By DONNA URSCHEL
If you’ve ever wondered where you are, or where you might be going, know this: if you have access to a computer, the Library of Congress now has 30,000 maps online to guide you.
In the basement level of the Library’s James Madison Building in Washington, D.C., working amid giant scanners, the staff of the Library’s Geography and Map Division recently digitized and placed online its 30,000th map.
The milestone is quite an achievement when you consider the size of map files. “They are large-format images that run into gigabytes of data,” said Colleen Cahill, digital conversion coordinator.
Also, “one map” can actually be an atlas with many images, such as the 30,000th item, the Berks County, Pa., land ownership atlas from 1862. This atlas is one of the earliest known county land-ownership atlases produced in the United States.
The division began scanning maps in 1995, when it received its first scanner. In 1996, the Library started posting maps online in its American Memory website. A few more scanners have been added through the years.
The Digital Team has worked its way through several interesting collections including panoramic, land ownership, Civil War and American Revolutionary maps. The team also fulfills digitizing requests from Congress, Library staff, federal agencies and patrons via the Library’s Photoduplication Service.
A fan letter recently arrived from Peter Kastor, a history professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who wrote division chief John Hébert: “I want to call attention to the value of the historic maps that you have placed online. Many of the most valuable items for my research are on your website and having access to high-resolution digital versions proved immensely helpful …”
The online maps include some of the world’s great cartographic treasures, such as the 1507 Waldseemüller World Map, the first map to show the word “America”.
To explore how to use maps in the classroom, educators can visit the Library’s “Zoom Into Maps” web presentation.
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications.