Between finishing my undergrad and starting an MSc In GIS at Edinburgh I avoided real work by cycling around Scotland, visiting the 78 mountain bothies maintained by the MBA in the Highlands and Islands.
Bothies are buildings in remote locations that provide basic shelter to any who need it. In each bothy there is a visitor book of comments which range from humdrum remarks on the weather to scribbled pages of incomprehensible lunacy. I diligently read through these books and copied the best entries: poems, witticisms, songs, short stories and nuggets of wisdom that captured the unique sense of place of each bothy. When I returned home I considered how to share these stories that are intractably linked to places, perhaps some form of wilderness writing map would be the best way? Lacking any knowledge about how to do this, I instead wrapped the notes in an elastic band, left them under my bed and forgot all about them.
Fast forward to choosing a dissertation topic for the MSc in GIS. Because of the cross-diciplinary nature of GIS there are a wide range of different research topics and choosing one was not easy. I thought back to the wad of hard-collected bothies stories now collecting dust and found it was anomalous that we have location-based searching of things such as restaurants, shops and transport but no way of searching for books or stories about our current location. Searching to find the nearest ATM or postbox is trivial on a smartphone but we can’t readily discover novels about our environment. Evidently there is some demand: the window displays of Edinburgh’s bookshops are stuffed with locally significant novels and history books however there is no parallel service on any e-reader or online bookstore.
I decided to investigate further. For the dissertation component of the MSc I examined options for the automated geolocation of books. I have subsequently built a book map by disambiguating existing crowd-sourced book location data. The map allows users to search for books about all corners of the earth at country, region and local scales.
I think this service will become increasingly useful as people are reading and travelling more and increasingly using e-readers and tablets to consume books. Most of these devices are location-aware so can automatically recommend books about the place you happen to be in. Furthermore, (at least in Scotland) there may be a more general resurgent interest in all things local and traditional.
There are more than 16,000 books on the book map at www.mappit.net/bookmap with more added every day. If you take a look at it I would be very grateful for any feedback about how you think this service could be improved or expanded.