Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Maps: How People are Finding Them These Days

For the most recent bathroom newsletter, I wrote the following blurb:

If you are traveling or hiking this summer, you might consider using some of the maps or atlases available in the Oboler Library. The map collection on the third floor contains many topographic maps of the intermountain region. They can be checked out for one week at a time. Road atlases, solar system, galaxy, and star atlases, as well as lunar maps can be found and taken on night watches of the sky. Look for other kinds of maps and atlases in our catalog, some of the best reside in the Atlas Stand (1st Floor), Oversized, and Reference Collection.

In the brief time I have been a librarian, I have noticed that the maps in our map collection do not get used much. Other librarians say that they used to be checked out and looked at a lot more. I suspect that with the online availability of maps, this has changed things quite a bit. People no longer need to consult physical atlases when they can go to or Google Maps to print out directions for a trip.

Still, it seems that people doing any kind of field research that requires knowledge of the terrain could benefit from topographic maps. (For a good definition, take a look at What is a topographic map?.) Maybe they go directly to the U.S. Geological Survey to view these kinds of maps. By the way, they also have aerial photos available on their website. Many of these topographic and aerial maps can be bought, printed, or downloaded from their Maps, Imagery, and Publications page.

As a member of the Federal Depository Library Program, the Eli M. Oboler Library houses many government documents, including maps that are freely available to the public. The biggest drawback is making it to the physical library, but every citizen of Idaho can check out whatever they want as long as they show some government-issued form of identification. All who enter the Library can look at anything they want in the government-documents section on the third floor.

This seems to be the key change, many people can look at maps online, without having to make a trip to the library. However, if individuals want to save money, they can still come and check out our maps for free, versus the purchase options on the U.S. Geological Survey site. Then again, the U.S. Geological Survey does have some pretty cool maps, like this earthquake map that shows where the largest earthquakes have struck over a hundred-year period. At a glance, it looks to me like Africa, Europe, and the eastern coasts of the Americas are safe from most earthquakes.


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