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Capturing the past and planning for the future: building a digital library for Oregon's Sustainable Community.


Portland, Oregon has a reputation for strong land use planning, protecting green space, and investing in a regional transportation system. Various reports, maps, meeting notes and other planning documentation have been produced by the agencies responsible for these planning endeavours. Despite their value to planners, scholars, and the general public these materials traditionally have not been made widely accessible. Individuals at Portland State University (PSU) saw an opportunity to create an electronic resource to fill this need. In the fall of 2005, the Oregon Sustainable Community Digital Library (OSCDL) was launched and made available at <> with the assistance of an Oregon State Library, Library Services and Technology grant and through the collaborative efforts among PSU and various municipal, regional, and state agencies. PSU's Millar Library served as the lead grant participant. This innovative project, the first of its kind at the university, was created in an effort to address the need for the preservation and archiving of planning materials. Rose M. Jackson, PSU Urban and Public Affairs Librarian, describes the specific dilemma faced by the university prior to the creation of the OSCDL:
 We have a nationally recognized Urban Studies program, and several
 municipal planning departments that are constantly referenced in
 presentations and publications. We have cutting-edge urban planning
 that impacts the local, regional, state, national and international
 arena. Yet we lack a central depository for either a print or
 digital collection for our students, faculty, researchers and
 citizen scholars (Jackson 2005: 103).

This scenario is one likely faced by numerous other institutions involved in urban and city planning and conducting comparative analysis research. In addition to the primary planning literature widely scattered among multiple municipal and state agencies, other factors contribute to the need for a central repository. These include the lack of dissemination of material produced by these agencies, as well as the varying retention schedules at the sites responsible for storing and archiving the documents. For some municipal agencies, the purpose of the archival collection is to support the organization; in this way, the value of the collection is more administrative than historical. If the collection in question is purely functional and holds no long-term importance for that agency, it is possible that the materials will be destroyed once the retention schedule designates they are no longer needed. The OSCDL offers a chance to "rescue" documents that may have value to scholars, researchers and planners, but are no longer useful to the parent organization. This represents a shift in the purpose of traditional record collecting in the field of urban planning. The acquisition, digitization and retention of materials for the OSCDL is conducted to support scholarly research and address the needs of the Portland community, rather than the agencies where they originated.

Much of the planning literature is classified as grey literature, making it even more difficult to obtain. The definition of grey literature adopted at the Third International Conference on Grey Literature in Luxembourg is: "that which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers" (Farace 1997: iii). This offers some explanation as to why materials in this field are not widely disseminated or readily available for the general public. Taking these access barriers into account, the OSCDL was organized in an attempt to provide a central repository for the collection, accession, and dissemination of key planning documents that chronicle and detail the initiatives and decision-making that have shaped the current state of development in the Portland Metropolitan area.

Collection Building

As a result of its emphasis on strong citizen participation, central city development, neighborhood revitalization, alternative transportation and responsible land growth management, Portland is often regarded as a model city for sustain-ability and good city planning. The OSCDL aims to tell the story of how Portland has become regarded as such a livable city, with the goal of extending representation of the entire state of Oregon within the collection.

In order to prioritize which materials would best capture the ongoing story of planning innovations and policy in Oregon, and more specifically the Portland Metropolitan area, guidelines for inclusion in the digital library needed to be developed. A framework for collection development for the digital library was written by Professor Carl Abbott, a distinguished scholar on the history of planning in America (e.g. Abbott 1983, 1987, 1993, 1999) and faculty member of the Portland State University Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Abbott's (2005) guiding document identified five broad categories under which relevant documents will be classified. The first, "Strong Center: Downtown and Neighborhoods," encompasses planning initiatives, such as the city-county sponsored Portland Downtown Plan (1972) and the city-sponsored Central City Plan (1988), which aimed to conserve and revitalize the downtown district. Additionally, planning documents involving the renewal of older neighborhoods will be included under this first category.

"Regional Plans and Government," was identified as the second area of focus. The title aptly describes the kinds of documents intended for inclusion--policy decisions and planning material produced by regional governance. For example, documentation associated with the locally-governed Metro 2040 Growth Concept and Regional Framework Plan will be placed in this category. On a broader scale, planning material on the national and multi-state sponsored Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act will be classified under this subject.

The third category, "Natural Environment," features the integration of the natural environment within the Portland Metropolitan area's urban environment. Appropriate material for this category will include documents on the restoration of the Willamette River, records from non-profit advocacy organizations who strive to protect small waterways, wetlands, and natural spaces, Portland Parks Plans, and any other documents concerning planning and environmental impact.

