Maps often occupy a paradoxical position in special collections. On the one hand, they are star items. People love maps, responding with delight to their personal (“there’s my house!”), historic or visual interest. However, maps are often underexploited. They can be difficult to store, catalogue and make available in helpful ways. In particular, enquirers tend to wish to access maps by PLACE, rather than by author or title, which means that the way we work with books or archives isn’t always appropriate. Problems arise in particular when maps are encountered only occasionally, maybe in one collection, or scattered in archives or books. I speak from experience of all the above!
So I’m delighted to see this new Historic Libraries Forum publication by Paula Williams, Cataloguing Maps: guidance notes for the occasional map cataloguer. The author is Senior Curator of Manuscript & Map Collections at the National Library of Scotland and brings lots of experience to writing this brief and helpful guide. She also includes details of other helpful resources.
And those working with map collections also need to be aware of the exciting possibilities offered by online geographic tools. As the British Library website puts it, these “allow historic maps to be overlaid on modern mapping, enhancing the ability to view and compare the past with the present, and improving findability. Georeferencing, i.e. assigning points on a map image to corresponding geographical co-ordinates, links the map to its spatial location on the ground using universal geographic standards (latitude / longitude)”. To see this in action, check out the crowdsourced georeferencing project at the British Library.