The City of Vancouver’s maps, from archives to internet

In anticipation of International Map Year (August 2015–December 2016), the City of Vancouver Archives (CVA) has been digitizing its cartographic collection and making it available online, with the help of a grant from the BC History Digitization Program. In a talk at a fundraising event for the archives, digital conservator Sue Bigelow gave us a peek into the digitization process, and digital archivist Sharon Walz talked about the cartographic material they keep at the archives.

Map digitization at CVA

To digitize CVA’s map collection, Bigelow uses a rolling scanner that can accommodate material 54 inches wide. Before feeding the maps into the scanner face-up, she cleans the maps, repairs tears that might catch on the scanner, and flattens out folds as much as possible. She will sometimes use a plastic sleeve for especially delicate documents, but she showed us examples of scanning artifacts that can come from light reflecting off the sleeve and told us that “scanning is best done naked.”

A major milestone in this digitization project was the scanning of the 1912 Goad’s Atlas of the City of Vancouver and Surrounding Municipalities—a fire insurance plan that codes properties by their fire risk. “Digitization produces only an image,” said Bigelow, but researchers often need more. CVA, partnering with a geographic information system (GIS) company, stitched all 98 pages of the atlas together into a mosaic and rectified it so that the components all used the same geo-coordinate system. The Goad’s Atlas, along with other maps in the public domain or under City of Vancouver copyright, is available for viewing using VanMap, which provides hundreds of layers of detail, including zoning information and the location of sewer and water mains. The Goad’s files are also available in the city’s Open Data catalogue.

After the Goad’s Atlas was completed in May, the BC Developers’ Exchange helped convert the files into the Web Map Service standard so that it could be uploaded onto the Open Historical Map project, which aims to offer a publicly accessible history of the world via maps.

In November 2014, CVA was the only archives—and the only Canadians—to attend the international Moving Historical Geodata to the Web meeting. (Bigelow wrote about the meeting on the CVA blog.) That meeting showcased the potential of Map Warper, an web-based application the public can use to rectify and share maps. CVA will provide access to Map Warper; in exchange, researchers will do the work of rectifying, and the results will be made freely available. This arrangement is mutually beneficial, as the City of Vancouver doesn’t usually need rectified images.

For more information about the project, see Bigelow’s blog post about the digitization process and John Mackie’s article about the digitized Goad’s Atlas in the Vancouver Sun.

Cartographic holdings at CVA

The cartographic material at CVA, said Walz, is a mix of city records (~60%) and non-city records (~40%). Most of the maps are non-published manuscript maps—not like the maps you’d find at a map library. City-created cartographic records come from such departments as engineering or community services, and non-city records come from several different industries, including tourism, mapmaking, and resource extraction. Although CVA is now more selective and accepts only cartographic material about Vancouver, its holdings include a lot of maps from surrounding municipalities, because the city’s first archivist, Major J.S. Matthews, accepted a lot of non-Vancouver maps.

CVA’s cartographic holdings include more than just maps. They also include profiles, such as those produced in surveys, and aerial photographs (especially those on which map information has been overlain). Walz showed us the myriad functions maps can have—in promotional material or as business documents. People would often take existing printed maps and repurpose them to depict zoning, say, or electoral boundaries, and these maps, said Walz, “are fundamentally different from the base map.” CVA may have thousands of maps called “City of Vancouver,” but they all depict different things.

On the rhetorical power of the map, Walz explained that when looking at maps, we have to remember “the fourth dimension: the intention of the person who made it.” She quoted Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps, saying, “Every map is a lie.” As projections of three-dimensional reality onto a two-dimensional surface, all maps distort reality in some way. Mapmakers will also impose their perspectives onto their maps, and many historical maps depict plans or aspirations that never came to fruition. But because they look scientific, people assume what’s on the map is (or was) what’s on the ground. “We try to take information from historical maps, but it’s not necessarily the information the map was trying to depict,” said Walz.

“Knowing why a map was made helps us understand the contents,” she said. “Knowing how a map was made can tell you if you should believe it.”

Preservation Week at the UBC Library—Part I

The American Library Association is celebrating its second annual Preservation Week, and UBC Library has been taking part by offering a series of public lectures and webinars. I’ve taken in a couple of them so far, and although they’re only tangentially related to publishing, I thought I’d still share a few of the tidbits I’ve learned.

UBC Library and digitization

Robert Stibravy of UBC Library’s Digitization Centre gave us a tour of some of their digitization equipment.