"Transportation," the fourth classification grouping, will amass a great deal of material since much of Portland's key planning accomplishments center around its transportation system. Documents concerning the area's growing system of rail-based transit and historical decisions to reject additional freeway systems will be of particular significance in this category.

The final area of focus identified in the framing document is "Citizen Action and Participation." Materials appropriate for this category reflect the manifestation of the public's involvement in the city planning process. Meeting minutes, newsletters, recommendations, survey results, and research reports from citizen groups such as the City Club of Portland, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and Friends of the Reservoirs, will be included. Abbott was aware that public participation permeates all the aforementioned categories, and that some documentation selected for the digital library would fit in more than one category.

In addition to outlining general categories upon which the collection development for the digital library should build, the framing document inventoried the governmental entities and agencies, civic action groups, and individuals that should be considered when selecting material for the library. The nature of these entities and their role in sustainability-related planning is based on (1) how they fit within the geographic scope or scale of the community and (2) the extent of legal authority that can be exercised by each. The different types of urban planning and policy materials these entities produce that would be useful to the ODSCL were identified. By collecting a range of documents, the ODSCL can provide a more complete picture of the decision-making process and political factors associated with planning. The types of planning documents produced by these entities range from meeting minutes, correspondence and public input materials that shed light on the varied reasons behind public decisions at one end of the spectrum, to officially adopted plans and legally adopted implementation measures such as zoning codes and city council decisions.

An explanation of sustainable development may be useful because it helps to contextualize the types of planning materials described above and the entities that produce them. Within the framing document, Abbott (2005) describes sustainability, in varying levels of complexity, as the balance of environmental protection, economic development, and social equity. Similarly, the State of Oregon offers this definition:
 Sustainability means using, developing and protecting resources at a
 rate and in a manner that enables people to meet their current needs
 and also provides that future generations can meet their own needs.
 Sustainability requires simultaneously meeting environmental,
 economic and community needs (State of Oregon 2000).

Ideally, the OSCDL and its collections will reflect how the Portland Metropolitan area has met and continues to meet the challenge of meeting these needs and achieving the goals of sustainable development. In addition, the OSCDL needs to consider its own potential to be sustained as a central repository for capturing and preserving these processes.

Sustainability Through Collaboration

The collaborative nature of the OSCDL is perhaps the key element in creating a strong collection that highlights both past and present efforts to engage in sustainable development in Oregon and the Portland Metropolitan area. The partnerships that have been formed since the inception of the project have made it possible to collect documents that are difficult to access and, in some cases, to save materials scheduled for discard. Table 1 provides a list of these collaborative partners.

These individual contributors and agency partners do more than simply provide the OSCDL with unique and diverse materials. Their involvement in helping build a digital repository ensures that instead of relying on parallel structures for storing information, planning resources can continually be added and easily accessed in one central location. There is no finite end to the material either produced or provided by many of the project contributors, and this continual output of material serves to make this a sustainable project. Metro has agreed to continue adding the meeting notes of JPACT, an ongoing committee chronicling citizen input on transportation policy. Additionally, the Regional and Land Information System data provided by this partner contributes to the sustainability of the project, in that a unified data resource including historical and current land use information is available to researchers and allows for comparison between varying jurisdictions within the region over time.

Other partners' contributions ensure that a sustainable record of primary planning documents can be maintained. The material digitized from the City of Portland Archives includes first drafts of plans and reports that capture snapshots of policy at a particular point in time, which might otherwise be lost due to retention schedules. This partner has also given information specialists working on the project greater access to other records and record holders in the region, which will aid in the sustained growth of the digital library collection.

OSCDL partnerships also contribute to the economic sustainability of the project. The City Club of Portland, for example, has expressed interest in seeking additional funding to digitize the remainder of print ballot measure reports and studies in their collection. Other partners will continue to add digitally born documents from their collections to the digital library, shifting responsibility of digitization costs from the OSCDL to individual agencies.

Maps and Geographical Information Systems

So far, the predominant focus of this article has been on the importance of digitizing documents within the OSCDL. However, the digitization of maps is just as imperative as they greatly contribute to the scholarly and navigational value of the online repository.


In the OSCDL, advances in online mapping technologies have led to the marriage of traditional library collections and GIS mapping technology, creating a new, more flexible type of information repository. The digital library's goal is that by querying spatial data, a researcher can find documents pertaining to a specific area and then browse nearby neighborhoods for related information. This approach to planning research will frame traditional questions in a non-traditional, spatially-oriented manner and lead to a deeper understanding of cause and effect on a variety of scales.

