Take a map and travel
Maps and atlases have been an important part of the collections of the Library of Congress since its beginning in 1800 when a joint congressional committee purchased three maps and an atlas from a London dealer. From this modest beginning, the Library's cartographic holdings have grown during the past two centuries to more than 4,250,000 map sheets, 53,000 atlases, 700,000 microfilm images, 300 globes, 2,000 terrain models, 1,600,000 aerial photographs and remote sensing images, and 1,820 computer files.
The Geography and Map Division has custody of the bulk of the Library's cartographic materials. Established in 1897 as the Hall of Maps to serve Congress and federal agencies, the Geography and Map Division today functions as the National Map Library. Its primary responsibility is developing the Library's cartographic collections. An average of some seventy thousand items are acquired yearly through government deposits, transfers of superceded maps from federal libraries, copyright deposits, domestic and international exchanges, purchases, and gifts. These range from rare atlases to state-of-the-art electronic maps, but the major focus of the Geography and Map Division acquisition program is acquiring current materials from all countries. While many of the current items are acquired through exchanges and deposits, the Division relies heavily on public-spirited citizens to assist in the acquisition of rare maps and unique collections. The cartographic collections date from the fourteenth century and cover virtually every country and subject.
A map of the classical image of the world from the 1482 edition of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographia which was printed in Ulm, Germany, by Lienhart Holle. Derived from a manuscript copy prepared by the Benedictine monk Donnus Nicolaus Germanus who worked in Florence, Italy, from 1460 to 1482, it is the first atlas printed north of the Alps and the first one to contain maps printed from woodblocks. (Atlas Collection)
The Geography and Map Division serves as a major center for scholarly research relating to cartography and geography. Linking the scholar and the collection is an experienced staff of reference librarians and senior specialists. Reference activities are centered in the Geography and Map Division Reading Room, located in room LM-B01, on the basement level of the James Madison Memorial Building. The reference facilities consist of a map and atlas reading room, with a seating capacity for thirty-two, a microform reading area, and a Geographic Information Systems reference facility.
An essential element of the Geography and Map Division's effort to link the scholar and collection is the publication of finding aids that direct researchers to individual items. Since its establishment, the Division has published almost fifty cartobibliographies devoted to specific geographic areas, special formats, individual collections, and specific subjects. Scholarly access to the cartographic collections is enhanced by the preparation of map exhibitions and the sponsorship of professional meetings and conferences such as the International Map Collector's Society (IMCOS) and the Washington Map Society.
Detail from Antoine Lafréry's rare 1572 copperplate engraving of Olaus Magnus's map of Scandinavia and the North Atlantic, first published in Venice in 1539. Magnus was a Swedish ecclesiastic and humanist who drew this map to show the northern lands lost to the Catholic faith through the Reformation. (Atlas Collection)
Maps acquired by the Division since 1969 have been cataloged, and their bibliographic records are available through the Library's MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) Maps database which is available in most libraries through national networks. This database is also available on microfilm. As a major service to the map library community, the Division establishes, maintains, and disseminates national standards for classifying and cataloging maps and atlases through the MARC Map system.
The Division also facilitates linkages between researchers and the vast resources of geographic data available in the nation's capital. Because it is located in Washington, D.C., the center of the mapping and remote sensing industry in the United States, the Division has evolved as a national cartographic and geographic information and referral center.
Buda and Pest, the two ancient Hungarian cities divided by the Danube
River, are depicted on this view, which is typical of the city views and
plans contained in Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg's great work,
Civitates Orbis Terrarum. Published in Cologne in six volumes during the years 1572 to 1618, this work is considered the first systematic city
atlas ever published. (Atlas Collection)
In 1901, Philip Lee Phillips, the first chief of the Hall of Maps, reported to the Librarian of Congress that: "This collection, which is the largest extant, will in time be of great value, not only to the cartographer, but also to the historian." Due to the tireless efforts of Phillips and five generations of map librarians, the Geography and Map Division's collection of cartographic materials is of even greater value today. In addition to cartographers, geographers, and historians, the collection is heavily used by genealogists, preservationists, urban planners, ecologists, and scientists.
In an effort to reach a wider audience and to further develop, enhance, and promote the Library's geographic and cartographic collections, the Geography and Map Division established in 1995 two support groups: the Philip Lee Phillips Society, an association of friends of the Division, and the Center for Geographic Information, a partnership of private sector firms and the Division.
Ralph E. Ehrenberg, Chief
Geography and Map Reading Room
Library of Congress
Library of Congress Help Desk (01/12/2000)