Cartographic Crossroads

Are Map Libraries Obsolete?

In her 1970 ACMLA conference paper by this title, Association member and McMaster University Map Librarian Kate Donkin foretold the rise of geospatial data and pondered the future of static maps–and the libraries containing them–in a digital environment. Nearly half a century later, many of Ms. Donkin’s predictions have been validated: the confluence of broadly-available geospatial data, large-scale digitization projects, and the maturation of user-friendly software for analysis and map visualization have ushered in what may be referred to as an ‘age of accessible cartography’.

However, map libraries have not become obsolete during the rise to prominence of geospatial data. Rather, map collections, their spaces, and the professionals working within them have evolved in diverse ways to meet the changing needs of researchers, students, government, and the public.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of such a provocative question, the community has an opportunity to reflect on it, and perhaps, ask it again. How have the roles of maps, map-related professionals, and the map library been transformed in the age of accessible cartography? How are map libraries adding value to modern-day scholarship? How might their role evolve over the next 50 years?

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