Posted - 17-11-2016


A world class map collection

The National Library of Wales is home to the Welsh National Map Collection which contains one and a half million maps and atlases; this makes it one of the largest map collections in the World.

Of course, the focus of the collection is material relating to Wales, and the British Isles; but what most people may not realise is that we also hold a large collection of overseas mapping from across the globe; this is what makes the National Map Collection so important, especially when most university map collections are being downsized or disposed of altogether.

In the age of Google maps there is an assumption that detailed mapping of the whole world is only a click away. However, in reality detailed up-to-date topographic mapping of much of the world is still scarce and paper map collections still have their place in providing both current and historic mapping.

The overseas map collection has grown through two main sources of acquisition, firstly through legal deposit, as a legal deposit library the National Library of Wales has the right to receive a copy of any map or atlas published in the UK and the Republic of Ireland; this includes mapping of other countries. This has provided us with a large collection of commercially produced maps and atlases, such as the map of New Zealand by Philip’s from 1925 shown in the gallery.

In addition to the commercial mapping we also received mapping produced by the British Government of other countries, mostly British colonies and overseas territories. Most of this material came from the Directorate of Overseas (formerly Colonial) Surveys and its successor Ordnance Survey International. This is an invaluable source of mapping for a number of countries especially in Africa and the Caribbean, such as the map of Barbados from 1960 shown in the gallery.

Our second major source of acquisition is the Ministry of Defence. The MOD map library has historically held multiple copies of published mapping from all over the world, when this mapping is superseded by newer mapping the older mapping is disposed of to map collections throughout the UK, including the National Library of Wales. This allows us to receive, free of charge, mapping for other countries at detailed scales which we would never be able to afford to buy, such as the USGS map shown in the gallery, showing part of Los Angeles from 1981.

One major influx of material came after the Second World War when millions of sheets of mapping were being disposed of, not just maps made by the UK, but also maps made by the US Army Map Service and maps captured from the Germans. Some examples are shown in the gallery.

While overseas mapping may not be the most widely recognised part of the National Map Collection it is an invaluable source not just for historical information, but also for information about environmental and social change in our world and may even provide the most current available topographic detail for some areas.

It is worth remembering that, in an age of online mapping and satnav, paper maps still have their uses and the National Map Collection is a great resource for the people of Wales.

Huw Thomas

Map Curator

This post is also available in: Welsh

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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