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The Emergence of Maps in Libraries by Walter William Ristow
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Comments for The Emergence of Maps in Libraries

The Emergence of Maps in Libraries: 10/12/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Walter William Ristow had a long career as a map librarian and cartographer. He worked as the head of the map divisions at the New York Public Library and later at the Library of Congress. Over the course of his career he wrote a number of articles on the challenges of working with maps in a library setting and aspects of cartography (Martin, 2006).

Many of those articles were reprinted in The Emergence of Maps in Libraries. I came across the book as a reference in Integrating Geographic Information Systems into Library Services: A Guide for Academic Libraries by John Arbresch, Ardis Hanson, Susan Heron and Pete Reehling (2008). I decided to track down a copy of this influential volume as I worked on building a foundation of understanding of how map keeping, cartography and geographic information services (GIS) come together under the library and information science heading.

Originally for my GIS term paper I was planning to write a basic history of the field and my experience using it when I worked briefly for the Census earlier this year. The Emergence of Maps in Libraries while not specifically about GIS save for a few early discussions about automated cartography, the cataloguing of maps and the scanning of map data, was pivotal for my understanding the seeds of GIS and why it remains so closely tied to library science.

What I didn't expect when I read the book was the great range of dates included in the book. The earliest articles are from the late 1940s and they go all the way through to the late 1970s. The book contains moments of contradiction, where in early articles Ristow says something can't, won't or shouldn't be done because it's too expensive, too difficult, not useful enough or just plain impractical. Then the next article, or one shortly thereafter will address the same problem and talk about how much easier the newer, cheaper technology is making the process of addressing the problem and providing solutions to researchers.

I loved how the librarian side of Ristow comes through in the inclusions of these contradictory articles. He demonstrates how he and his colleagues learned and adapted with technology.

References

Abresch, J., Hanson, A., Heron, S., & Reehling, P. (2008) Integrating geographic information systems into library services: A guide for academic libraries. Hershey, New York: Information Science Publishing

Martin, D. (2006, April 17). Walter Ristow dies at 97; Populist curator of maps. The New York Times.

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