding? For many organizations, forming a formal or informal consortium of institutions provides an answer to the ever increasing need to do more with fewer resources. Meeting the needs of each institution (e.g. collection size; specific metadata fields; specific search criteria; specific collection management processes; etc.), however, can often prove difficult. For the Philadelphia Department of Records, the solution to how to increase access to their historic collections while also enabling other institutions to do just the same came in the form of

In 2005, the Philadelphia Department of Records virtually threw open the doors to the City Archives and made thousands of previously inaccessible images available to the public via the website Utilizing Sajara, Avencia’s geographic digital asset management tool, enabled visitors to search through photographs and maps based on a variety of criteria including geographic options such as address, street intersections, or neighborhoods. The public enthusiastically embraced the site and took advantage of the opportunity to find photos of their neighborhoods, purchase prints, report errors in the metadata, and submit digitization requests for additional photos.

But the strength of is not just about searching. What makes the site unique is that the collections available on are not limited to those from the City Archives. Sajara, the software behind PhillyHistory, was built to accommodate collections from several organizations. The Philadelphia Water Department provided over 1500 images to the website, and the Free Library of Philadelphia recently contributed over 1600 photographs and nearly 200 historic maps. Unique collection names and watermarks easily identify the organization to which the images belong, and customizable fields enable each institution to choose the metadata they would like displayed, among many other features that enable each institution to manage their collection within the same infrastructure. has proven to be a boon for both the organizations involved and the general public. By joining together, three institutions brought greater accessibility to their collections while also providing the public with one easy to search website where they could learn more about the history of a great city.

Briefing: Exhibitor Talk: Azavea [updates]

Keywords: GIS, digital asset management, consortia, geographic search, online collections, historic photos