Testimony: The Joys of Cartographic Cataloging

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This article was previously featured in Vol. 25, No. 4 of Theology Cataloging Bulletin (TCB), an ATLA member publication. Testimony is a feature in TCB that gives a place for members of the technical services community to share their stories. We felt this testimony was applicable to the wider community and have since published it below for you.

Submitted by Ann Heinrichs, Metadata/Cataloging Librarian, Paul Bechtold Library, Catholic Theological Union

A Growing Love for Maps

It’s hard to say when my passion for maps began. It seems to have gone hand-in-hand with my passion for seafaring. As a teenager, I was obsessed with tales of great sea voyages. Summer afternoons would find me in the hammock, riveted to my cherished copy of Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas, and it was full of nautical charts. I longed to go to sea, and I knew that a sea map would get me where I was going.

Once I moved to Chicago, I glommed onto any sailing opportunity I could find. First I took a Park District sailing course. Then I took a dead-reckoning course at the Adler Planetarium. (Dead reckoning enables one to plot a course on a nautical chart.) In the class, I met some sailboaters who invited me to join them in sailing Lake Michigan. I got to plot courses on a nautical chart and follow them, just like the sea captains of old. Oh, the joy!

By extension, any navigational aids were likewise exciting. My dad gave me his Army compass, and I took it with me on overseas trips. At a writers’ conference in Idaho, where our hosts held a Lewis-and-Clark–themed raffle, I won a sextant — an instrument for doing celestial navigation. In Morocco, I picked up another instrument — a very old Arabic astrolabe, which camel caravaneers used to navigate their way through the Sahara Desert.

Off to the Newberry Map Collections

Chicago’s Newberry Library • Photo Credit: Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0

Fast-forward to my time in library school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The MLIS program offered an opportunity called Alternative Spring Break, whereby LIS students spent their break interning in a library of their choice. Considering my passion for maps, the choice became obvious: I obtained a placement in the Newberry Library’s Map and Cartography Collections.

My supervisor was Bob Karrow, Curator of Special Collections and Curator of Maps, and I also worked with Patrick Morris, Map Cataloger, and Reference Librarian. My assigned task was to perform analytic cataloging of an atlas — a collection of 33 pre-1789 facsimile maps of Paris (Adolphe Alphand, Atlas des anciens plans de Paris, Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1880).

Alphand’s atlas comes in three volumes — two with maps, and the third (the texte et table analytique) with elaborate notes about each map. The text is all in French, so my knowledge of French proved to be a great asset. The volumes are huge — about 2.5 feet high by more than 3 feet wide. I needed to have both a map volume and the notes open at once, side by side, so the job required a workspace more than 12 feet wide.

Detail from Lutetia, vulgari nomine Paris, urbs Galliae maxim • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

My work was spread out on a long table beneath the high, arched windows on the Newberry’s south face, with my computer terminal perched on one end. I rarely sat down. My cataloging task was most easily conducted on foot, as it was necessary to dash from one volume to another to snatch information, then race to the computer to record it before a peculiar pre-modern French phrase or spelling left my memory. Not since my waitress days had I spent so much work time scurrying back and forth!

Learning the Conventions

Bob Karrow was most generous in mentoring me, shaping my outlook, and directing me to the resources I needed to perform my tasks. First, he taught me the conventions and specialized terms used in describing old maps. A cartouche, for example, is a roundish decorative inset with text and/or pictures in it. If you use the term “inset” in the bibliographic description, however, you’re usually referring to an inset map.

Old maps get not only a date of publication but a separate date of situation. In the case of historical maps, that’s the date of the scene shown on the map. For example, a map published in 1880 could be named “Paris in 1550,” so the date of situation is 1550.

To create call numbers for the maps, we used the LC’s G schedule — the list of numeric codes for geographic places. For example, 5834 is the code for France/cities, followed by .P3, the code for Paris. That’s followed by the date of situation, the Cutter number for the maker, and the date of publication.

Technical points aside, most of these maps were quite decorative, with costumed gentry milling about, cherubs blowing the four winds, and windmills aflutter in the breeze.

Detail from La Ville cite universite de Paris • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

Detail from Lutetia Parisiorum urbs, toto orbe seleberrima notissimaque caput regni Franciæ • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

The Privilège du Roi

Like other maps of this period, many of Alphand’s maps carried a dedication, usually to the king. Most of the maps also bore a notice of the privilège du roi. In pre-Revolutionary France, this was an official statement of permission from the king to print a work. Royal censors, upon receipt of a fee, would examine the proposed publication and issue the privilege. For printers and engravers, it provided a kind of copyright protection against counterfeiters. The privilège, like other special features, is worth noting in the catalog record.

Privilège from Lutetia, vulgari nomine Paris (1572) • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

Privilège from Portrait de la ville cite et universite de Paris avec les faubours dicelle, dedie au roy (1609) • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

Using Reference Sources

Many of the individual maps were listed in a standard bibliography of Paris maps (Jean Boutier, Les Plans de Paris des origines, 1493, à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 2002), so I entered a note with that reference when appropriate. Some of the maps, too, exist in digitized form on the Web. For those, I added a reference to the URL. Google was not off-limits, as it was sometimes necessary to provide information not present on the chief source of information (the map itself) or in the notes.

