Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of South Carolina

About the Collection
Originally conceived in the late 18th Century, fire insurance maps provided structural and urban environmental information necessary for insurance underwriters. Founded in 1867 in the United States, the Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau systematically produced ascetically appealing, but also efficient, maps nationwide. This New York firm expanded and grew immensely, finally emerging as the Sanborn Map Company in 1902. Eighteen years later the company effectively monopolized the insurance map industry. By World War II surveys of 13,000 towns produced over 700,000 sheets now stored in the Library of Congress. Today, these maps are utilized extensively by architectural historians, environmentalists, genealogists, historians, historic preservationists, and urban historical geographers.

Employing surveyors in every state and systematizing the map-making process, the company published set standards for accuracy and design in 1905. The accurate surveys thus produced allowed the clients to make judgments on risk factors without personally examining each and every property that was to be insured. The majority of the maps are drawn to a scale of fifty feet per inch on sheets of 21 by 25 inch paper. For each city and town, building location and material composition by color coding is detailed. Many buildings, especially in downtown urban areas, are labeled by name. One can determine exactly where the post office, city hall, dry goods stores, bakeries, etc. were to be found. Particular attention is paid to fire departments, water and gas mains, and distances from fire hydrants or fountains to edifices. Because the maps were updated over time with new sheets being drawn, change over time is visually documented.

While the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress holds the most complete collection of Sanborn Maps, the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina became the depository of their duplicate maps for the state. This 1963 deposit includes over 4,600 sheets covering 97 South Carolina towns and cities from 1884 to the 1960s. In the mid-1980s, when a local South Carolina insurance firm closed, the South Caroliniana Library was given the firm's collection of manuscript maps documenting 229 small South Carolina towns between the 1920s and the 1940s. A valuable source for researchers, these two collections are heavily used for the information and insights they provide about the people and the lives they led in South Carolina's urban-built environment between 1884 and World War II.

Given to the South Caroliniana Library by a now defunct insurance company, the collection of unpublished Sanborn maps is rare and unusual. These drawings are hand-drafted cartographies on graph paper following the published maps format. These map small South Carolina towns and villages, many of which no longer exist except on these sheets and in the pages of history.

The South Carolina Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digital collection could not have happened without the support of Dr. Robert Weyeneth of the History Department, Robin Copp of South Caroliniana Library, and Bill Sudduth, Chris Hare and Ross Taylor of the Map Library. Chris Hare managed the project and moved it along initially. Robin Copp acted as curator for the collection, answering questions about records and writing the Introduction.

Kate Boyd managed the second part of the project of getting the images into the database. The students responsible for the "heavy lifting" were Laura Seay (2004, BS Geography), Lauren Glaettli (2005, MLIS Library Science), and Kevin Gilbertson (2005, MLIS Library Science). Laura scanned the images in 2004. Lauren and Kevin created JPEGs and added preservation metadata to the TIFFs. Kevin Gilbertson also created the html home page. Douglas King of Cataloging, Chris Hare, Robin Copp, and Craig Keeney all assisted with the metadata fields. Kate Boyd and Lauren Glaettli were responsible for uploading the images and metadata to the CONTENTdm database and migrating the TIFFs to storage and backup. The work could also not have been made available on the web without the help of Tony Branch, of the systems department, who is the systems administrator for the CONTENTdm database and helps to manage the computers and scanners in the Digital Activities Department.

Creating the Digital Collection
This was a large project that has taken two years to complete. It began before the formation of the Digital Activities Department and therefore is considered the first true digital library project undertaken by the library. Consequently, it started off without the infrastructure and support that current projects have, resulting in numerous obstacles to overcome, such as a lack of server space and standards for metadata.

In 2004, Laura Seay scanned 2443 maps and saved them as TIFF images. She scanned the maps at 300ppi and 24 bit color images using an Ideal Crystal Tx40 wide format scanner. The maps were protected by Mylar when scanned. At the end, all the images were stored for at least half a year on two external hard drives and a computer, until server space was found.

In 2005, once the Digital Activities Department was created and server space was made available, the tedious task of preparing the images for the CONTENTdm database was begun. During this process, Kevin Gilbertson and Lauren Glaettli added preservation metadata to each TIFF and created a JPEG derivative. Lauren then created folders for the JPEGs, breaking them up by city and year, creating 373 objects. Once this was done and reviewed for accuracy, the JPEGs were uploaded as compound objects to the CONTENTdm server with the metadata for each of the 373 records. In the process of uploading, the images were converted to the JPEG2000 format to allow for zooming capabilities. The metadata records follow the Western States Best Practices Dublin Core format.

In the Spring of 2005, Lauren Glaettli scanned another 234 unpublished maps on the same scanner at 300ppi and 24-bit color. These maps were added to the collection on the CONTENTdm database.

Once the images were loaded to the CONTENTdm database the TIFFs and JPEGs were burned to DVD and the TIFFs will be moved to the SAN server for archival storage, when it is available.

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