Monday, March 31, 2014

Architecture Days Scavenger Hunt: The Librarian Way

I love the Architecture Days Scavenger Hunt. And I am terrible at it.

If you're not familiar, Architecture Days takes place every April. If you've got any interest in architecture or local history, there are a lot of things to look forward to. You can see the whole list on the Architecture Days page I linked above (and I'll give a special plug to the movie we're showing here at C-SPL).

I always get particularly excited about the scavenger hunt. Dubuque Main Street publishes a set of close-up photos of local buildings and all you have to do is identify them. Simple, right? I grew up here. I've been around these building all my life. They even provide a map showing the area from which they selected buildings. But every year I pull up the sheet of photos and realize that I don't recognize any of them. Apparently, I don't really pay attention to the buildings around me.

Luckily, I'm a librarian. I may not know the answers on this scavenger hunt, but I know how to find them!
(A small interjection: I realize I could just drive/bike/walk around looking for the buildings in the pictures. This seemed like more fun to me. That's why I'm a librarian.)

The theme of Architecture Days this year is Sacred Spaces. Looking at the photos, it seems that all the buildings are churches. So a good first step would be a list of all the churches in the given area. Simple!

The library subscribes to a database called ReferenceUSA. It's basically the fanciest phone book you've ever seen. You can get to it off of our website. Anyone can use it inside the library, and Dubuque residents can use it from home. To start looking for churches in ReferenceUSA, I want to look under U.S. Businesses. I'm trying to do something a little more complicated than just looking for a business by name, so I'll click Custom Search.

A custom search lets me build a search combining several different factors. In this case, I want to look for a specific business type in a specific area. For the type of business, I'll use Keyword SIC/NAICS. SIC and NAICS codes are business classifications defined by the government. We don't have to worry about the specifics, I'm just going to find the code for churches (866107 -- memorize it and impress people at dinner parties!).

Next I need to narrow things down geographically. I've got a lot of options for  a geographic search. It would be simple to just set the city to Dubuque, but that's not quite specific enough. Did you notice the box on the left side of the screen that gives a number for Record Count? As I add new facets to my search, that number changes to show how many businesses match my search. It shows 68 churches in the city of Dubuque, which is a lot more than I want to look at. Besides, if I just searched by city I wouldn't get to use my favorite part of ReferenceUSA:

Map Based Search! In the map interface, I can just draw a shape on the map and search inside it. We've got a few options here. We could select a point and search within a given radius from it. We could map out a driving route and search the businesses along those roads. But for this we want to draw a custom shape. I tried not to get too carried away trying to mark exactly the boundaries from Dubuque Main Street's map. When I was done, ReferenceUSA told me there were 19 churches in the area I selected and gave me a list of their names and addresses.

With a short list and all their addresses, I could certainly go look at all these buildings in person. But the Internet and I have come so far already, why give up on a good thing? Besides, it looks like it might rain. So how can I see all these churches without going outside?

Have you played with Google Street View? Google takes hundreds of photos, up and down all the streets in a town, and then stitches them together into virtual streets. You can essentially walk around town looking at buildings from several angles. Perfect!

I could go to Google Maps and search for each item on my list in order to Street View them, but I've got an idea save myself from jumping back and forth from list to map. I can download my list from ReferenceUSA as either a text file or an Excel spreadsheet. Once I've downloaded the spreadsheet and deleted everything but the addresses, I can paste them to  BatchGeo takes lists of addresses and makes custom Google maps, with all the addresses marked with pins.

On my custom map, I can drag the little orange peg-man to each pin to have a look at the building and compare it to the scavenger hunt photos.

First up, I'll have a look at the pin way at the south of the group, St. Raphael's Cathedral. Some of those windows look awfully familiar . . . .

Architecture Days runs April 7-12. Scavenger hunt entries are due to the Dubuque Main Street office at 1069 Main Street by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16.

Good hunting!

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