Other reference sources I consulted were Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers and two several-volume biographical reference sets — Thieme-Becker Kunstler Lexikon and Benezit Dictionary of Artists. These enabled me to look up names that appeared on the maps to find out alternate spellings and/or birth and death dates, so I could then find the authorized form in the LC authority file. In another reference set, G. K. Nagler’s Die Monogrammisten, one could look up artists, engravers, and woodcutters via their monograms — the initials they used in signing their work.

Who Is the Mapmaker?

From Georg Kaspar Nagler’s Die Monogrammisten • Photo credit: Hathi Trust

I quickly learned to be stealthy and vigilant in seeking out the mapmaker’s identity. A map’s statement of responsibility was often hard to locate. It might be hidden somewhere in the text or engraved in tiny print along the edge. Seemingly decorative details are disregarded at one’s peril. One decoration I took to be a tombstone marking the location of a cemetery turned out to carry the monogram of the otherwise unidentifiable mapmaker.

In the map below, for example, I was once again stumped as to the statement of responsibility. My only clue was a monogram in the lower right-hand corner: HRMD. This was one instance when Nagler’s Monogrammisten proved invaluable. It showed that HRMD is Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, Zeichner, or draftsman.

While I was able to catalog only 22 of the 33 maps in the Alphand atlas by the end of the week, the skills I gained were priceless. These were also skills I was able to bring to a future employer — the Pritzker Military Library, where I secured a cataloging internship.

Lutetia Parisiorum urbs. The engraver’s monogram appears in the lower right-hand corner (see below). • Photo credit: The Newberry Library

Leaving Paris Maps for Pritzker Maps

Alphand’s maps and the Newberry’s unique map cataloging protocols might be called non-mainstream. At the Pritzker, however, I was able to unfurl my map cataloging skills full force. Map cataloging requires several specialized MARC fields, and here are some of my favorites.

Among the fixed fields are Rlf (relief type) and Proj (projection). There are twelve one-character codes for relief type. Those Paris maps were perfect examples of pictorial relief (code i), showing trees for wooded areas, as well as actual houses and churches. Spot heights (g) are numeric indications of altitudes, and contours (a) are curvy loops showing elevations up to a high point. Many maps use several relief types, but the fixed field has room for only four, so the cataloger lists the four most salient types in order of importance.

Projection calls for a two-character code. For example, ac means the Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection. You can see this in a round, disc-shaped representation of the whole Earth. In the more familiar Mercator projection (code bd), the lines of latitude and longitude form a perfect grid. This style of map was the first that enabled navigators to plot an accurate course across the sea — so vital in the Age of Exploration.

Mathematical Data

In the variable fields, 034 and 255 contain so-called mathematical data — scale, projection, and coordinates. In field 034, subfields d, e, f, and g show the coordinates for the left, right, top, and bottom edges of the map, like this: ‡d W1030000 ‡e W1023000 ‡f N0391500 ‡g N0354000. Field 255 ‡c mirrors that, showing the coordinates in a more recognizable form: ‡c (W103°00′–W102°30’/N39°15′–N35°40′).

Scale (034 ‡a, ‡b, ‡c and 255 ‡a) is a complex affair. The map itself may indicate the scale using a bar scale:


Or the map may show a verbal scale (1 inch = 1 mile) or a “representative fraction” (1:20,000). Regardless of the style of scale, the cataloger must translate it into a representative fraction, with 1 as the numerator, and put the denominator in 034 ‡b. Fortunately, there are online calculators (here and here) that can determine the representative fraction you need. This fraction appears in both fields 034 and 255, though in different ways: 034 ‡b 20,000 and 255 ‡a Scale 1:20,000.

Military Maps, Target Maps

Hiroshima area target map detail • Photo credit: Pritzker Military Museum & Library

I eagerly tore into the Pritzker’s backlog of uncataloged maps. Some of the most interesting were the World War II aerial maps used by the Army Air Corps. Among those were so-called target maps, with concentric circles centering on an intended target. I repeated the mathematical information from the 034 and 255 fields in the 500 notes, using language that the catalog user can understand. Thus, the OPAC’s Notes might read like this:

Recognition chart: “23°44′ N, 120°25′ E (approx), scale 1:25,000.”

Approach chart: “Scale 1:250,000; polyconic projection . . .; Compass rose indicates magnetic bearing toward target. Circles are in statute miles.” With red compass rose and target circles every 5 miles, centered on Kobi.

Particularly chilling was a target map of the Hiroshima area. Seeing the map’s publication date of June 1945, one can put together a timeline of events: Sometime before June — Hiroshima is selected as a bombing target, and an order is issued to create the target map. June — the 949th Engineer Aviation Topographic Company in Guam (the publisher) issues the map. August 6 — the navigator on the Enola Gay uses the map to target Hiroshima for the atomic bomb drop. Maps have no politics; they can assist in either war or peace.

Granted, in cataloging target maps, I had traveled very far indeed from intrepid seafarers and their nautical charts. But thanks to cartographic cataloging, I have kept fresh my love affair with maps that was first kindled so many years ago by the Book of the Seven Seas.

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