The TTI is a reprographic copy stand: it has a large surface equipped with a vacuum that can keep documents flat (even those that have been rolled up or folded), along with an overhead 48-megapixel digital camera that can be moved up and down and can accommodate a zoom or telephoto lens, depending on the size of the material. The TTI can image items up to 40 inches by 60 inches, and it can take multiple shots of each pixel, isolating each colour, which allows for excellent colour reproduction. LEDs illuminate the work from an angle, so it’s possible to image a framed work without taking the item out of the frame and without glare from the glass.

The Contex

The Contex looks a bit like a wide-format printer or plotter, but it’s actually a scanner, accommodating material up to 54 inches wide;  it uses a row of light sources and feeds the material through. Whereas the TTI’s single-camera setup means that a very large image can have minute aberrations at its fringes, the Contex has no aberration issues and is ideal for materials such as maps, where the representations must be absolutely accurate.

The Atiz

The Atiz is a cradle (V-shaped) scanner used for bound material such as books. It’s typically used to scan fragile books, because it can capture images from a book without damaging it. You have to turn the page manually to scan each spread, so scanning a rare book with the Atiz is slow process. “But for rare materials,” said Stibravy, “The material always comes first.”

Flatbed scanners

High-end Epson 10000XL flatbed scanners are the stalwarts of the Digitization Centre; they’re used to image more than all other machines combined, and they produce excellent images.

The flexScan

A lot of material to be digitized is in microfilm or microfiche. The flexScan by nextScan is used to scan various sizes of microfiche. Among the Digitization Centre’s projects is the digitization of small-town newspaper microfiche, from the B.C. archives in Victoria. These documents are of enormous historical value, because “back in the day, that was the main vehicle of communication,” said Stibravy.

He also told us about a project launched by Library and Archives Canada in collaboration with Canadiana to digitize microfilm of the Canada Treaty Series and Parliamentary debates. Many of those records are hand-written, and the partner organizations will solicit help to transcribe them once they’ve all been scanned.

The Fujitsu fi-6670A

This high-speed document scanner can scan ninety pages per minute duplex and accommodates pages as small as a business card and as large as tabloid newspaper pages. One project that the Digitization Centre uses it for is to digitize a series of laboratory notebooks for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. These notebooks contain a historical record of fish populations—information that will be essential to managing fisheries.

Other equipment

The Digitization Centre keeps older equipment, such as a ReVox reel-to-reel tape deck, to digitize legacy media. “Old-school” material, as Stibravy calls is, “is in dire need of digitization.”


Almost all of the textual material that the Digitization Centre images is sent through an OCR process. The Digitization Centre’s workflow and excellent OCR software (Abbyy) allow for a high recognition rate (mid- to high 90 percent). After OCR the texts become searchable.


Sarah Romkey, archivist for Rare Books and Special Collections, and Bronwen Sprout, the library’s digital initiatives coordinator, took the stage to explain some of the library’s digital preservation work.

People think digitization is a way of preserving print material, but digital preservation is its own complex beast with a unique set of  preservation challenges. It involves the “active management of digital information over time to ensure its accessibility” including well-thought-out policies that take into account the long-term impact of changes in technology.

UBC Library began developing its current digital strategy in 2011, in conjunction with Artefactual Systems. Their digital preservation tools include archivematica, an “open-source system designed to maintain standards-based long-term access to collections of digital objects,” as well as AtoM, an open-source web-based archival description software that allows people to search through digital archives and find what they need.

Romkey was also involved with developing policies and procedures for born-digital materials—which start life as digital objects and may never become print objects. One of the tenets of archiving is the concept of “original order”: the order of photos in a box or album, for example, offers important context. On storage media like CDs, however, or on legacy media such as floppy disks, original order is harder to pin down, because files can be sorted and stored in any number of configurations. To prevent the machine used to read the digital files from renaming and rearranging them, the digital preservation team has to use a write blocker to preserve their order.

The team also has to grapple with intellectual property issues. The digital rights to the materials has to be confirmed with the copyright holders. Some donors would like the library to provide access to the material but retain copyright, for example. The library has had to develop a donor agreement to deal with digital copyright.

Sprout mentioned also that an ongoing consideration of the digital preservation strategy was to integrate the growing archives into the library’s existing systems, such as the institutional repository, cIRcle.


Low-cost ways to preserve family archives

Karen E. K. Brown, preservation librarian for the University at Albany, SUNY, University Libraries, gave a talk via webinar on preserving family archives.

Preventing damage, she stressed, is far preferable to repairing damage, so it’s important to develop good storage and handling practices.

Family archives matter because they “tell the story of who we are,” said Brown, and give future generations “a record of where they came from.” Family archives can also be an important part of the community’s history.

Family archives—usually a collection of original letters, reports, notes, photographs, etc.—provide historical evidence and data about the person who created them. They may have sentimental value, of course, but some might also have financial value (such as a deed on a parcel of land). They provide proof that an event occurred and might even explain how.