OSCDL Interactive Mapping

As previously mentioned, the OSCDL hosts data sets which can be represented in the form of an interactive map. Metro has contributed multiple years of Geographic Information System (GIS) data from the well-known Regional Land Information System. Released quarterly since 1996, RLIS provides spatial data on the region's land, economy, and population and covers the three counties and 25 cities in the metro area. This resource allows researchers to use the map feature to control over 60 data layers and use a simple query tool to gather information about the areas under Metro's jurisdiction. For example, a user can view Portland's watershed boundaries, the urban growth boundary, park districts, or transportation routes and explore how those features have changed over several years. The user will be able to also choose which data release to use for their mapping, export an image of the map they have created, or download the GIS data for inclusion in their own project.

The mapping interface has the potential to interest and serve a diverse population for a variety of purposes. Scholars from diverse professions may use the map to browse land use data and other ecological data, such as soils, watersheds and wetlands. A runner looking for a hilly route may use the contour dataset while preparing a new workout. A citizen can use the tool to discover new parks, figure out who their garbage hauling service is provided by, and learn the approximate location of their property lines. An elementary school teacher could use the tool to teach their class basic geography, while older students might create and print custom maps for a report, or help provide a driving map for out-of-town guests.

To date, the repository has already served as an important document resource for planning professionals at Metro and students in several programs at PSU. Maps available through the OSCDL that show the historic boundaries of urbanization of Portland were digitized, overlaid, and then exhibited at a regional planning event designed to help Portland citizens understand the physical shape of the region's growth, as well as frame a discussion about how to manage future growth. The maps were featured in a local paper as the graphical component to an article, and served to help tell the region's settlement story. It is telling that in early use, the material in the OSCDL has already contributed to strong citizen involvement in the planning process.

As a part of the document cataloging process, an end goal is for each document to receive a geographic location tag. For example, a document related to Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland might receive its location name as a searchable attribute, in addition to the latitude and longitude corresponding to its center geographic location. With this information, a user could search for information about Pioneer Courthouse Square using two methods: by entering the name of the Square as in a traditional library or internet search, or by going to the interactive map, specifying a search area, and then examining the document list associated with that area. By selecting the area of Pioneer Square to search, a user might receive results that include a historic map of the Square, a comprehensive neighborhood plan from 1970, historical photos from 1998 and 2001 and various memos addressing program funding and scheduling. In addition to the list of available documents, users can see the Square, its location in the city, the surrounding roads, land uses, zoning, water features, recent building permits, and any other features they wish to enable. This multi-faceted search approach leads to a much richer understanding of the Square, its historical context and how people experience this unique amenity.

Technical Considerations


Ninety-five percent of monographs, reports, correspondence and other planning documents selected for inclusion in the OSCDL are scanned and digitized by an outside vendor. Pre-processing performed at the PSU Library includes thematic organization of the documents, and the creation of detailed transmittal notes. Each transmittal note describes the item in the following ways: pagination, page orientation, presence of graphic images or color, and the document's unique file name. The file name schema was developed by library catalogers working on the project, and reflects the agency or collection of origin and the assigned theme. Photocopies of each document are made on acid-free preservation quality paper; items donated to the library by individual contributors are retained in the PSU Library Special Collections, and the remainder are returned to their respective agencies. Items that are unbound, in good condition, and need to be quickly returned to the agency of origin are scanned in-house.

In both cases, standards as to how the materials will be handled and scanned are followed. Bitonal, black and white text only documents are scanned at a resolution of 300dpi, and a bit depth of 1. Documents with color, graphs, or other images are scanned at 600 dpi, 24 bit depth. Each document becomes one derivative PDF file with Optical Character Recognition (OCR). TIFF files, a widely accepted standard format, are also created for each document. This file format is an uncompressed, raw, universal data format, and allows data storage without any information loss and any use of proprietary data formats, which gives it a good chance of remaining viable for storage and future translation.

After the digitization process, the documents are made available for public use in two ways. First, the collection is made accessible through the PSU Library catalog in PDF file format. Bibliographic Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records are created for each item, and linked to the digitized document stored on the PSU server. Metadata used to describe these documents includes geographic coordinates to support the interactive mapping feature of the OSCDL. The records are batch loaded into the catalog and linked hierarchically using Innovative Interfaces Inc.'s (III) Electronic Resource Management (ERM) product. This model of access allows users to locate planning documents in the digital library collection along with other related documents in the PSU library's physical collection (Brenner et al. 2006). It should be noted that some documents, particularly those scanned in-house, have yet to be loaded into the PSU library catalog--although that is a future goal of the project. These documents, however, have been uploaded to the OSCDL database, a process described below.

