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Geotagging at State Records NSW – Help Wanted

Following on from our Geospatial post earlier this week we are here to talk Geotags. Geotagging is the process of adding metadata about geographical location to items such as photographs, archives and websites.

At present our main intellectual control systems are not equipped to deal with Geotags. However, we are experimenting on a very small scale with geotagging images on our Flickr account. It is amazing how something so simple can add layers of context and accessibility to a record. In a small experiment on Flickr we have geotagged some of our photos of train stations around New South South Wales. Other images have also been geotagged by Flickr friends.

How did we geotag railway stations on Flickr?

An example using Wikipedia

Wikipedia has quite detailed information on railway stations, including co-ordinates. Here is a photo on our Flickr account of Springwood Railway Station dated 1953.
Railway Station - Springwood

A quick internet search of “Springwood railway station” and we find this on Wikipedia (note the co-ordintes to the right).

Clicking the co-ordinates brings up GeoHack where the correct format for the Flickr tag can be found.

Add the tags to Flickr – there are three separate tags to enter:

  • geotagged
  • geo:lon=xxx.xxxxxx
  • geo:lat=-xx.xxxxxx

And we end up with this:

You can search for “railway station” on our Flickr map to see the progress

Experts out there may have an easier way to do this and we’d love to hear how.

What’s the Plan?

The plan is that once our own control systems can handle the data we will transfer it across. So far we have only been able geotag a few images, however, we’d love to have more. If you’re interested, perhaps you can help? Anyone with a flickr account can tag our images so if geography is your thing we would love for you to give us a hand!

Any and all help is much appreciated!

Category: Digital 2.0
  • nicole says:

    awesome! some of us are going to have a field day with this :-)

    June 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm
  • enno says:

    in your example there, you got the longitude and lattitude the wrong way around.

    for anywhere in NSW, the 150. number is the longitude.

    the – thirty something number is the lattitude

    June 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm
  • enno says:

    So I went and added the lattitude and longitude for half a dozen of your old post office images. flickr seems to have accepted them, but they don’t show up on your map. Not sure why that is.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm
  • enno says:

    the flickr map only seems to accept photos where you have manually pinpointed the location on the map. the flickr map seems to ignore the geotag tags. there are items on your flickr map which don’t have the location tags, and there are items which do have the location tags, which are not on your map.
    Also, when it searches for other photos with the same tag, the search leaves out the decimal point in the coordinate which makes the search apparently useless.

    June 3, 2011 at 12:00 am
  • Anthea Brown says:

    @enno Thanks for picking up the reversed co-ordinates, we can fix that easy enough.

    As far as we can tell the system doesn’t automatically add geotagged images to the Flickr map but we can add the images ourselves, periodically, using the co-ordinates in the geotags. It would be great if this process was automatic and hopefully is something Flickr will improve in the future.

    @nicole Go for it!

    June 3, 2011 at 9:08 am
  • Paul Godden says:

    We are currently investigating the creation of a system that would firstly geo-tag (not just point but also extent)all your files, archives, maps and photos and then use a spatially search tool to identify specific data. One example would be to allow you to identify archivial maps that cover a certain area (via a point on a map interface) and then display them in their correct position on current maps. I have been working with the State Records Office in WA and I am drumming up support for the project with other WA agencies. I would like the opportunity to discuss this with you further.

    June 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm
  • beachcomberaustralia says:

    Hmm . . . Sorry to be a doubting Thomas, but I think this is a nightmare of misinformation about to happen, like the appalling titling howlers you have inherited on Series 4481. Unless it is under very tight editorial control, crowdsourcing (what a truly awful expression!) the geotagging is like the proverbial camel – a horse designed by a committee.

    A quick look at your Flickr Map shows numerous wrong locations already, even just around the Circular Quay area. The same problem exists with the Powerhouse Museum Collection photostream. I got fed up with asking to get them corrected. There was a trial program which supposedly suggested geolocations to the ‘owner’, but there was no way of knowing what happened to suggestions, and zero feedback. The flickr/yahoo maps are not detailed enough for the museum-quality task. eg The Lands Department Building located in Alfred Street Circular Quay is simply wrong information which will be spread.

    Also a photo view has several locations – the subject(s) and the place / direction of the view. eg – Would a view from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge be geotagged correctly as chair, house or bridge? I would presume chair, but you understand the point. A panorama, like the one from the Rocks chimney, needs direction arrows to avoid utter confusion.

    Hoping to be proved wrong – I like to click those Wikipedia links and find out where things are.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm
  • enno says:

    There is also the small maps which appear on the top right of the page for a lot of your photos. I don’t know what turns these maps on and off. The presence and non-presence of the small map does not seem to correlate with whether the image is geotagged or not.

    One of the photos of the Macquarie lighthouse shows up correctly at Vaucluse. The next photo is of a Wollongong lighthouse which shows up at …. Vaucluse. And the next shot of the same Wollongong Lighthouse shows up at Wollongong.

    There are also a few towns I noticed in Wikipedia which have the wrong coordinates – most of them are right.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm
  • Iain Stuart says:

    I think this idea has great potential but am very aware of the sort of problems that Beachcomber has brought up. Some clown once said that “women cant read maps” but the truth is that many people cannot read maps and when it comes to grid coordinates well…

    Apart from anything else there are the various grid systems to consider (if you head off to the Parish maps in the Lands Dept website you will pass a tab that explains quite a bit about them).

