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Black and white map outlining prominent locations in the basement of the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress.
Detail of James Madison Memorial Building, floor plans and locations of public services, showing the location of the Geography and Map Division. Published by Library of Congress, 1993. Geography and Map Division.

Oh, the One Place You’ll Go

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In retrospect, I find it somewhat ironic that when I graduated from college, I was not given a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go, a gift that is now common for graduates as they set out upon new paths. No, I did not receive my own copy of the book, which is rather funny considering the path that I wound up traveling down landed me in a singular place that opened the door to a multitude of other locations across time and space.

You are likely already aware that here in the Geography and Map Division (G&M) we hold maps and cartographic materials of not just the US, but the entire world. But did you also know that our collection extends well beyond the Earth’s boundaries? Here in the Division we have maps of the moon, maps of the universe, and maps of fictional locations like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and A. A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. With nearly six million maps at our disposal, the places you can visit in G&M truly feels endless. And as if we didn’t have enough places to explore here, down in the basement of Capitol Hill, our collection contains items which date back to the 14th century, so a visit to our stacks allows you to travel back in time with no DeLorean needed.

It is quite remarkable that working in a place like this you really can go around the world in a day. I can start my morning off by working on a collection of nautical charts of the Atlantic Ocean and then take a break to visit my old college town. But why visit the present version when I have the option to see the city long before I ever stepped foot in it? Back when the building I had some of my first freshman classes in was merely noted as “Life Sciences Bldg. of future.”

Pictorial colored map of Berkeley, California depicting the University of California campus along with some of the surrounding town.
This map of Berkeley, California from 1928 is a far cry from the town I would recognize. The building which housed the history department that I spent many hours in didn’t yet exist, having been built in the 1950s. This is the map of Berkeley town. Published by Thomas Bros., 1928. Geography and Map Division.

When I’m done visiting California, I have the option to travel somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but have never been. That’s a nice perk of the job. I have heard that Japan is beautiful in the springtime. And working here I can make the dream to travel there at this time of year a reality.

Multi-colored woodblock print of Japan showing administrative districts. Oriented with north toward the upper right.
Published in 1864, this colorful map of Japan is made from a woodblock print. Dai Nihon kairiku zenzu. Published by Bunkyu 4 Ebisuya Shoshichi, 1864. Geography and Map Division.

When I feel it’s time to come home, that’s fine. D.C is actually not that far off from Japan, at least in G&M. And if I realize I didn’t quite get my fill of the cherry blossoms overseas, well that’s A-OK, since I can always go back out and see the blooms here at home.

Red and white street map showing the National Mall and a portion of southwestern Washington, D.C. Indicates the location of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin.
Published by the National Park Service in 1976, this tourist map included information on the history of the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. Washington, the cherry blossoms, Washington DC. Published by the National Park Service, 1976. Geography and Map Division.

Having the privilege to work here has truly made me a more worldly person. Working with materials that depict places all over the world has acquainted me with towns and locations I would have otherwise never known existed. I have had the opportunity to briefly work as part of our reference team, and in that role, you truly never know where the day will take you. What patrons are interested in and hoping to see are as varied as the patrons themselves.

First sheet of a colored Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the town of Orleans, Massachusetts showing detail at the building level.
One of the most memorable places a patron has taken me was to Orleans, Massachusetts, a city I had never heard of, in search of cranberry bogs that were once there. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Orleans, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Published by the Sanborn Map Company, 1929. Geography and Map Division.

On the flip side of that coin, as a member of the collections management team, I have also been allowed to pick and choose particular areas of our collection and work with them more intimately, and in turn become very familiar with them over time. Just as an example, for the last several months I have spent a good deal of time organizing some of our Chinese map collection, and in doing so, have hopefully facilitated the use of those materials for both our staff and patrons alike.

This Friday will mark my last day with G&M, and this blog will be the last I author as part of the Worlds Revealed team. At the end of this week I am leaving the Library and moving on to greener pastures – well in truth I am moving to the American southwest, so not quite greener, but you get the idea. As I move on from G&M I realize I am not just parting ways from one place, but rather, I am leaving a whole host of places for which I have been lucky enough to spend time in.

Colorful pictorial map of New Mexico indicating the routes taken by various explorers and the locations of historical trails through the state.
I am moving quite a ways from the Nation’s capital, but all the same, the Geography and Map Division has plenty of resources on what will be my new home – the Land of Enchantment. Historical trails through New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Published by the New Mexico State Tourist Bureau, 1940. Geography and Map Division.

The Geography and Map Division truly is a treasure trove of endless possibilities. It is hard to convey that in a handful of words and a brief selection of images. It becomes even harder to explain due to the copyright restrictions we must abide by that prevents us from sharing so many of the jewels of our collection online. But I promise you, the expanse of our collection is immense, and the odds are we would have something here that interests you. Whether you are doing genealogical research and want to try and spot your grandparents’ apartment on a map of New York City from a century ago, or if you’d like to see a map depicting Disneyland as it was in the 1960s, or even if you’d like to see maps of the world from long before Disneyland, New York, or the United States ever even existed, there is surely a place for you to explore in the Geography and Map Division.

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