Brief overview of the collection
History: The University of Chicago
Library acquired sheet maps from its first days; these were either stored in a
map case in Harper Library or else folded and bound into “books.” Neither
storage option was ideal, and the Map Collection was founded in 1929 in part to
provide a proper home for the Library’s map holdings and in part to satisfy the
research needs of members of the Departments of Geography and Geology. The
Collection had a mandate in its early years to acquire the largest collection
of then-contemporary maps in the Midwest. For many years it was well funded and
quickly became the largest non-coastal map library in the United States. Funding
was very poor between the late 1930s and the 1970s, but the Collection ranked
high in the massive federal distribution of maps of foreign areas after World
War II. It was also the recipient of a great many important gifts from scholars
in geography and urban studies. Since the 1970s funding has improved, and it
has been possible to acquire sheet maps that build on the Collection’s
strengths. In addition, the Collection has had access to GIS (computer
cartography) software since the early 1990s and has acquired a substantial
amount of spatial data.
Broad subject areas emphasized
The map fund is used to acquire sheet maps and spatial data for the Map
Collection. Most sheet maps at the Map Collection are topographic, urban, or
Audience/Purpose. The collection supports the
research and teaching needs of faculty and students in numerous university
units, particularly the Committee on Geographical Studies; the Departments of
History, Economics, Sociology, and Geophysics; the Harris School of Public
Policy Studies; and the Booth School of Business. At one time or another
students and faculty from nearly every unit of the University have brought
research questions to the Map Collection.
The Collection is also used to
support informal research, e.g., research for travel or genealogical purposes. The
growing use of the Internet for informal research has greatly reduced the role
of the Map Collection in non-scholarly research.
Levels of selection. Collecting in the Map Collection
differs in many ways from collecting in disciplines:  The budget is adequate
only to acquire a much smaller percentage of respectable publications;  a
much larger part of the budget is devoted to sets, e.g., of topographic maps
and spatial data; and  even more than with monographic budgets one must be
aware of what is likely to become available online for free or for very little
Spatial data of all sorts also constitute
an important component of most years’ purchases. The cost of such data varies
from trivial to thousands of dollars a CD. As with topographic maps, selection
requires a careful consideration of many factors. North American municipal data
and foreign census data with boundary files have been among the genres funded
It also seems worthwhile to
update the Map Collection’s holdings of urban maps. While street maps can be
generated with Google Map, there is no reason to think that superseded data
will always be available systematically online, and paper maps of urban areas often
include information not available through Google Map. Ideally, a high-quality
map for major cities every five or ten years seems about right.
Part of the annual budget is used
the way most book funds are generally used: for recent scholarly monographic
works, which would mostly be classed as thematic maps. Many new cartographic
monographs are geology maps. Because the most detailed geology maps are rarely
requested, these are bought only selectively. Scholarly map publications in
urban, cultural, and historical geography are acquired at the “research” level.
Type of materials included and
Emphasis is put on material likely to be of interest to scholars. Tourist maps
are acquired mostly when more reliable maps are unavailable.
Physical formats included and
maps, CDs, DVDs, and (occasionally) downloadable data sets and programs
constitute the bulk of material acquired. Every so often microforms are funded.
Publication dates collected. Relatively recent materials
constitute the bulk of what is acquired.
Languages. There are no language limits. It
is expected that cartographic materials for every country will be published in the
language(s) of that country.
Geographical range. There are no geographical limitations
on what is collected. Contributions from area-studies colleagues are welcomed,
but the map fund is used for material from every part of the world.
Chronological span. There are no limitations.
and well-funded purchases of topographic, urban, and thematic maps of the
Collection’s first decade were complemented by the acquisition of the Levasseur
collection from the John Crerar Library. This collection, assembled by French
geographer Émile Levasseur (1828-1911), includes numerous 19th-century
scholarly maps and a scattering of earlier material. As a result of this early
collecting activity, hardly any other libraries have as many late 19th- and early
of Chicago collections
The geography fund is used to
acquire most atlases. Many other bibliographers (especially those associated
with area studies) fund atlases as well. There is a particularly noteworthy
collection of early atlases at Special Collections, which holds some sheet maps
too, mostly bound in books or stored in boxes.
Some East Asian sheet maps too are
still kept folded in the stacks.
arrangements and related collections
There are no formal arrangements
for cooperative acquisition, but the existence of certain materials in other
libraries has influenced the building of the Map Collection over the years.
The Newberry Library holds one of North America’s most distinguished collections of early maps and makes up for the Collection’s deficiencies in this area.
The Research Center at the Chicago
History Museum holds an excellent collection of Chicago materials that
complements the holdings of the Map Collection.
A growing number of Websites have
also made cartographic material available to local users.
 Oddly enough, the American
government is the world’s chief source of free spatial data. Raster images of all current
American topographic maps (down to scale 1:24,000) can be downloaded for free.
Vector data for the United States originally compiled at a nominal scale of
approximately 1:100,000 are similarly available. American government vector
data for the entire rest of the world at a scale of 1:1,000,000 are easily
obtained in various forms, and lower-quality vector data at 1:250,000 for
selected regions are also available. Generally speaking, foreign governments
are never as generous. A few have made low- or medium-quality raster images of
some topographic maps available. Most will only sell vector data for very large
sums of money (perhaps hundreds of dollars a sheet). Commercial firms sell or
(more often) lease foreign street data for even more money (thousands of
dollars a month).