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Los Angeles Public Library’s Cartographic Christmas

by on December 19, 2012

Christmas means different things for different people. For cartophiles like myself, a mappy Christmas means a happy Christmas. Glen Creason, map librarian at Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) since 1989, has been celebrating Christmas since late October.

According to articles from the L.A. Times and KCET, Los Angeles map collector (or hoarder, depending on who you listen to) John Feathers passed away in February, and the real estate agent tasked with clearing out his small house found it stuffed to the gills with thousands of maps. It’s still unclear exactly how many maps are involved, but it’ll likely make LAPL’s map collection one of the largest in the United States.  Creason estimates it’ll take a year or so to go through it all and catalog it properly, though he’s already found some priceless maps and atlases of Los Angeles to flesh out an already top-notch local map collection.

You might remember that LAPL suffered a disastrous fire in 1986, but has since recovered well and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Its building is spacious and beautiful.

This gift puts them in the same category as New York Public Library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Boston Public Library. They are all doing great things with their map collections–  though granted they generally have more resources to work with.

Most public libraries have minimal physical map collections, but even if you do, managing it can be daunting due to unfamiliarity and unusual format. You can find a lot of resources online to help you navigate the hurdles. WebJunction offers a one-stop list of basic pointers and resources to get you started on your own digitization project.  Even if you don’t have physical map resources, remember that much has already been digitized. A little virtual curating and web design could be all you need to draw it all together into a beautiful online map library.

LAPL’s Christmas present came serendipitously at least in part because the real estate agent tasked with tossing the collection had heard about their map library. Who knows what local collections are out there waiting to be donated to your library. Maybe all you need to do is plant the seed by working with what you’ve got.

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