24 November 2023

Specialized collections are one essential part of cultural heritage of any society. These collections are designed to preserve and provide access to unique and valuable materials that are used for a wide variety of purposes, from academic research to urban planning and political decision-making.

Among the most important specialized collections is the map library. In this article we will explore the definition of a map library, its function and characteristics, as well as its importance in today’s digital age. As we progress, you’ll discover how map libraries have adapted to changes in technology and how they can provide a valuable source of information for all types of projects and applications.

What is the meaning of mapoteca?

The term ‘map library’ comes from the union of one and another Greek word: ‘mapas’, which means ‘map’, and ‘theke’, which means ‘box’ or ‘repository’. Therefore, the meaning of map library is literally ‘map repository’.

A map library is a specialized collection of geological maps, plans and other cartographic documents that, as mentioned, are used to a variety of purposes,.

The map libraries can be public or privateand may be located in libraries, archives, museums, government institutions, and other organizations that have a specific need for access to geographic and cartographic information.

What is an archive map library?

A map library in an archive is a specialized section of a file that is dedicated to the management, conservation and access of any map, plans and other cartographic documents. Archive map libraries may be part of an overall archive, such as a specialized section, or they may be a separate entity within the archive.

In any case, its main function is to ensure that the cartographic documents are organized, preserved and accessible for those who need them, whether for academic research or any other application that requires geographic and cartographic information. Archival map libraries may also offer reproduction and digitization geographic maps and other cartographic documents to facilitate access to information.

What is a virtual map library?

A virtual map library is a collection of maps, plans and other cartographic documents available online, which can be consulted and downloaded from anywhere in the world. In a virtual map library, maps are presented in digital format and can be searched and viewed through a specialized software program.

These virtual map libraries may be hosted, with a privacy policy, on Internet websites of libraries, museums, government institutions and organizations specialized in the management of maps and cartographic documents.

Virtual map libraries have revolutionized the way map information is accessed and used, providing a way fast and convenient search and retrieve maps and other cartographic documents for a variety of applications.

In addition, virtual map libraries can facilitate collaboration and sharing. information sharing between researchers and professionals from different parts of the world, which allows a greater dissemination of geographic and cartographic knowledge.

What is a map library used for?

A map library serves a variety of purposes, from academic research to urban planning. In general, map libraries are used to store and provide access to maps, plans and other cartographic documents, which are essential tools for understanding and represent geography and history from a place.

Below are some of the most common applications from a map library:

  • academic research: Map libraries are an invaluable source of information for researchers working in fields such as geography, history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology and many other disciplines. Maps can help to understand the evolution of landscapes, political and social changes, the distribution of resources and many other topics.

  • Urban planification: Map libraries can be an important tool for urban planning, since they allow visualizing and understanding the growth and development patterns of a city. The maps can help identify risk areassuch as areas prone to flooding, and plan the location of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public transport lines.

  • Political Decision Making: Maps are valuable tools for political decision-making in areas such as natural resource management, territorial planning, and defense. Maps can help identify risk areas, such as seismic zones or conflict zonesand plan the location of strategic facilities, such as hospitals, schools and military bases.

  • Education: Map libraries can be an important tool for education, as they can help students understand the geography and history of a place. The maps can illustrate abstract concepts and help visualize landscapes and spatial relationships.

What are the characteristics of a map library?

A map library has certain characteristics that define it as a place specialized for map management and cartographic documents. In general, a map library houses a collection of maps, plans, and other cartographic documents organized by criteria such as scale, format, date, theme, and geographic region.

In addition, map libraries are often designed to provide public access to your collectionwhether they are in libraries, archives, museums, government institutions or specialized organizations.

In order to carry out their function, map libraries may have specialized equipment and technology, as well as trained management staff of maps and cartographic documents, cataloging and reference. It is also common for map libraries to dedicate resources to the conservation and preservation of their collection, including the digitization of documents, the restoration of old maps, and the creation of adequate environmental conditions for the conservation of fragile materials.

How is a map library made?

Creating a map library can be a complex process, but here are some general steps that can be followed to create a map library:

  • Identify the purpose and target audience: It is important to define the purpose of the map library and the target audience. Is the library going to be used for educational, research or general public purposes? What kind of maps will be included in the collection?

  • Set the collection: Define the selection and acquisition criteria for maps and cartographic documents, such as the geographic regionthe subject, the date and the scale.

  • Find a suitable space: The map library needs adequate space to store and display maps and cartographic documents. The space must be large enough for collection and have adequate environmental control for conservation.

  • Acquire specialized equipment and technology: The map library will need specialized equipment and technology to collection managementsuch as cataloging software and databases.

  • Hire trained personnel: The map library must have personnel trained in the management of maps and cartographic documents, cataloging and reference.

  • Organize and catalog the collection: Maps and cartographic documents must be organized and cataloged systematically to facilitate its access.

  • Establish policies and procedures: Policies and procedures must be established for the access and use of the collection, as well as for the conservation and preservation of the maps and cartographic documents.

  • Promote the map library: Finally, the map library must be promoted to attract its target audience. This may include events, educational programs, and publications.

What kind of information is in the map libraries?

In a map library you can find various sources of information related to geography and cartography. The main collection of a map library is made up of maps of different types, including topographic, political, thematic and historical maps. You can also find architectural, urban, industrial and infrastructure plans.

In addition to maps and plans, map libraries may also include aerial and satellite photographs, atlases, dictionaries, books, newspapers, map guides, and other educational materials related to cartography and geography. Likewise, digital geographic information, such as databases and related software, is becoming increasingly important in map libraries.

Here are some examples of map libraries:

  • Manuel Orozco y Berra Map Library: It is one of the oldest and most complete in Mexico. It is located in the Statistics National Institute and Geography (INEGI) and has a wide collection of maps and plans.

  • Map library of the National Library of Spain: It is one of the most important in Europe and has a collection of maps ranging from the fifteenth century to the present. In addition, it includes a wide variety of documents related to cartography and geography.

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