Before storing the archives, Brown said, take some time to organize and document them. On separate pieces of paper, note what you know about each item: for a photograph, who is in the photo, who took it, when and where it was taken; for a letter, who wrote it, who received it, where sender and recipient lived, and when it was sent. Avoid taking notes on the original, if possible; if you absolutely have to, make light, small notes in pencil only. Whenever possible, respect the material’s original order. Diligent organization and labelling can prevent information from getting scattered or misidentified.

The main ways to protect your collections are to:

  • control the environment
  • use the right type of enclosures
  • handle the material as little and as carefully as possible
  • use copies rather than originals

You might also consider how to protect your collections in emergencies.

The environment

Temperature and relative humidity are the two biggest environmental risks. For every 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.6 degrees Celsius), the rate of deterioration doubles. If the humidity is too high, you might encourage mould growth; too low, and leathers and adhesives may dry out. In general, avoid extremes; ideal conditions are 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 18 degrees Celsius) and a relative humidity of 30 to 40 per cent. Practically speaking, these conditions are pretty hard to achieve, so just do what you can. Avoid storing your archives in basements, which are prone to flooding and are notorious for humidity, or attics, which can harbour pests and may get very hot in the summer. Store them in the central part of your home in suitable enclosures, and keep your home cool. Measures like sealing cracks in windows and walls and using insulated curtains, as well as dehumidifying damp areas, will not only preserve your archives but also boost the efficiency of your home.

Light is also a major environmental risk; visible and UV light can cause fading and discolouration and can cause materials to become brittle. This damage is permanent and irreversible. Limit your archives’ exposure to light. Display copies if you can, while keeping originals in the dark. Use low-wattage bulbs with dimmers. Incandescent and LED bulbs are preferable to fluorescents, which put out a lot of UV. You can use UV-filtering Plexiglas, but it’s expensive, and the protection doesn’t last forever.

To protect your archives from dirt and dust, which may scratch, be acidic, or act as food sources for pests, regularly dust and vacuum. Vacuums with HEPA filters are best, and heating systems should also be properly filtered.

Storing and handling archives

Never repair items with pressure-sensitive tapes or commercial adhesives, even if they claim to be archival. Segregate acidic items like newspaper clippings or faxes. Remove all paper clips, pins, rubber bands, etc. View your collection items in a clean area, using clean hands.

When caring for books, shelve them fully upright, using bookends if you need to. Oversize books can be shelved spine down (never spine up) or flat. Don’t pull books out from the head cap, and don’t fold over page corners or use Post-It notes. Store books closed.

For documents, hanging files in a filing cabinet are best. Boxes should be sturdy, chemically stable and have snug lids. If using plastic, opt for polyester, polyethylene, or polypropylene and “avoid anything that has a funny smell,” said Brown. Using folders rather than envelopes to store documents minimizes the chances that you’ll damage them when you insert or extract them. Avoid using coloured folders, which can transfer colour to the documents. Any enclosures like envelopes and folders should be acid free and lignin free (lignin is a component of tree bark that can acidify paper and cause discolouration). Buffered paper—which is slightly basic—is also available, but don’t use buffered paper with colour-sensitive documents like blueprints.

For photos, the best enclosures are those that have passed the Photographic Activity Test. Don’t use plastic sleeves if you’re storing photos in high-humidity areas. For albums, use mounting corners, not self-adhesive or magnetic albums. Preserve albums intact whenever possible and store them in boxes.

Oversize collections should be stored flat whenever possible. If you do have to fold, fold items like newspapers along the original centre fold. Stack newspapers in fitted boxes in chronological order. If you have to roll, use the double-tube method: roll it around one tube, secure it with tissue paper and cotton tying tape, then place it into a larger tube capped at both ends, to prevent the item from being crushed.

For AV materials, handle grooved and optical discs by the edges or the centre hole and open reel and magnetic tape by the edges or outer shell. Don’t touch the spools. If it’s deteriorating badly, consult a conservation specialist to get the content copied to new media.

Framing items for home display

People think that framing something is preserving it, but if you’re using adhesives and acidic backing and exposing the item to light, you could be accelerating its deterioration. If you do frame an item, always use 100% cotton mattes and mounting boards. Use a window matte so that the item isn’t in direct contact with the glass. Never use spray adhesives. Don’t fold or cut the item to get it to fit. Keep all original labels. For the best results, consult a conservator for help. When you display your items, hang them in interior rooms, away from heat sources. The mantle may not be the best place to display your family’s treasures.

Prepare for emergencies

When going through your archives, identify ones that are essential:

  • vital records
  • legal records that may help you protect your rights, document your property and financial assets, etc.
  • historically important records.

