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1848 Riverfront Panorama

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
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Innovation Summary

A web application was developed that enabled users to access images from a scanned daguerreotype that also had internally produced information and links to other resources (data points) that helped educate the user on the various aspects of the image.

Problem Statement

The Library owns a daguerreotype from 1848 which is the first panoramic image of an American city and was on display at the first World's Fair in London in 1851. Because of the fragility of the daguerreotype, the 8 plates that comprise the panorama were locked away in storage for over 50 years. The Library felt that it needed to display this important part of our City's history, but did not want to jeopardize the daguerreotype in any way.


As part of the restoration process of the daguerreotype, photo documentation was made of each of the 8 plates resulting in 1400 photos of each plate at various points of magnification. The Library decided to utilize these images to create a web application that would allow the user to zoom into a particular section of the daguerreotype. With this functionality, the user can see the city of Cincinnati as a whole from 1848, but then also zoom into the image and see individual people standing outside, children playing in the river, or the ghost images of a man walking across a road. In addition to providing the ability to zoom into the image, data points were created by the reference librarians with a small essay about what different buildings are and what they were used for as well as short essays about various historic topics showcased within the image such as free African Americans and the construction of river boats. This application was put both on the Library's website and 2 50 inch flat touch screens located at the Main Library. This enabled users to come to the Library and see the daguerreotype in a protective case that was specifically built to house and display the daguerreotype next to the screen display, so they can see the eight 6"x8" plates, then use the screen to zoom into particular points within the image.


The outcome of this project is the availability of a piece of our local history that is now available for viewing for the first time in over 60 years. Not only does the public now have access to this resource physically, but they have access to it online as well. With the touch screens, they are able to zoom into specific areas and view in greater resolution the images. Additionally, the Library has researched various points of interest on the images and provided information about specific buildings or locations that can be seen on the panorama. All this has produced resurgence in the interest in local history and has even produced situations of impromptu community lectures that frequently happen. On several occasions, a “leader” will conduct a brief lecture to people who have gathered around the screen. The “leader” is simply a member of the public who just happens to have some knowledge about a part of the panorama or the time in which it was taken. This “leader” is not affiliated with the Library, nor have they prearranged this lecture. It is just an opportunity for this person to share their knowledge with people around him/her. In a lot of cases, people have gotten chairs and gathered around this person to listen to the lecture. With a renewed interest in our local history, the Library is now conducting a “contest” in which members of the public provide the Library with access to their pictures of the 1937 flood which took place in Cincinnati. Community support has been incredible. People have, and continue, to email the Library with their pictures for the contest. The Library will digitize the photos and create a display for the public to see and comment on the images from the 1937 flood of Cincinnati.