How to find maps in the University of Chicago Map Collection

Like most large map libraries, the Map Collection is a “mediated” collection. You must request maps from staff members. It’s perfectly acceptable to bring a general question to staff. We’re glad to pull out as many maps as you think you could possibly use.

However, if you would like to find out what’s at the Collection without having to be completely dependent on staff, you should know that approximately 99% of the maps at the University of Chicago Map Collection are cataloged. Records for maps appear in the catalog along with records for other material and are structured in nearly the same way. They show author and title and include subject headings and a description of the material that can be very full—or very thin.

Map records do have a few distinctive features:

[1] There is almost always a scale in map records, usually in the form of a ratio, like 1:10,000. This kind of scale tells you how many times you would have to blow up the map to cover the earth’s surface. Typical scales for urban maps range from 1:1,000 (which would include building footprints) to 1:50,000. Typical scales for regional maps would be between 1:50,000 and 1:1,000,000.

[2] Map subject headings are structured like most Library of Congress subject headings but almost always end with a word or phrase that describes the format, most often “Maps” but occasionally “Aerial views,” or something else. The same controlled, sometimes slightly archaic vocabulary is used in subject headings for maps as in subject headings for books. Examples of correct map subject headings:

Chicago (Ill.)—Maps.
Chicago (Ill.)—Population—Maps.

[3] Most maps in any big map collection belong to sets, most often sets of topographic maps. These can have thousands of sheets. Cataloging at the Map Collection is almost always at the set level. To find out what sheets are owned, you must consult an index map. Some map records point to a URL with an index map, but you cannot count on this. It pays to remember that the best maps for small areas are often found in one of the Collection’s large sets, which will have a subject heading only for the larger geographic unit.

[4] “Authors” of maps are often government agencies or commercial firms, and these bodies are listed in catalogs in a distinctive, consistent, “controlled” form, like “Geological Survey (U.S.)” and “Rand McNally & Company.”

[5] Searching by call number can be a very productive way of searching for maps in the catalog. The root call number always refers to a place. Thus, all maps of Chicago (except those belonging to sets that cover a larger area) start with G4104.C6. Letters are added for thematic maps (for example, E1 for ethnicity, P3 for railroads); these are the same for all records. Map call numbers normally have a “date of situation” and a main entry “Cutter” as well. Examples of correct map call numbers are

G4104.C6E1 2000 .U5 [for an ethnic map of Chicago for the year 2000, whose author’s name starts with U]
G4100 1851 .P4 [for an 1851 map of Illinois, whose author’s name starts with P]

[6] Cataloging rules have changed substantially every few decades. You will find that records from different time periods look quite different. But subject headings, author headings, and call numbers are typically kept up-to-date.

[7] Most of any big library’s maps are found in books and journal articles and are not cataloged separately. There is an index of maps in books and journals*, but it is not very complete. Searching for maps in books and journals depends of course on your goals. Subject searches, either in library catalogs or in journal indexes, can be very productive.

[8] It is perfectly possible to request maps through Interlibrary Loan. This doesn’t always work, and it’s most likely that you will only be able to get a scan in return, but in many cases that may be what you want anyway. Search WorldCat (OCLC) to find out what other institutions hold. WorldCat now has more than 4,600,000 map records. You can search them the same way you search records in the University of Chicago Library’s catalog. Be warned, though, that roughly half of these records were compiled by libraries in non-English-speaking countries or else were produced decades ago. These records are likely to have a structure that is quite different from that of modern map records. Note also that many libraries’ maps are not as completely cataloged those at the University of Chicago Map Collection.

* Index to maps in books and periodicals. New York : American Geographical Society, 1968- Map Collection Z6028.A51.

Christopher Winters
Bibliographer for Anthropology, Geography, and Maps
JRL 370, (773) 702-8761