Library asks public to help train computers to read old city maps

NYPL aims to get the crowd involved in making digital maps searchable.

Amateur cartographers, unite! The New York Public Library is asking the public to help it train its computers to read old maps of the city.

The maps are from the late 1800s and have been digitized, but to make them searchable a team of software developers at the library have created an online tool to identify buildings and locations.

Anyone from the public can help by visiting the Building Inspector website and entering addresses, classifying buildings by their colors and checking building footprints or fixing them.  

NYPL Labs’ Ben Vershbow said the tool “invites the public to actively participate in the reinvention of the Library.” 

“We believe public libraries can be built in collaboration with the public, not unlike Wikipedia or open source software,” he added.

The goal of the crowdsourcing effort is to “harvest all the fantastic detail from the original maps” to allow researchers in the not-to-distant future to ask questions of them.

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