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You Are Here: From points around the globe, visitors zero in on geography of world conflicts through map collection

Ethnolinguistic groups in Afghanistan map
Ethnolinguistic groups in Afghanistan, 1997.
Inveterate world traveler Paul Rascoe, map librarian in the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) at The University of Texas at Austin, was in Asia on September 11 when terrorists struck New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Because current news demands links to maps of current interest immediately, Rascoe went to work remotely. “I was stuck there and ended up proofreading new links for the PCL Map Collection site from a cyber café in Hong Kong,” he said.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection site was used by CNN and appeared on broadcast screens around the world. The site received so many “hits” from information seekers around the globe that the increased traffic slowed the university’s Internet connectivity to the point that access to the PCL Map Collection site had to be restricted.

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection Web site, a virtual desktop atlas, now averages around 8 million “hits” a month and has been described in College and Research Libraries News as “a must-see map site.”

In spring 1995, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, Rascoe had a vision. With the support and encouragement of his General Libraries colleagues, that vision developed into a collection of more than 5,000 digitized, mainly copyright-free maps used today by researchers, school children, and news and governmental agencies worldwide.

Maps of current interest are highlighted on the site’s opening page. These selections have been the most heavily used by the public and are referred to by news organizations such as CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, the Atlanta Constitution, The Guardian (London) and the London Times, in various broadcast, print and web formats of their publications.

The PCL maps, unlike other maps on the Internet, are all high-resolution, “so you can see place names clearly,” Rascoe emphasized. The site’s most popular map is a map of the world that receives 150,000 hits a month. One of its top referring sites is Yahooligans! The Web Guide for Kids. As Rascoe pointed out, “Lots of our users are students and teachers of all grade levels from all countries.”

Reference map of South America
South America, 2001.
Printed maps received through the Federal Depository Library Program, including Central Intelligence Agency maps, make up a large portion of the maps on the PCL Map Collection site. These are all in the public domain, with no permissions needed to download and use. The range of maps is extensive, covering current, worldwide, historical and Texas maps.

Maps of Texas cities and counties, published by the Texas Department of Transportation and reproduced with permission, are given an added twist. The user can zoom in to view terrain details and individual street configurations in small Texas towns. The site offers an alphabetical list by county or searching by the name of a county, city, lake, university or other large geographical body.

The PCL Map Collection site also is a historical collection and includes maps from 19th-century printed books and atlases. Multiple editions of maps published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency are not available anywhere else online.

This area is full of highly specialized gems ranging from a map of downtown Genoa, Italy, in 1913 to the Tan Toey Prisoners of War Camp in 1943 in Ambon, Netherlands East Indies in the South Pacific. One of the unique items is a colorful, richly detailed map depicting Edo (Tokyo) during the Koka Era (1844-1848). It is from the personal collection of University of Texas at Austin Professor Emeritus William Braisted.

Map of the city of Dublin
Dublin, 1610.
With the millions of hits on the site each month come detailed e-mail queries from users. Each is read carefully and answered. These include many queries from users doing genealogical research. They are attempting to verify old names and old boundaries of small towns in Eastern Europe and Russia and queries from veterans (World War II, Korean War, Vietnam) who are writing down their war-time experiences and want a map of the area in which they served.

Also arriving by e-mail—praise and congratulations. Typical is the note relating to Professor Braisted’s somewhat atypical map described above, “Your map of the city of Edo online is a masterpiece of the kind of thing I find useful in teaching my class ... I can call up your map online into the classroom and use it in lectures. Thanks so much for the great work.”

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection looks to a future with even more online maps. The General Libraries has recently purchased a large scanner so that very large scale, mainly international maps can be added to the site.

The PCL Map Collection is not just online though. The onsite collection contains more than 250,000 maps available for consultation onsite in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection is an open stack collection. The public is welcome to use the onsite printed map collection, just as readily as the online map resources. Maps may also be checked out for two weeks to users with a University of Texas ID or other Borrower Cards. The PCL Map Collection also loans maps via Interlibrary Services. Contact your local public library to make a request.

For map inquiries, contact the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713-8916; e-mail:; phone: 512-495-427; or fax: 512-495-4296.

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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