In addition to the PSU Library catalog access point, researchers can view material in the digital collection via the OSCDL website. PSU's Academic Research and Computing (ARC) department is responsible for building the administrative side of the database so that new material can easily be added to the collection. This back-end architecture was built using MySQL and can be described as a Semantic Web, which "provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries" (Herman 2006). When items are uploaded to the website, the system assigns a unique, randomly generated name that is stored in the database and used as a link between the library record and digital document. The individual uploading the documents can enter basic bibliographic information as well as attach predetermined descriptive labels to represent thematic content, contributing agency, and document type. Researchers can then browse the collection using these labels or search by title, author or other bibliographic element. Since the digitized documents include OCR functionality, eventually the text of documents will be searchable using the OSCDL database. This is a feature being developed by the ARC team.

As a result of the administrative architecture created by ARC, partner agencies that have been granted uploading capabilities can remotely add new, relevant documents and data to the digital library. An approval queue has been implemented to hold these new documents until an OSCDL administrator can review them, at which point the files will be added to the collection. This function further facilitates collaboration and allows the project partners to actively participate in the collection development process.


In addition to supporting the architecture and administration of static material in the digital library, ARC is working toward a goal of representing these documents in the form of an interactive mapping tool, as mentioned above. More specifically, this tool would allow for a particular planning document to be viewed at the same time as an available map image of the area to which the plan refers. Several open source software packages are being used to build this content and mapping database. Specifically, PostGIS supports the spatial database used to store and query geographic data. The University of Minnesota's MapServer is used to render the stored data and make it available to users via the web. The functionality of each software package is accessed through a variety of coding languages including JavaScript, PHP, and MapScript.

Inclusion of maps within the digital library has presented many challenges, specifically the accommodation of varying sizes of physical and digital documents, as well as document conversion and storage.

The maps range from letter to wall-sizes. Most of the maps are larger than a standard computer screen, making them difficult to view and requiring additional considerations for storage and access. Because documents must be scanned and stored at resolutions high enough to retain document legibility, scans of poster or wall-sized maps result in digital file sizes that can take significant time to view over an internet connection. To mitigate this problem, map images will be available in several different sizes: thumbnails for quick preview, small for web display, and larger size images can be downloaded by users to their desktops for later exploration on their personal computers. Another challenge is that large documents have exceeded the maximum size of available scanners, resulting in single maps being stored as two or more distinct digital files. Multiple digital files also exist for two sided maps or map books that depict conditions over a corridor. In these cases, a digital search will return all files that are associated with a single map and note the linkage between files.

With respect to the preservation of the digital files within the OSCDL, it should be noted that the project works upon the LOCKSS model: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. Contributing agencies receive an electronic version of the material they have donated, ensuring that the digitized documents and maps in the OSCDL are being saved in more than one place.

The Future of the OSCDL

Improvements in the next phase will likely include a side-by-side map comparison to allow viewing of change over time and the addition of data from other sources. Several historic maps will be digitized to allow the overlay of current datasets and the opportunity for users to view changes in an area over time. Another potential goal is the construction of digital data sets from specific historic maps in the collection, such as Portland's road network in 1851, or the extent of historic water service districts. Analytical tools will likely be built based on the functionality of open source GIS platform GRASS, or capabilities allowed by PostGIS. Such tools would allow a user to measure distances between two features, trace a route and determine travel time, find a slope at a given point or count the number of points (for example building permits or businesses) in an area.

The interactive mapping feature will eventually be released as an open source product for others to use. Ideally, this product can serve as a model for use by other agencies or organizations interested in providing a similar service for its users.

The current blend of public and private partnerships resulting from this project is reflective of the Portland community. Ideally, the OSCDL will become a key player in the community by supporting thoughtful city planning and civic engagement. In order to make the project a continued success, existing partnerships will need to be maintained and new collaboration opportunities sought. Hopefully, the digital library will serve as a model for other institutions or agencies interested in providing access to urban planning and policy materials, but deterred by the difficult task of preserving and centrally collecting such material.

