Charting the Central Library: Explore our Maps Collections

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By Brian Manning

"Journey all over the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue of traveling, without suffering the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst."
- Cervantes, Don Quixote

Compass RoseWhy do we look at maps? To see where we’ve been? To locate where we are? To see where we’re going? Or to see where we have not (yet) been?

I have used maps for all of the above reasons; however, I also enjoy simply looking at maps—especially old maps, or replicas thereof. The various skills a cartographer displays in the making of a map are wonderful, and to behold a map is to see the world from a different vantage, or through some else's eyes. But no matter why you may have an inkling to look at genuine paper maps, the where should be in the Maryland Department, and the Social Science and History Department here at Central Library, and this is why...

The Maryland Department: With over 2000 maps in the collection dating back to the 17th Century, this is the place to see early maps of Maryland. Want to see the evolution of Baltimore or your hometown over the years? (Can you believe that the Jones Falls was a river before it was an expressway?) Or maybe trace your family’s path? Again, this is the place. From historic maps to historic atlases, the Maryland Department is a cornucopia for any map enthusiast. All of this and about 95% of the collection is ready and waiting for public perusal in vertical files in the back of the Maryland Room. You may also view some of the collection’s treasures from the comfort of your home via the online Digital Collection.

Baltimore Map

The Social Science & History Department: This is where you will not only find books on explorers and cartography, but also a collection of over 100,000 maps—from historic maps dating back to the 17th Century, to current street and road maps (that you can checkout) to help plan your next trip. Maybe you’re researching an obscure, tiny town that existed in German in the 19th Century, but you cannot find its location today? The librarians in this department might direct you to the old Andrees Hand Atlas from Germany. Planning your next bike tour, and—despite Google Map results—you’re curious where the steep hills are? No worries: they have the USGS topographic maps to help give you the lay of the land.

Fells Point MapFrom the old, to the new, to the bizarre, stop in and explore the maps in these departments; the librarians are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and will show you the way.

Also worth checking out is the Library of Congress' digitized Map Collection, which you can browse online. And the following books might pique your interest, as well:

Happy exploring!

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