The Library’s new 3D map viewer

The Maps Reading Room digital team is always looking for new ways to add even more value to the maps in the Library’s collection. For example, they’ve geo-referenced a number of our maps, and also offered up the ability to compare maps side-by-side.

In the past few days they’ve put a 3D map viewer online. We think you’ll like it. First, a little technical stuff – the application uses Cesium for 3D geospatial visualisation, which is rendered via WebGL. If, like me, you don’t know what that means, please don’t worry – it’s very simple to use (and we’re sure you’ll be impressed).

It provides the opportunity to explore the map collection from a bird’s eye perspective, swooping down over towns, cities and mountains to view maps in a way you may never have viewed them before. You can alter your altitude, tilt and orientation to explore any one of our 600 georeferenced map layers draped over a 3D landscape. It is also possible to fade the transparency and view different base maps.

On our homepage click the geo-referenced overlays button.


On this following page choose the maps you want to view (see 1 on the image below) and then click the 3D button (see 2 on the image below). You can also zoom to a particular location and then click the 3D button if you prefer.


You’ll now see an image of the northern hemisphere, with your chosen maps in the centre.


At this point you can either zoom in to the required area, or search for an area by typing in the name in the search box.

Once you find the area you want to view you’ll see you are viewing it from an angle.

stirling 3d

Compare that with the more traditional viewer.

stirling flat

Let’s see just how impressive the viewer is. Hold down either the ‘Shift’ button, or the central mouse wheel. Now move your mouse around. As you can see the angle from which you’re viewing the map is changing. You’ll quickly notice that the map is draped over a 3D landscape, allowing you to view the mountains of Scotland in all their glory. The 3D viewer is also a really useful way of researching historical features in the landscape, such as hillforts, the development of roads, railways and canals, or patterns of land use.


We can’t fully describe how impressive the 3D viewer actually is. The best way to experience it is to go to our site and see for yourself.