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January 8th, 2008
Collins Bartholomew Revolutionises Atlas Production

As well as being one of the world’s leading cartographic publishers – publishing atlases and maps under their own Times and Collins brands – the company is a leading provider of map products and geographic data to other publishers and to commercial and official organizations throughout the world. Today employing more than 50 cartographers at its Glasgow, Scotland, and Cheltenham, England offices, Collins Bartholomew is dedicated to providing the most accurate and up-to-date maps available.

Following on from John’s foundation of the engraving company, the Bartholomew map-making dynasty lasted for over 150 years. It included John George Bartholomew, royal cartographer to King George V, who was one of the protagonists of geographical education in Scotland and a founder member of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 1922, John George’s son John completed the Times Survey Atlas begun by his father and the company went on to produce a long line of universally acclaimed world atlases, culminating in The Times Atlas of the World Mid-Century Edition, published in five volumes between 1955 and 1960, which set the standard for world atlas publishing. In 1967, this was re-worked into a single volume as The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World which continues to be the world’s leading reference atlas. The 12th edition of this atlas has just been published.

From its inception, Collins Bartholomew has used the most technologically advanced tools to create its paper maps and atlases, even back in the 1800s when this meant relying on the finest engraving tools, ink and pens available. Since the 1980s, the company has relied on computerized mapmaking using GIS software, seeing significant improvements in costs and production methods.

A driving force behind the company’s move to GIS was the need to update The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. The atlas needed to be constantly maintained and brought up to date to reflect physical changes of the earth, as well as to present a balanced view of the geopolitical landscape. In order to update this all-encompassing book in a timely manner, Collins Bartholomew knew they needed to find the most appropriate software. After researching available technology solutions, Collins Bartholomew purchased ArcGIS, ESRI’s complete GIS for data building, editing and giving multi-user access to data; along with ESRI’s Maplex for their cartographic needs. This solution allows Collins Bartholomew to automate, store, edit, and manage all of their spatial data in one solution, stored in an Oracle database running on a Windows 2000 network with large-format HP Designjet plotters for hard-copy output.

ArcGIS facilitates production of many valuable analytical and cartographic products more efficiently than the company was able to before. Data stored in the geodatabase can be versioned allowing multiple users to carry out simultaneous updates including long transactions. This prevents unnecessary locking of data layers or creating superfluous copies of data. “With versioning, it is easier to create cartographic product generation and map finishing meeting publishing deadlines while continuing in parallel with ongoing database updates,” says Sheena Barclay, Executive Director, Collins Bartholomew.

ESRI’s ArcSDE technology, a component of ArcGIS, provides access to the geodatabase, operating as the gateway facilitating spatial data in a database management system, providing efficient storage of continuous map data with spatial searches and transaction locking.

By using a database-centric approach, Collins Bartholomew were able to update the atlas in record time. Having the data available for selection, classification, and extraction depending on the map scale or theme has made the job more efficient. Barclay explains, “The database needs to be as flexible as possible in terms of what features are contained, how features can be symbolized, and more. Using ArcGIS and Maplex, we are able to use the data any way we need it quickly and easily. We are saving a lot of time, and time is money.”

After the data is updated and edited in the geodatabase, cartographers use ESRI’s Maplex labeling software for text placement. Once a time-consuming and laborious process, labeling tasks are now automated, and Collins Bartholomew has found they are completing this part of the mapmaking effort 90 percent faster.

As any cartographer will tell you, symbolization is the heart of cartography. ArcGIS provides a rich set of functions for defining and applying different symbolization styles to point, line, and area data. ArcGIS includes vector and bit mapped symbols, line styles allowing patterned and pecked lines with control over end and join styles, and areas filled with either solid color or patterns. Raster symbolization is also a strong point, with capabilities important to cartography such as terrain height banding and hill shading.

