Using Archival Content to Affordably Decorate Your Home

Posted on July 24, 2017

by Samantha A

Recently, I was looking to add some wall décor to our apartment. The search for artwork started on Etsy and that led to the discovery of vintage maps, but the high prices were astounding – much higher than expected. As an archivist specializing in digitization, I started shaking my head as soon as the realization hit that I could easily find vintage maps in archival collections and print them myself for a tenth of the cost.

So, I started my search by looking at the Digital Public Library of America, which aggregates archival materials, such as maps, letters, postcards, and photos, so they’re easily searchable by subject, date, and type. Since I live in Perrysburg, my search began by entering “Perrysburg Ohio map” into the search bar. There was only one result, and it was not a map of Perrysburg, so I decided to search using the keywords “Toledo Ohio map” instead. The first result was captivating, so I followed the link provided … it led me to the original item on the Library of Congress website … resulting in a great find (see image below). The map was exactly what I was looking for–not in copyright and easily downloadable. I selected the format and size I wanted (hi-resolution JPEG), clicked “Go”, and saved it to my desktop.  I was excited by my find and eager to search for more materials that could be used to decorate our walls.

Next, I discovered a map from the David Rumsey Map Collection. While this collection offers the option to buy a print, you can also download it using a not very intuitive button entitled “Export.” Again, I saved the file to my desktop.

Before downloading these items, I made sure to check the copyright status. Items created before 1923 are now in the public domain, but you’ll want to double check the copyright information before printing, and especially before selling, any content that you do not have the rights to. This information should be outlined in DPLA and/or on the contributing institution’s website, but if you have any questions, be sure to contact the institution hosting the content.

After checking copyright and downloading the maps, I went to Costco (not sponsored) to print them. After uploading them they were ready an hour later. Of course, you don’t have to use Costco, you could use any printing service. While I searched for maps, postcards and photos related to the Toledo area, you can search for whatever you’d like to feature in your home. The most important thing is to check the copyright status. I ended up printing these two maps for less than $7.00, when similar items retail on Etsy for over $30.00 apiece. After adding frames, I’ll have several pieces that I can hang up in my home for a very affordable price.

In total, there were 38 results for the “Toledo Ohio map” search string, which is not very many compared to other cities. This is likely due to the fact that Ohio was only recently accepted into the Digital Public Library of America, which means the Toledo, Ohio library digital collections haven’t been aggregated yet. So, all of the search results for “Toledo Ohio map” were in fact coming from institutions outside of the state that had already been accepted into the DPLA for some time now. Currently, you can find materials about Ohio, but even more content related to our state will be available in 2018.

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