Make duplicates and store them in a safe place outside of your home. Use a “grab and go” bag to store items that you’d absolutely want to take with you in an emergency. If your archives do suffer damage, items should be air dried or frozen within forty-eight hours to prevent mould growth. Consult a conservator to help salvage damaged items.

Further reading about personal archives


Preservation Week events continue Thursday and Friday, and I’ll give a rundown of those sessions in a few days.

Jack Joyce—A tour through the world of map editing (EAC-BC meeting)

I first started corresponding with Jack Joyce, founder and president of International Travel Maps and Books (ITMB Publishing) roughly a year ago when I was planning the PubPro 2013 unconference. I was inviting everyone who did any kind of publishing in B.C. to come share their wisdom about publication production. Joyce wrote back, “I’m not sure how valuable my participation would be, given that our production techniques, pre-press work, printing, and marketing differ so significantly from the needs of book publishers.” He added, “We use cartographers instead of project managers, senior cartographers instead of editors, and pre-press graphics specialists instead of pre-press print specialists. As maps are completely graphic and worked on by a dozen staff, there are no authors per se, although we credit the senior cartographers on the map when published. Even the eventual printing has to be done differently than for books.”

His response only made me want to learn more about editing and production in cartography, and we invited him to speak at our January EAC-BC meeting, where Joyce regaled us with eye-opening stories about ITMB’s rich history and the surprising state of mapping today.

History of ITMB

Joyce was raised in Toronto and educated as a town and regional planner at the University of Western Ontario. He moved to Vancouver in 1980, where he managed the Information Canada outlet, run by Renouf Books. Customers came in looking for maps of other Canadian cities. At the time, the retailer carried only maps of Vancouver and B.C. Joyce did four days of searching to track down a map of Ottawa that a customer was looking for. After that he forged relationships with suppliers, and his Hastings storefront became known as a place—really, the only place—people could get maps.

Everything was going fine, said Joyce, until someone came in looking for a map of Los Angeles. He contacted Rand McNally and began distributing that company’s maps of U.S. destinations. Then a customer came in looking for a map of London.

In response, Joyce contacted fifteen European countries asking them who was distributing their maps in North America. No one was, as it turns out, and Joyce became the North American distributor for fourteen of them. “We didn’t hear back from Switzerland,” Joyce quipped.

Recognizing a market niche, Joyce took six weeks off to visit Japan, South Korea, and China. At the time, in 1982, he was one of the first foreigners in China. After a two-hour meeting in Beijing he had secured a contract to do worldwide marketing of all maps of China, an arrangement that lasted until Tiananmen Square happened in 1989.

For South America, however, he “ran out of options.” Maps were basically impossible to find. So he teamed up with Australian cartographer Kevin Healey to form ITMB and began publishing original maps. “Kevin spent five years doing artwork by hand,” said Joyce. “He would attach typeset place names with beeswax. We worked that way until the early 1990s.”

In the 1980s, almost nothing had been published for any of South America; some governments, including Peru and Uruguay, hadn’t even done their own mapping. On one of the only available maps of Brazil, there was an island depicted at the mouth of the Amazon that Healey couldn’t find on any of the regional maps. That map, Joyce explained had been based on an aerial photograph that the Americans had taken in 1947, and the “island” was actually a cloud. This mistake persisted in maps for more than thirty years. “It’s not that unusual,” said Joyce. Even Google, as recently as 2012, showed an island in the South Pacific that doesn’t exist. “It was another cloud,” said Joyce.

Maps of various regions in Latin America became ITMB’s forte, but they also produced travel maps to other destinations all over the world. The maps of Europe at the time, explained Joyce, were all road maps. “None of the maps published showed railway lines.” Yet travellers to Europe usually explored the continent with a rail pass. So ITMB became the only firm that produced a map of Europe showing the rail lines.

Healey died in 1994. By that time Joyce had developed a relationship with the government of Vietnam’s mapping office, where he met his wife Lan, who worked as a cartographer and printer. Lan arrived in Canada in 1996 and took over cartographic production at ITMB, standardizing map design, and increasing the firm’s list from forty titles to 140 titles. Today, ITMB has over 490 titles in print and is the largest publisher of travel maps in the world.

State of mapping today

“Why are we still doing maps when everything is mapped electronically?” Joyce  said. As it turns out, the world is not nearly as well mapped as we believe. “Even Google will admit it’s only halfway through mapping the world.”