Vector symbolization can be a complex process with representation being built up by drawing multiple representation parts, each with its own drawing priority level. Enhancements in the latest version of ArcGIS include new group layers and symbol level controls, which together allow clean handling of standard cartographic styles, such as road casings, and under and over sections such as road bridges and tunnels. Symbolization is not determined solely by the feature class but can be determined by combinations of attributes, allowing exceptions for categories such as ‘primary dual road under construction.’

The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World epitomizes the beauty and power of GIS software. Painstakingly researched by a dedicated team of more than 50 cartographers, the atlas is fully up to date, stylish, and contemporary, continuing to be the leading authority with its selection of detailed maps and index of more than 200,000 places and features. The effort put into this publication was momentous, with changes to the database made on average every 3.5 minutes using a 24-hour-a-day feed, and validated by information from approximately 500 organizations and experts. New maps and geographical publications from government departments, official agencies, business offices and individual experts around the world, provide information for all the world’s countries on a variety of topics.

The Times Atlas team is careful to validate spelling and attribution of places names and the depiction of disputed boundaries, a contentious undertaking. Taking care to present the information accurately, impartially and in as neutral a way as possible, a Policy Committee meet regularly to decide the correct spelling of names and the introduction of new forms. New and disputed international and administrative boundaries are scrutinized and the best way of portraying them decided. The committee also determines policies relating to preferred sources and their use for specific geographical information – in particular, geographical statistics, flags, currencies, languages and religions. Crucially, it decides how any policies should then be applied to the atlas, the databases and other products, and disseminates its decisions to all interested parties, offering guidance as necessary.

The data for the new edition of the atlas, published in September 2007, reveals interesting information on climate change and its effects on the earth, the urbanization of world population, environmental changes and the dramatic growth of China. This new edition reveals the deadliest earthquakes, the increase in the earth’s temperature, and updates in data such as mortality rates and life expectancy around the world. Some other interesting call-outs from this comprehensive tome of data:

The Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk by 75% since 1967.

China is now the most heavily populated country in the world – with over 1.3 billion people, one fifth of the world’s population.

Due to China’s increasingly dry climate and the extraction of water to support the growing population, the mouth of the Yellow River has changed shape.

Plymouth, Montserrat – Abandoned due to volcanic activity. This former capital was buried in volcanic ash when the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted between 1995 and 1997. 5000 people were evacuated and the city abandoned.

By 2030, 3 in 5 people (59.9%) will be urbanites, and the global urban population is expected to grow to 4.9 billion (from 1.33 billion in 1970).

13% of the world’s land surface (19 million km2) is now within over 107,000 designated Protected Areas worldwide.

In less developed counties, such as Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Liberia, an average of 87 out of every 1,000 babies die before their first birthday – compared to only 6 in North America.

The lowest country in the world – Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean – is only 5 meters above sea level at its highest point. This country is already feeling the effects of sea levels rising and may one day be wiped from the map completely.

Using ArcGIS, Collins Bartholomew produced the atlas in less than 12 months. This in turn gave them the flexibility to create new and innovative data offerings, expanding its overall product line to more than 200 products, with incremental revenue from the new products amounting to more than $5 million (U.S.). Data products include digital maps of the world, Great Britain, Europe, London, and more, with an extensive authoritative gazetteer of more than 800,000 names. Atlas data includes detailed administrative coverage, lakes and other bodies of water, topography, urban areas, roads, national and regional parks, rail and ferry locations, and much more.

“We have used GIS to increase throughput and to lower the cost of map production,” says Barclay. “Equally important, we now have a more creative and flexible range of products. We can use GIS to target specific needs and produce solutions based on those needs. New markets are opening up for geographical information. Aided by ESRI solutions, Collins Bartholomew is positioned to capitalize on these new opportunities.”

Now Collins Bartholomew is able to use ESRI software for virtually every step of production. This data-centered approach to mapmaking has truly revolutionized Collins Bartholomew’s workflow. Instead of a conventional, manual, title-by-title approach, the company’s new style of a database-centered, digital workflow has made the company very responsive to the many factors contemporary map makers face today.