Photo of the Week: Bitterly Cold

[Windmill in snow-covered field], ca. 1875, v1974.7.4; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Windmill in snow-covered field], ca. 1875, v1974.7.4; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

It’s cold out there, Brooklyn.  I think this photograph illustrates the minimal amount of snow we have but how small and cold one can feel facing the windchill today.  This photograph was taken by Adrian Vanderveer Martense, an amateur photographer and member of the Brooklyn Camera Club, somewhere on the Vanderveer farm Flatbush.  The windmill also played a key role during the 1863 Draft Riots in New York.  You can read more about it on our An American Family Grows in Brooklyn online exhibition.  See more of Martense’s photographs here, including the Blizzard of 1888.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering Historical Maps at Brooklyn Historical Society

As I wrap up cataloging the last few maps and polishing the last blog post for this phase of Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)-funded map cataloging for BHS, the time has come to let everyone know what we have accomplished in the last 17 months.

The purpose of a CLIR Hidden Collections grant is to ‘uncover’ ‘hidden’ collections, by making previously uncataloged collections available for discovery on the Web. For libraries, this goal is achieved by the creation of MARC (machine-readable catalog) records for each item in the collection for inclusion in local and international online library holdings catalogs. As libraries face an increasingly digital future, it has become highly desirable to expand these records to include more detailed machine-readable data to be ready for use by future online systems, some barely imagined yet.  For map cataloging, this means creating and including formatted GIS information.

The ‘hidden collection’ for this phase of the grant project was the 20th century map collection.  Since August 2013, records for more than 470 maps and 35 atlases owned by BHS have been added to Bobcat, the online catalog hosted by New York University. Our holdings are also included in the OCLC catalog, and are accessible through Worldcat. Not only have we made these holdings known, but we have enhanced the catalog records wherever possible by including detailed information usually not recorded in a catalog record to increase the likelihood these maps be discovered by those searching for such information. The rich detail of these enhanced records also makes it possible for a researcher to more reasonably assess whether a particular map will meet their needs.

To see a typical record enhancement, I’ll use the “Nester’s Brooklyn Maps” record in Bobcat as an example.  The view shown below—which can be found by clicking ‘more bibliographic information’ in the Bobcat record display—reveals the expanded and detailed content note for the map, along with a note describing content found on the verso. These notes almost always include the phrase ‘covers’ to give a clear geographic description, and ‘shows’ to indicate what kind of information might be found on the map. These note fields are searchable in the catalog by keyword search, so anyone wondering about Brooklyn automobile routes in the 1970’s will find this map as long as they use the keyword search box–usually the default search in Bobcat. In addition, these details, if considered important, are also reflected in the subject headings assigned to the map and so become links in the record display. This map will collate with other maps with the subject heading  ‘Streets — New York (State) — New York — Maps’ or ‘Downtown Brooklyn – Maps.’ In this way, this descriptive catalog record makes discoverable more features about the maps, while providing additional information with which to evaluate its content.

 

Record for Nester's Brooklyn Maps, 1976. Standard view.

Record for Nester’s Brooklyn Maps, 1976, Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection. Standard view.

While borough-wide and city-wide maps are enhanced with attention to important details on the maps, maps covering smaller portions of Brooklyn have been analyzed by neighborhood. Below is a view of the “Borough of Brooklyn 52nd Assembly District, 1971” map record.  In this instance, it is evident the cataloger took pains to identify all seven neighborhoods through which this meandering strip of a district made its way from the Sunset Park to the Fort Greene neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Record for Borough of Brooklyn 52nd Assembly District, 1971. Standard view.

Record for Borough of Brooklyn 52nd Assembly District, 1971, Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection. Standard view.

These neighborhoods are documented in notes, in subject headings, and in machine-readable code found in the 052 field (see the ‘MARC tags view’ below). This identification of neighborhoods, painstakingly undertaken with Kenneth Jackson’s Neighborhoods of Brooklyn (1998) in hand, has proven to be a valuable enhancement for researchers here at BHS, who often seek information for specific neighborhoods.

Record for Borough of Brooklyn 52nd Assembly District, 1971. MARC tags view.

Record for Borough of Brooklyn 52nd Assembly District, 1971, Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection. MARC tags view.

Finally, as part of the CLIR project, we have enhanced catalog records by including geographic coordinates indicating the coverage of each map whenever possible. To return to “Nester’s Map of Brooklyn,” this time on the MARC tags view shown below, scale and coordinate statements are recorded in machine readable and normal formats in the 034 and 255 fields, respectively.  Many maps do not include geographic coordinate information, and it was necessary to determine the boundaries for each map on a case by case basis and put the information into the catalog manually. For this work, the online Bounding Box tool was invaluable, for it made the process as simple as drawing the outline of the boundaries on the Bounding Box tool, and then copying and pasting the coordinates (already properly formatted) right into the catalog record. We were able to include this information as we created new records for maps which had never been cataloged before, and we have started to add them to maps which had already been cataloged without this information.  This retrospective addition of coordinates to old catalog records will be an ongoing process for the cataloging community as we prepare to move to an increasingly digital (i.e. machine-readable data) environment. Here at BHS, we have begun making a contribution to this work both in our own catalog and in Worldcat.