Around the time of the American invasion of Iraq, National Geographic had planed to do a feature on the historic treasures of Baghdad. Only shortly before they were scheduled to go to press did they realize that they didn’t have a map of Baghdad. Iraq was a very dangerous place to be sending in a map researcher, of course, but Joyce had a big and reliable enough team of researchers around the area that ITMB had managed to produce a good map of Baghdad. ITMB was the only firm in the world with artwork for Baghdad, and National Geographic called them for help, eventually printing 9 million copies of that map worldwide.

More recently, after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, ITMB was on call with various aid organizations providing maps of the country. Even the U.S. State Department didn’t have its own maps and had to turn to ITMB for help. (Sure enough, as of this writing, if you look up Haiti in Google Maps and zoom in, you can see roads they’ve drawn in by tracing the satellite photo, but, except for the main highway, almost none of them are named.)

There are still huge parts of the world that you can’t get maps for, particularly in Africa, where most of the governments don’t have mapping offices and aren’t concerned about mapping. ITMB has been working with a Scottish firm that has been developing a digital database of Africa, using its artwork and refining it for travel maps. Joyce and his colleagues prepared the first ever travel map of Northwest Africa. “And this was a week ago!” he said. “Don’t leave home without a map,” Joyce advised. Many countries don’t have the infrastructure to distribute maps. In some places, you can’t get a map locally.

Cartography can be a sensitive political issue; a lot of mapping is taken on by governments, and the government of one country is reluctant to map another country, because doing so implies that it has the right to map the other country. As a result, some maps look as though “the world drops off at the end of the country.” ITMB doesn’t take that attitude, said Joyce, and it pieces together information from different sources to produce maps that travellers would find useful, even for not-so-remote locations. For example, say you want to take a trip down the Pacific coast of the United States. There are plenty of road maps out there that can take you down the I-5, but if you wanted to visit McMinnville to see Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose or detour to Mount Hood, you’d be hard-pressed to find a map that had all of that information. ITMB, of course, has published just such a map.

The mapping process has certainly changed dramatically since Joyce started in this business. “In my lifetime, maps have moved from being done by hand, to being done by hand with typesetting, to scribing tools, to giant computers, to desktop computers,” said Joyce. The preferred software used to be Freehand, but Adobe purchased it and discontinued it. Now cartographers mostly use Illustrator. The iPad has really benefited mapping, because it lets the cartographer get georeferencing information in real time. She could be driving down a road in Israel and see where she appears on her map. If the map is off position, she can easily shift the road directly on the iPad to reflect where she actually is. Still, said Joyce, “A computer is only a machine. It’s only as good as the operator. You have to put in talent—a lot of artistic talent.” It’s not that hard to make a map that is technically accurate but looks boring, he said.

Editorial concerns in mapping

Curating information

When ITMB began, the firm relied heavily on atlases, travel guides (like Lonely Planet), any existing maps, and a huge team of researchers. Today Joyce and his colleagues still do this for some of the more remote parts of the world, but the information for a lot of places can be found in digital databases. “There’s almost a wealth of data. Our job is to take information out.” He had wanted to make a travel map of Australia, he explained, and he used a digital database to place a little airplane icon wherever there was an airport. “The whole map turned black,” he said—because many of the country’s ranchers and farmers have their own airstrips. To whittle down the number of airports on his map, he had to filter the database results, keeping only those airports with scheduled service, and the number of airplane icons dropped from thousands to twenty-six.


Once a cartographer has completed a map, it’s important to have another pair of eyes look over it. “Cartography is like every other type of editorial work,” said Joyce. Just as a person who’s written a book will have blind spots, “If you stare at the text long enough, it looks good.” Better yet is to take the map to (or back to) the travel destination and try to find errors—a process Joyce calls “ground truthing.” “A cartographer doesn’t have to have gone to Costa Rica to make a good map. But it helps,” he said. For some new maps of remote destinations, ITMB may do a small initial print run, essentially “buying five thousand researchers.” The early buyers of these maps will report back to the company—”This road is paved,” “This road is a kilometre over,” and so on. For a place like Ghana, Jack said, “You’re lucky if you can get the place name on the right side of the river and the names spelled at all reasonably,” adding, “You do your best.”

Spelling can be tricky in countries where the Latin alphabet isn’t the primary writing system. A week before his talk, Joyce and his wife were in Israel, heading toward Elat, Israel. Road signs leading up to Elat said “Elat” or “Ilat” or “Eilat.” Within Elat, most signs said “Elat,” except for one that said “Ilot.” The road signs there are in Hebrew, Arabic, then the Latin alphabet, and in many places the Latin spelling hadn’t been standardized. And the capital of Mongolia is variously spelled Ulan Bator, Ulaan Baatar, Ulaanbattar, etc. What is the correct spelling? “They don’t care!” said Joyce. Only China has imposed the Latin transliteration of its place names; other countries with non-Latin writing systems aren’t as concerned. To make sure users can find what they’re looking for, ITMB publishes the maps with the three most common variations—but there are times the cartographers can’t find any kind of consistency.

