Up-to-date maps in minutes

How location data saves both time and money for the National Library of Scotland.

The National Library of Scotland (NLS) maintains one of the largest map collections in the world, offering public access to both their physical archives, and a digital view of historic and modern landscapes.


  • National Library of Scotland
  • OS Maps API
  • OS Vector Tile API
  • OS Features API


To bring their maps to the modern viewer (i.e. online), the NLS team needed to fetch up-to-date OS map tiles from a stable source.

The process required substantial technical knowledge, time, computing and storage resources.

The team was required to periodically download large spatial datasets and re-process them, so they could host raster map tiles on their own web servers – taking several days with hosting being an additional cost.


The raster tile service included in the OS Maps API provides the most up-to-date map tiles.

It can be integrated into web maps by a developer familiar with JavaScript and a few lines of code – often with no change to existing technical architecture.

NLS Map Curator Chris Fleet updated a few lines of the code deployed on the NLS map view website. This small update means that Map Viewer users fetch their mapping data directly from OS – not from the map tile server configured and maintained by Chris and his team.

The raster tile service included in the OS Maps API, displaying up-to-date map tiles

"We no longer need to periodically fetch, process and host OS OpenData. Instead, NLS users constantly are viewing the most up-to-date mapping data Ordnance Survey maintains. In ten minutes, you can get everything up and working."

Chris Fleet, Map Curator, The National Library of Scotland


The OS Maps API provides three primary benefits to the NLS web mapping team:

  1. They no longer need to download, process and host OS map tiles – a periodic task that required substantial time, technical knowledge and computing resources. In contrast, the new OS Maps API just involves a few lines of JavaScript to plug into.
  2. The NLS site now displays the most up-to-date mapping Ordnance Survey has published – changes in the real world are reflected on their website in a matter of weeks, not years.
  3. The OS Maps API serves map tiles using new, “significantly improved” OS cartographic styling and enriched map content, including visual consistency across zoom levels and topographic relief.

But perhaps the most important advantage is that the mapping itself is significantly improved in terms of styling and content.

As users zoomed in and out with the previous separate OS OpenData products the contrast in styling when jumping between the layers was quite obvious, whereas now different zoom levels look and feel like a single integrated map.

More important still, especially at larger scales, is the much richer topographic content which, in many of the hillier parts of the country, means that the sense of topography and relief is easier to convey.

There are also a number of styling improvements to land use and text for features, so that things like parkland and woodland are easier to tell apart, more minor street names can be shown in urban areas, and different coloured lettering distinguishes things like schools, hospitals and churches from street names.

"For the last ten years, the NLS has been happily using OS OpenData as a modern map layer in our maps website viewers."

Chris Fleet, Map Curator, The National Library of Scotland

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Partners, products and solutions featured in this study

  • National Library of Scotland

    The National Library of Scotland map collection is one of the ten largest in the world, covering all parts of the globe, through some 700 years, from medieval manuscript maps to current digital mapping.

  • OS Maps API

    Accurate, up-to-date maps that offer the most convenient way to add detailed OS data to your application.

  • OS Vector Tile API

    A vector tile service providing detailed Ordnance Survey data as a customisable basemap.

  • OS Features API

    An API to filter Ordnance Survey data for buildings, roads, rivers, hospitals, playing fields, greenspaces.