Nesters Map of Brooklyn, MARC tags view.

Record for Nester’s Brooklyn Maps, 1976, Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection. MARC tags view.

 

To share this work, we are publishing a preliminary spreadsheet compiled from the records which have been completed on our catablog, Emma.  The spreadsheet gives basic information about the maps which are helpful for identification: title, author (when available), date, and geographic subject headings. In addition, we have included the OCLC record number, which may prove useful as a unique record identifier as the library catalogs and other indexes move to an increasingly open linked data environment. Also included is the geographic information in the machine readable and standard formats mentioned above. The information on this spreadsheet can be easily edited and formatted into a CSV or KML file and uploaded as a Google Fusion Table where it can be shared, developed and used collaboratively, or imported into GIS applications such as ARCGIS or Google Earth, tools which allow users to display the geographic coverage of our maps, even for specific points in time[1]. These are powerful visualization tools which will give users access to our maps in a way the traditional library catalog cannot.

The creation of the data in the spreadsheet we are posting to Emma is the first step in the process that will bring about such interactive GIS displays. We will continue to enhance our catalog records and expand this spreadsheet, in the hope that we will be ready with the data for future digital projects. It is our hope this preparation will make us attractive to collaborative partners and grant administrators alike. Watch the BHS blog for future posts on our work in this area.

In the meantime, be sure to see the interactive GIS-based map created to illustrate individual cases found in the Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 1843-1920 processed by my colleague, John Zarrillo. Although John utilized pinpoint GIS coordinates instead of bounding coordinates, as was appropriate for his collection, the map illustrates very well how information such as titles, dates, subjects, or item location information can be easily displayed with the wave of a mouse.

The “City, Borough, Neighborhood, Home: Mapping Brooklyn’s Twentieth-Century Urban Identity” project was spearheaded by Julie May (Head of Collection Management), Elizabeth Call (former Head of Reference and User Services), and Jacob Nadal (former Director of the Library and Archives), all of whom contributed to the success of the project.  The grant also funded the processing of our Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 1843-1920. Processing archivist, John Zarrillo, provided a tremendous amount of assistance in assessing GIS applications for the collections processed and cataloged with this CLIR grant. Thanks are also due to Matt Knutzen, Geospatial Librarian at NYPL’s Map Division, who gave us an orientation on potential applications for GIS information in library records. Finally, we would like to thank the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), whose generous funding made this project possible.

 

[1] For an succinct explanation of how such data can be converted into a GIS-based interactive index, see the PDF of the ALA  presentation “Map Indexes: a Practical Application of GIS for a Map Collection” by Christopher J.J. Thiry of the Colorado School of Mines.

 

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Photo of the Week: Merry Christmas

Holidays View 12, ca. 1956, 2006.001.1.131; Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building photographs and architectural drawings, arc.216; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Holidays View 12, ca. 1956, 2006.001.1.131; Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building photographs and architectural drawings, arc.216; Brooklyn Historical Society.

It’s a festive time of year all over Brooklyn and the above photograph is just one of many in our collections illustrating just how celebratory our very own Williamsburgh Savings Bank became while it functioned as a bank.  Extremely large Christmas trees, piles of gifts, highly visible decorations on the façade of the already visible building, and Christmas Shows.  You could imagine the Ye Olde Carolers of PS9 walking down the street from their school in Prospect Heights to their concert performance at the bank in Fort Greene – I wish I could have seen that young Elvis’s slicked and swooped hair in person.

Merry Christmas everyone and stylish caroling wishes all around.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel records now open to researchers!

(left) The Corporation Counsel records in their original storage container. (right) The records after processing -- neatly organized and open to researchers.

(left) The Corporation Counsel records in their original storage container. (right) The records after processing — neatly organized and open to researchers.

This is the final post in a series on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which were processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

After seventeen months of hard work, I’m happy to report that the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel are now open to the public. The records, which date from 1843 to 1920, document legal cases that were brought against the City of Brooklyn (and after 1897, the City of New York), by citizens, corporations, and even other municipalities. Although primarily composed of legal documents, the records also include maps, property records, correspondence, and even a few photographs. Originally housed in about 50 dusty record cartons, the records have been organized and rehoused in over 200 archival boxes.

In addition to the creation of a standard inventory and finding aid, we have also geocoded any records found in the collection involving specific locations. This will allow researchers to browse cases visually on a Google Map, providing yet another access point to the vast collection.