Editorial discretion

Maps done by a geological survey, said Joyce, can be used in a court of law. “My travel maps? No. Don’t try to fight a battle with them,” he said. If a road on a travel map were to scale, it would be a hundred kilometres wide—but for travellers, the roads are important to highlight. Another example is Fiji, which appears as a labelled cluster of dots on every world map; in reality, Fiji would be too small to see at that scale. Europe, too, is often depicted as bigger than it is, because otherwise it would be impossible to fit all of the information onto the map. ITMB’s business is travel maps, so its cartographers will exercise this kind of editorial discretion to give travellers the information they need.


Joyce has noticed that sometimes after ITMB has done the legwork and published a map, other maps that look suspiciously similar will appear. But “Copyright is not something that’s so easy to defend, I’m afraid,” he said. Basically the artwork on the copy would have to be identical, down to the contours and typefaces. Even then, the legal fees involved in prosecuting copyright infringement would be prohibitive. “We don’t get mad—we get even,” Joyce said. “They published a map? We’ll publish a better map.” ITMB has built a reputation as the world’s premier travel map publisher, and the business is on good terms with travel publishers, many of whose guides feature ITMB maps. One factor in Joyce’s favour is that there’s not a whole lot of competition in cartography “because it’s so much damn work!” he said. It took them seven years to map Peru, he explained.


“Do we make money? Yes, overall, we do. But how much demand is there for Tonga, Malawi, and Antarctica?” Their primary motivation, explained Joyce, is not to make money; they love what they do, and “we do it because it has to be done. If we don’t do it, nobody will.”

Derek Hayes wins inaugural Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize

Congratulations to Derek Hayes, whose British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas has picked up yet another honour! Hayes’s visually stunning opus has won the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia, a new award from UBC Library and the Pacific BookWorld News Society. More details here.

British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas event coming up

Derek Hayes will be giving a talk about his new book, British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas, on Monday, December 3, at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. This free event runs from 7pm to 8:30pm, and there will be books for sale. More information is available on the VPL’s event calendar.

British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas set to publish

I finally picked up my comp copy of Derek Hayes’s latest opus, British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas, and it’s a gorgeous, weighty volume. When I edit his books, I always mark up black-and-white printouts, and although I do get to see the colour in PDFs of the drafts, viewing those simply doesn’t compare to being able to flip through the finished printed book.

Derek Hayes has curated a stunning collection of over 900 maps, which he deftly uses to tell the story of the province. This book is packed, featuring an enormous variety of maps and historical images, from the sketches of fur traders and gold seekers to plans for the transcontinental railway that was key to British Columbia’s entry into Confederation to maps used during wartime and beyond. Hayes’s text is lively and accessible but rigorous and thorough. His type of visual storytelling (I should mention that he does all of the interior layout and design) is a fascinating way to learn about history.

What I am most looking forward to this time around is being able to take part in the book’s upcoming publicity and events. The past few historical atlases I have worked on—including the Historical Atlas of Washington and Oregon and the Historical Atlas of the American West—were published by the University of California Press, and I missed out on the publicity efforts for those books completely. I’ll post updates about this new book’s events as I hear about them.

Maps: citations, part 2

I finally managed to look through a copy of Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, mentioned in my last post. I could only find it through the UBC library’s Rare Books and Special Collections; I’d never had to access a library’s special collections before, and it was an experience. To protect the collection, the library imposes strict restrictions on what can be brought into the room. I had to check my bag and jacket, clean my hands, and take notes with pencil on paper they provided—no pens or outside papers were allowed.

When I began flipping through the binder of material, I confirmed my suspicion that it would be overkill for most authors and editors. AACR stands for the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, which is primarily a resource for librarians, and Cartographic Materials is an AACR publication with a particular focus on maps, so it’s even more esoteric. Still, looking through the book provided an interesting glimpse into the complex and disciplined world of the map librarian—especially one who works with what the AACR calls “early cartographic material” and has to figure out a way to meaningfully catalogue copies of old maps that may be disintegrating or missing pieces.

