Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Visiting Cambridge University Library Map Room

Last week I visited the Map Room at the UL for Cambridge Library Group's first meeting of the year. Although I've spent a fair amount of time at the UL over the last couple of years, I'd not been to the Map Room before, and was really impressed by the gorgeous items on display.

Anne Taylor and Andrew Alexander introduced us to the collection, which includes originals and facsimiles of manuscript and early printed maps and atlases, as well as modern maps, and a large collection of postcards. While a lot comes to the department through legal deposit, they also buy antiquarian and modern maps, and receive donations (in particular from the Ministry of Defence's map library, the largest map library in the country, which purchases four copies of every map and then donates three of the copies to libraries around the country when they purchase a new edition). When the Ordnance Survey maps went online and the OS archives decided not to keep their 1st edition maps, the UL purchased that collection, which showed up in three lorries rather unexpectedly one day!

Anne and Andrew had put a variety of maps out on display for our group, including a beautifully illustrated celestial atlas by Andreas Cellarias from 1661, a colourful world map titled TEA REVIVES THE WORLD! produced by the International Tea Market Expansion Board which was covered in quotes and facts about tea, and OS snapshots of the Olympic Park site taken at various points since we won the bid, showing the development there. My favourite was a map of Iceland drawn by Abraham Ortelius in around 1595, showing sea monsters surrounding the island complete with notes in Latin describing each beast (e.g. "All gristly, rather like a skate, but infinitely larger"). There's an image of part of that map on the map department's website here.

It was a great visit, and I ended up being one of the last hangers-on who spent so long looking at the maps that Andrew threatened to put us to work cataloguing them! Having had a taste of the confusing world of scales, projections and co-ordinates in my Cat & Class module at UCL I didn't take Andrew up on his offer, but will definitely visit again!

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