The records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel have numerous research strengths, some of which I will outline below.

Property and building research

Property and building history questions are one of BHS’s primary research inquiries. Our collection includes numerous maps, thousands of building photographs, and land conveyance records dating back to the Dutch settlement of Brooklyn. As it turns out, the Corporation Counsel records contain a tremendous amount of information on Brooklyn property ownership in the late 19th century.

There are two types of cases involving property which appear frequently in the records, damage claims and assessment disputes. Damage claims include the names of property owners, which are always useful for researchers, but the assessment disputes sometimes include even more information. Tax disputes involved investigating property title ownership, so these records sometime include lists of former owners, along with deeds and other supporting documents.

The Corporation Counsel was also involved in opening of streets throughout Brooklyn. Naturally, the street opening files include the names of numerous property owners along the newly opened roadways. The city was also involved in foreclosure proceedings, which included careful documentation of property ownership. Finally, the records include a number of maps, which were sometimes used as evidence in cases.

List of property transactions; Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

List of property transactions; Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

Municipal government and civil service research

The records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel represent one of the largest collections of the municipal records of the former City of Brooklyn. They provide unique insight into the governing of the city, particularly the role of the city’s Law Department. The Corporation Counsel records include a series of correspondence containing communications between the Department of Law with other municipal agencies and officers. The departments of Finance, Water Supply, Public Works, Health, Education, Fire, and Police are all well represented.

The records also include numerous grievances related to the city’s civil service. There are numerous cases involving salary disputes and dismissals for a wide variety of positions in the city government. Common positions included policemen, teachers, and clerks. There were some more esoteric positions as well, such as a biologist employed by the Department of Health, and the Inspector of Leaky Plumbing.

The City of Brooklyn ceased to exist in 1898 when it merged with the Greater City of New York. Researchers interested in the merger’s effect on city workers should examine the many disputes related to civil service employment and salary which were filed in years following the city’s consolidation.

This trolley speeding violation is example of a record relating to Brooklyn's transportation system.

This trolley speeding violation is example of a record relating to Brooklyn’s transportation system. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

Infrastructure research

The evolution of Brooklyn from a village in a rural county to a metropolis is well documented in the records. Numerous cases involve the city’s transportation system, specifically the numerous elevated and surface railroad lines which crisscrossed the countryside in the late 19th century. The city’s sewer and drainage system was greatly expanded at this time, which of course resulted in endless civil suits involving homes flooded with raw sewage. Cases involving Brooklyn’s gas and electrical power supply system also provide insight into the growth of the city.

The major infrastructure problem of the day, however, was the city’s water supply. The records document the city’s effort to obtain new sources of fresh water, which involved the construction of an aqueduct that ran from East New York, through Jamaica, and well into central Long Island. This naturally led to conflicts with local land owners and other municipalities, which can be explored in the Corporation Counsel records.

Mapping and GIS

Map of legal cases filed against the City of Brooklyn.

Map of legal cases filed against the City of Brooklyn. You can search around the map yourself here.

In an effort to make the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation more accessible to researchers, tagged all the legal records involving specific locations with geographical coordinates. All of that data was assembled in a spreadsheet, and then displayed on a Google Map. This will be useful for researchers who are interested in a specific location or a general area. For instance, someone conducting property history research can simply zoom into their street address to see if there are any claims for damage to their building. Other research applications might include searching for intersections or streets which were particular hazardous to pedestrians, or areas of Brooklyn which were especially prone to sewer flooding.

We will also be making the raw GIS available to the public, and invite and expect our users to interpret the new data in new and interesting ways.

A complete guide to the collection is available online. The mapped version of the collection is hosted on BHS’s catablog, Emma. For more information on the Corporation Counsel records, please see my series of blog posts over the past 17 months.

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Photo of the Week: Festival of Lights

Brilliant Luna Park at Night, 1903, v1972.1.1031; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Brilliant Luna Park at Night, 1903, v1972.1.1031; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week’s photo is to acknowledge the Festival of Lights, Chanukkah.  The festival began on Tuesday at sundown and continues all the way to Christmas Eve!  Enjoy the chocolates, dreidl spinning, and fried food.  If you find yourself unfamiliar with this holiday, read more here.

The above stereograph is of Luna Park in its heyday when electricity was still a novelty and Coney Island was a major attraction.  A new Luna Park opened in Coney Island in 2005 and consists of a combination of amusement park attractions, retail shops, and residences.

A stereograph is a photographic technique that renders a 3-d image when viewed through a stereoviewer.  The obsession with stereographs continues today: the New York Steroscopic Society, The Stereoscopic Society (in the UK), and the National Stereoscopic Association offer information and events in which to participate.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives | Tagged , , | 1 Comment