What’s more, it did effectively answer my own questions regarding punctuation and titles in the citations of early maps. Here are some relevant excerpts:

Punctuation and spelling

Rule 1B1: Transcribe the title proper exactly as to wording, order, and spelling, but not necessarily as to punctuation and capitalization. Give accentuation and other diacritical marks that are present in the chief source of information. Capitalize according to AACR2 Appendix A. (Page 1-2)

In general, base the description on the copy in hand… If missing or obscured letters or words can be reconstructed with some certainty, include these in the transcription, enclosing them in square brackets. (Page 0-2)

Generally follow conventions of modern punctuation in transcribing information according to these rules. Common sense may be used in transcribing or omitting punctuation found in the source of information. (Page 0-10)

For early cartographic materials, do not correct words spelled according to older nonstandard orthographic conventions. (Page 0-12)

For works published before 1801, in general do not add accents and other diacritical markets that are not present in the source… In general, transcribe letters as they appear. Convert earlier forms of their letters and diacritical marks, however, to their modern form. [So this would include ligatures and characters like the eth, which was an alteration of the d, or the long s, which looks like an f without the crossbar.] (Page 0-13)

Identifying and truncating a title

Rule 0C2: Items lacking a chief source of information: If no part of the item supplies data that can be used as the basis of the description, take the necessary information from any available source, whether this be a reference work or the content of the item itself. (Page 0-2)

On cartographic items where the title information in the cartouche or title block is arranged decoratively and/or other elements of the description are interspersed with the title information, transcribe the title as it would logically be read. (Page 1-2)

Rule 1B4: Abridge a long title proper only if this can be done without the loss of essential information. Never omit any of the first five words of the title proper (excluding the alternative title). Indicate omissions by the mark of omission. (Page 1-5)

Rule 1D1: Transcribe parallel titles in the order indicated by their sequence on, or by the layout of, the chief source of information. (Page 1-17)

The capitalization rules in AACR2 Appendix A referred to in Rule 1B1 above don’t really apply to authors or editors (if you look at CiP data in a book, you’ll notice that cataloguers don’t use title case), so for citation styles in a book, using title case consistently, according to Cartographic Citations: A Style Guide (Kollen et al.), is likely the best bet.

Many of these “rules” may seem like common sense—but I’ve found it an enormously helpful exercise to pin down an authoritative source that confirms what I’ve been doing and telling my authors.

Maps: type style and citations

As a book editor, I’ve learned to rely pretty heavily on the dependable Chicago Manual of Style. Once in a while, though, I run into an esoteric subject that Chicago just doesn’t cover well. Maps—both in terms of working with a cartographer to create a map and in terms of citing old maps—are one such subject, and they deserve special attention because they have both visual and textual considerations and because they can serve a wide spectrum of functions: in some books they give geographical context by telling readers the locations of unfamiliar places, whereas in others, like guidebooks, they can be critical navigational tools.

In my early days at D&M, one of the more senior editors asked me to copy edit some map labels to be sent to a mapmaker. “So just make sure that the formatting is correct,” she told me. “For instance, bodies of water should be in italics—you know that, right?”

I didn’t, at the time, and a few years later, when I was putting together an editorial wiki for the company, which included our style guidelines, I wanted to add a section specifically about maps. I pored through Chicago and searched online but couldn’t find a particular authoritative source that stated the bodies of water = italics convention. I ended up listing it as a house style but never stopped wondering where that came from.

Recently I sent the question to the Canadian Cartographic Association, and the president, Gerald Stark, a cartographer for the Government of Alberta, not only wrote me an incredibly thorough response of his own but also forwarded my query to the CCA membership. Below is a summary of some of the members’ contributions to the discussion.

Type considerations on new maps

Writes David Forrest, senior lecturer at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow:

In terms of map design generally, there are no definitive specifications that must be followed, except in a few specific cases such as hydrographic charts. Some map topics, such as topographic and geological maps, have developed “conventions” over the years, but these need not be slavishly followed, and topographic maps, even at the same scale, vary greatly around the world.

The use of italic for water names is such a convention, but you can find many maps which don’t. The main thing is that variations in letterform are used to enhance the classification of features on the map. Labelling everything in the same typeface is generally poor, but it does depend on the individual map, the number (and density) of names and what the map is for.

In a book the important thing would be to have a consistent approach throughout—much like most atlases do—but the choice of type styles may depend on whether one is trying to give the map a modern look or an historical look, for example.

On another point, in the caption for historical map illustrations, one thing really useful, but often absent, is a note of the size of the original, or the % reduction (e.g. shown 55% of original), as scale is one of the most critical factors in map design.

Henry Castner, author of Seeking New Horizons: A Perceptual Approach to Geographic Education and editor of A History of the Cartography of Russia up to 1800, writes:

In book editing, I suspect most of your maps are unique special-purpose and thematic maps for which the purpose of the map overrides some perceived need for design consistency. So depending on the purpose for labelling the water area(s), for example, it may be that large bold letters are required in one case, and small inconspicuous ones in another. In other words, an editor has much greater freedom in designing special-purpose and thematic maps as long as attention is given to the visual tasks involved and the role each map element plays in their execution. The worst sin in map designs in books, in my experience, are maps that don’t locate the places mentioned in the narrative.