Currently, tools within the OSCDL are still in the developmental stage; however, the resource is available for public use. In order to determine whether the project is living up to its mission and has increased access to planning literature, end-user surveys or focus groups will be conducted. The data garnered from this user testing will help the project move into a beta stage, at which point the digital repository will operate as a valuable and useful resource within reach of the average citizen. The ultimate goal of the OSCDL is for the availability of Portland's planning documents and GIS data to inspire users to want to learn more about the approaches that have contributed to the coining of the phrase, "Portland, the city that works."


Abbott, Carl. 1983. Portland: Planning, Politics, and Growth in a Twentieth-Century City. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Abbott, Carl. 1987. The New Urban America: Growth and Politics in Sunbelt Cities. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Abbott, Carl. 1993. The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Abbott, Carl. 1999. Political Terrain: Washington, D.C., From Tidewater Town to Global Metropolis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Abbott, Carl. 2005. Planning a Sustainable Portland: A Digital Library for Local, Regional, and State Planning and Policy Documents: Framing Paper. Oregon Sustainable Community Digital Library. [accessed on: July 9, 2007].

Brenner, Michaela, Tom Larsen, and Claudia Weston. 2006. Digital Collection Management Through the Library Catalog. Information Technology and Libraries 25(2): 65-77.

Farace, Dominic J., ed. 1998. Third International Conference on Grey Literature: GL '97 Conference Proceedings: Perspectives on the Design and Transfer of Scientific and Technical Information, November 13-14, 1997. Amsterdam: GreyNet.

Herman, Ivan. 2006. W3C Semantic Web Activity. World Wide Web Consortium. [accessed on: July 19, 2006].

Jackson, Rose M. 2005. Grey Literature and Urban Planning: History and accessibility. Publishing Research Quarterly 21(1): 94-104.

Portland (OR.) Citizens' Advisory Committee to the Downtown Plan. 1972. Downtown plan planning guidelines. Portland, Oregon: The Committee.

Portland (OR.) Bureau of Planning. 1988. Central city plan: adopted by the Portland City Council March 24, 1988. Portland, Oregon: The Bureau.

State of Oregon. 2000. Executive Order EO-00-07: Development of a State Strategy Promoting Sustainability in Internal State Government Operations. [accessed on: May 21, 2007].

Smyth Lai is a Librarian in Portland, Oregon at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research. She can be reached at

Kim Voros is a candidate in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning Program at Portland State University specializing in transportation. After finishing her degree, she will join Alta Planning and Design, a firm focused on providing multi-modal transportation solutions.
Table 1: OSCDL Collection Collaboration

Partner Contribution

Metro (The Portland * Historical transportation records and meeting
 Metropolitan service minutes from the Joint Policy Advisory
 area's planning and Committee on Transportation (JPACT) from
 service delivery 1979-present.
 agency. It is the * Documentation on the management of Portland's
 only elected Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).
 regional government * Regional Land Information system (RLIS) and
 in the nation.) GIS data since 1996 which supports the OSCDL's
 interactive mapping feature.
City of Portland * Historical documents such as the Annual
 Archives Reports of the Parks Director dating back to
 the 20th Century, and 1880s annexation maps.
 * Handwritten notes, citizen letters, meeting
 minutes, memoranda, and early drafts leading
 to the formal adoption of various regional
Tri-County * Studies, draft reports, and plans that shaped
 Metropolitan the inception of the Banfield Light Rail
 Transportation project.
 District of Oregon
Oregon Department of * Oregon State Highway Commission Biennial
 Transportation Reports from 1916-1919.
City Club of Portland * Reports, information studies and ballot
 measure resolutions demonstrating civic
 engagement in Portland, 1950-present.
PSU's Office of * Maintains and updates the OSCDL website.
 Information * Provides the back-end architecture that allows
 Technology (OIT)/ material to be uploaded and then searched
 Academic Research within the OSCDL.
 and Computing (ARC) * Develops and supports interactive mapping
 features using RLIS/GIS data.

Special Collections
Ernie Bonner * Bonner, former Director of Urban Planning in
 Collection Portland in the 1970s, helped introduce equity
 planning to the region, a continuation of his
 advocacy planning work on the Cleveland City
 Planning Commission. His personal papers,
 unpublished reports, and correspondence make
 up this collection.
E. Kimbark MacColl * A noted Portland historian and active
 Collection participant in city planning, MacColl's papers
 chronicle the political and economic
 development of the region.
Ethan Seltzer * Seltzer, the Director of the School of Urban
 Collection Studies and Planning at PSU and Vice-President
 of the City of Portland Planning Commission,
 has contributed multiple land use plans,
 reports, and grey literature collected while
 working in other municipal agency planning
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Author:Lai, Smyth A.; Voros, Kimberly
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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