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Website of the Week — University of Texas Library Map Collection


Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations.

Mapmaking is as old as antiquity, but the digital revolution has had an enormous impact on cartography, from sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) technology to the extensive availability of online maps.

Online maps are what our Website of the Week is all about: an extensive sampling of maps from around the world, scanned and published on the Web by the University of Texas Library Map Collection at lib.utexas.edu/maps. Map librarian Paul Rascoe says the online collection is large, even though it represents only a fraction of the quarter-million maps in the university's library.

RASCOE: "There are 11,000 maps — actually a few more than that now — online. And the main thing about our map collection is that the maps online are in the public domain, and so anyone can use them for any purpose — for commercial purposes or for non-commercial purposes. So that's how we were able to put up so many maps on our website."

Many of those public domain maps are issued by U.S. government agencies, even the CIA. There are political maps, showing countries and boundaries; and historical maps; plus specialized charts called thematic maps, showing Caspian Sea oil pipelines, for example, or ethnic groups in Libya — a wide variety of maps for the wide variety of users of the site.

RASCOE: "We have very young children in school doing their homework, and they need a map of where the oil is in the Middle East, something like that. We help people hook into GIS information. There's a wide range, but we especially like to support education, and we're very responsive when we get requests from teachers."

Rascoe says the site typically gets 1.75 million visitors a week, and up to twice that when current events send people looking for maps. The site's homepage is currently featuring links to maps related to the recent U.S. midterm elections.

RASCOE: "For a major event we'll actually collect a whole page of links to maps. Right now we have some American election maps. Many news organizations and others around the world are making maps all the time. And we can't afford to do that here so we link out, and we're just a way to help communicate and to support continued mapping of current events."

And University of Texas map librarian Paul Rascoe says if you don't see what you want online, you can request it, and they'll try to help at lib.utexas.edu/maps, or get the link from our site, voanews.com.

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