    I geotag my photos (as well as adding Exif metadata) because I have used a few photos I took 20 years ago and have had trouble remembering exactly where I was. I want to pass on images that at least say something about where they are, as well as what they are. There are various programs to do this as well as using the Flickr app.

    The question with all this is authority, somebody should check to make sure the Broken Hill Town Hill doesn’t show up in Vaculuse. Who is going to do this and if Beachcomer and I disagree who is going to referee?

    Another point is the question of abandoned and redundant place names if you have an image of mining at Mitchell’s Creek for example where is it? There are two mining areas within 50 miles of each other called Mitchell’s creek and even the Department of Mines made mistakes about which one documents refer to.

    I broke my foot at Argenton (which even had a school) but not the one near Cockle Creek. It’s an abandoned town site like 1000’s of others and who would know where a photo marked “Argenton” could be geo-tagged??

    Nevertheless think of the benefits of geotagging the AO photo collection particularly to future generations (and to professional historians).


    June 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm
  • enno says:

    If you and beachcomber disagree, I will referee

    June 6, 2011 at 10:20 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    @enno Thanks for pointing out the Longtitude/Latitude error. I’ve edited the post to correct this. By the way, we (and by “we” that would mean Anthea) have used the batch process in Flickr to add all our geotagged photos to the Flickr map (we also fixed obvious errors, such as the photo of Wollongong Lighthouse showing up at Vaucluse). With regards to the small maps appearing at the side of the image after geotagging it does seem to take at least a day or two for them to materialise.

    @Paul Godden Thanks for expressing your interest, I’ve forwarded your details on to the relevant people at State Records.

    @beachcomberaustralia Those are definitely valid concerns and ones which apply more broadly to user generated content as a whole. Flickr users can already tag content in our photostream so in that sense the geotagging option is really no different. However, the quality control aspect is definitely something we need to work through. Compared to the Powerhouse we are in the very early stages of dealing with user generated content and are still experimenting. As you point out the accuracy of the geotags is key to their usefulness and is definitely something we will be looking at addressing. You raise some of the trickier issues as well, such as how precise the geo-tags need to be, and whether we should tag the location the image was taken from or the places captured in the image. In the instance you cited it would be great to capture both although I don’t think Flickr gives us that capacity at the moment. In one sense the process of geotagging does involve a bit of technical nouse so it may not be something that your average user will attempt, which may help to keep the inaccuracy to a minimum. Lastly in defence of the the howlers in Series 4481 they do lead to some fun times!

    @Iainstuart I’m so glad you qualified the statement about women not being able to read maps lol. Quality control is the key and that is something that will evolve as we go along. @enno has bravely stepped in to referee disputes (Thankyou!), however, ultimately Ithe buck will stop with State Records on that one. The issue of redundant/multiple/changing place names is far trickier. It’s not an uncommon occurence for us to have readers in the reading room asking about places that we can’t find in any of the conventional guides. At this stage the best we can do is note any reservations in a comment. This is definitely one of those situations where we can learn best by doing, there’s some amazing potential in this!

    June 8, 2011 at 11:35 am
  • Iain Stuart says:


    are State Archives aware of the information available in the state archives relating to places?? I am not saying this to bag the archivists as its a huge collection and you can’t know everything. I found a very handy Lands Department list of Counties, Parishes and Districts (which I photocopied) which is allways usefull for searching odd places.

    The Grographical Names Broards site is also very usefull but is only good for current names and their histoical information is poor.

    There are often redundant towns listed on old Parish Plans.

    Place Names would be a good opportunity for a geo tagging/crowd sourcing program perhaps in association with Place Names Australia.

    May be a simple on-line list would be a start – and I am sure some of the “map” companies might help with some sponsorship in the form of partnerships.


    June 11, 2011 at 10:51 am
  • Fiona Sullivan says:


    It would be fair to say we are aware of a lot of the location data in the collection, although with 67 linear shelf kilometres one of the joys and frustrations is that there are a lot of things yet to be discovered. We do have a list of Counties etc., although it would be interesting to compare the two. The Geographical Names Board is great and is one we use a lot as well as “Wells Geographical Dictionary” and E. C. Gleeson’s “Alphabetical List of Names of Cities, Towns and Villages…” amongst others. One of the problems we face with place names is that often people are recalling a name passed down through the family which can a) be distorted over time or b) is not a place name at all and is the name of a house, property or even Great Uncle Hector’s niece who used to live there!

    The taxonomy involved in preparing a list of historical place names would be very interesting and equally very complex. Doing this and geotagging them would be a fantastic candidate for a crowd sourcing project. However, as you suggest, it would need to be driven by a sponsor based in the field of Geoscience and incorporate partnerships with experts from a number of diverse disciplines.

    I believe that geotags in a web environment have the potential to be a very powerful tool in opening up the accessibility of collections. As Archivists we need to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to apply them!

    PS My apologies for the delay in replying.

    (Edited because unfinished sentences should be…finished.)

    June 18, 2011 at 9:55 pm