So there you have it. Typographic considerations for a map depend on the map’s purpose in the book and the need for consistency within a book. If you are a publisher that works frequently with mapmakers, defining a house style for type on maps may be the way to go.

That said, if you need a place to start, check out the conventions used by national topographic mapping bodies. Gerald Stark writes:

Most national mapping programs have well-established standards for map design (e.g., United States Geological Survey; Natural Resources Canada—National Topographic Series; Ordnance Survey of the U.K.). Maps produced by these agencies do provide guidelines for producing topographic maps.

Of particular interest is a link Stark gave me to the Atlas of Canada discussing type design on maps.

For further information about map design in general, Stark recommended several books; since they’re not specific to type style on maps, I won’t include them here, but if you’re interested, get in touch with me, and I would be happy to pass along his list.

I don’t know that I agree with David Forrest’s assertion that a map’s scale of reduction is absolutely necessary to state in a citation—again, because maps serve different functions when reproduced in a book. If a map is included purely for illustration and not for navigation, an indication of a map’s reduction may be interesting to a cartographer but not needed for the general reader. Which segues beautifully to…

Citing maps

Another area that Chicago doesn’t discuss in detail is map citation. Although in many cases they can be considered art or photography and may be cited as such, their inherently informative nature usually demands more bibliographic detail, especially if the work in which they appear is meant to serve as a reference.

My query to the Canadian Cartographic Association and to the David Rumsey Historical Map Association about proper map citations brought back a number of online guides, all of which pretty well cover print and digital maps:

Alberta Wood of the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives also generously shared with me a draft of best practices in map citation; when her document has been formally approved, it will be posted on the ACMLA site.

The CCA members also recommended two print guides. The first is

Kollen, Christine, Wangyal Shawa, and Mary Larsgaard. Cartographic Citations: A Style Guide, Second edition. Chicago: Map and Geography Round Table, American Library Association, 2010.

It’s a thirty-two page handbook covering everything from manuscript maps, single-sheet maps, and atlases to remote-sensing imagery and computer spatial-data files. I found a copy at the UBC library; it’s comprehensive and easy to use, and it has a helpful glossary defining cartographic terms. Its raison d’être is clear from its introduction: “The majority of general citation guides and style manuals either do not include any information on cartographic materials or only provide guidance on how to cite a single stand-alone map or as figures in an article or book.” It is meant as a supplement to standard style and citation guides. You can buy it here for $20, but given its very specialized focus, I would say that it’s worth the investment only if you know you’ll be working with cartographic citation frequently. For most purposes, the online guides are as much information as you need.

The other recommended print guide is

Mangan, Elizabeth U., ed. Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, Second edition. Chicago, Ottawa, and London: Anglo-American Cataloguing Committee for Cartographic Materials, 2006.

This reference isn’t so easy to find: the only copy in the city that I could track down is in the UBC library’s reference staff area and hence unavailable for borrowing. In fact, when I went to look at it when I picked up Cartographic Citations, the reference staff was in a meeting, and I couldn’t even get access to it. Further, it’s pretty big, at 400 pages, and it carries a $138 price tag. Because Cartographic Citations is more than adequate for most editors’ purposes, I’d suggest going for that one, if you work often with maps, or leaning on the online sources.

What Mangan’s Cartographic Materials may provide specific guidance on is historical maps. I’ve had the privilege of working for several years on Derek Hayes’s magnificent historical atlases, for each of which he has had to compile a detailed catalogue of all of the maps that appear in the book. We have the odd disagreements about the format of these citations, he being more inclined to preserve the style of the original and I being partial to clarity and consistency. We’ve found a compromise we seem to be comfortable with—matching the case of the title given on the map, unless it’s in all caps, in which case we use title case. We do add punctuation for clarity if punctuation is implied but not actually written at the end of a line (for example, adding a comma if the title of a map has “Vancouver” on one line and “British Columbia” on the next). However, there are lingering questions, like when, if ever, it’s acceptable to truncate the very long title of a historical map, and where. And if a historical map appears to have several titles, how to decisively identify the map’s “main” title.

Paige Andrew, maps cataloging librarian at Pennsylvania State University Libraries, refers me to Rule 1E3 and Appendix G, “Early Cartographic Material” in the second edition of Cartographic Materials. When I return Cartographic Citations, I’ll take another shot at checking if Cartographic Materials is available to see if we can settle these issues once and for all.


If it isn’t already clear, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of helpful responses from the Canadian Cartographic Association membership. Thanks to all of them, I’ve been able to clear up some of my confusion surrounding  editorial considerations in cartography.