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Tucked away in a corner of Mills Library lies one of McMaster’s hidden treasures. The Lloyd George Reeds Map Collection is home to 130,000 maps, 18,000 aerial photos and 3,000 atlases.

The late Prof. Reeds, who passed away in 2002, was born on a farm near Lindsay, Ontario. He is considered one of the founders of Canadian geography, the subject area he taught in at McMaster for over 30 years. He began gathering maps to supplement his lectures, but his hobby did not become a collection until 1965, when the library system took ownership of the project. Since then, the collection has expanded to serve the needs of many faculties at McMaster.

Gordon Beck, the current Maps Specialist at Mills, is excited to see the range of ways the collection can supplement courses.

“We started off supporting mostly geography, but now with GIS, we're supporting more and more departments not only because of GIS but also because we now have a large format scanner,” Beck explained. The addition of this scanner has helped revive the paper map collection.

Thanks to the digitization project, the collection is more widely accessible than ever before. “We have a lot of environmental assessments that take place here so we also service the community around,” Beck said. “Engineers, lawyers and people from banks, all those types of people will come in to view things we have in the collection.”

The collection is open to students during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Beck added, “we're also open to the general public because we do have maps in the collection like topographic maps and other maps that we get from the government, free of charge, on the condition that we make them available to the public.”

Despite being a fairly mid-sized institution, McMaster boasts what Beck estimates is the third largest map collection in the province, just behind the University of Toronto and Western University. Due to the limited availability of space on campus, the digitization process means some physical maps can be discarded. “[For] the historical collection, we would never get rid of the paper original,” Beck said. Some of the collection’s older specimens are stored in the archives in the basement of Mills so their preservation can be properly regulated.

While Beck feels as though more could be done to promote the physical maps on campus, its online presence has kept the collection relevant. “I think what's happening is that … people are doing searches and they’re finding us through our digital collections,” he said. “As we get more of this stuff in digital format, there are more and more classes that are able to use our material.”

“Pretty much anybody at some point in their life is going to be interested in a piece of land and how it has changed over time,” Beck added. “That interest in temporal studies has helped [the collection] to cut across all faculties.”

Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor

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Starting this week, you'll have the chance to see professor of Health, Aging, and Society Jim Dunn roaming the streets of Hamilton, putting his Great Neighbourhoods Visualization Project into action.

Over the next few weeks, Dunn will be using a camera-car system, referred to as Mobile Urban Video Recording, in order to map the city of Hamilton, street by street, frame by frame. The project is aiming to identify the key visual features in neighbourhoods that indicate whether the physical environment is conducive to being a good family setting.

"When we wanted to characterize neighbourhoods [before], we had census data, which really doesn't tell you anything about the neighbourhood: it tells you about who lives in the neighbourhood. And we've had survey data, which is people's perceptions of the neighbourhood, and so people are interested in this because it's kind of the first objective data that's available on neighbourhoods," Dunn said.

Dunn's project, whose unique approach is only matched by one other academic researcher in North America, partially stems from an idea in criminology that the physical environment and the visual disorder information from the neighbourhood can affect the level of crime and behavior in an area.

Although his team at the CRUNCH laboratory in McMaster is focused on the physical environment of neighbourhoods, Dunn explained that the ability to create an archive of images each year will allow their work to extend beyond the goals of the project. Dunn commented that, in the past, "people in public health have taken some of that disorder information and then looked at its relationship to various kinds of health outcomes.

"In the future we might be able to do other projects where we recode it. So we might come up with new ideas."

In many ways, the project and car bear a close resemblance to the work done with Google Street View; in fact, for the technology, Dunn's team worked with Immersive Media, the co-developer of the Street View technology. However, the team's goal is to take a more consistent view of Hamilton neighbourhoods, both in the creation of a seamless street view and the year-after-year progression of Hamilton areas.

Of course, concerns are also warranted when considering the potential ramifications on privacy.

However, with precedent already set by Google Street View on roaming and capturing images of entire neighbourhoods, Dunn maintains that the project "meets or exceeds all of the privacy protections that Google has in place."

"When we collect our images, we're not posting them on the internet. We keep them all privately [on a] secure server," Dunn said. "The sensitivity really has to do with the fact that there's potentially identifiable images of people, [but] for the most part, we don't really have the camera resolution to get identifiable images."

Although the project can potentially be viewed as contentious, Dunn is open to discussion about issues of confidentiality and privacy.

"[Talking about] privacy and confidentiality issues is, in a way, good for us because it let's people know that, 'hey listen, we've thought about this, and we take it seriously, and here's what we're doing.'"

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