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Five Questions with Carlin Rene Sayles, “The Map Teacher,” Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

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The following is a guest post from Carlin Rene Sayles of the Library of Congress.

Carlin Rene Sayles during Take Your Child to Work Day at the Library of Congress 2015

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

I am a processing technician in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. I process materials, including maps, atlases, globes, and electronic resources, that arrive in the division and forward them to the catalogers who organize the collection and ensure that it is accessible to our patrons.

In addition to my regular job,  I volunteer to work with K-12 students who come to visit our division. I discovered teaching during my senior year in college and decided it was too late to change my major. When I started at the Library I realized that I could use the Division as a classroom and have for nearly all of my 24 years at the Library.

During presentations, I show the students the differences between their neighborhood or school library and a large map research library like the Library of Congress.  I also show the “cool” things that we have in the Geography and Map Division including puzzle maps, maps on clothing, and maps on toys. When the students leave I hope they have learned that geography is a fun subject and that we use maps and other material relating to geography every day. I try to expose everyone I meet to the Library of Congress if they haven’t been here. And I love doing it.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s collections?

There are so many items that I could choose from. One favorite is an escape map from World War II that is made up of playing cards. The U.S. Playing Card Company began printing card decks that contained escape maps for WWII prisoners of war. The cards were sent to German POW camps as part what appeared to be donations from charities in the United States. One piece of an escape map was glued between the face and back of each of the 52 cards. POWs soaked the cards to dissolve the glue holding the front and back together to find the map portions bonded between them.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

I remember looking at some of the Sanborn Maps from the early 20th century that we hold in the Geography and Map Division, and I noticed that some schools, churches and other buildings were labeled as being Negro or Colored. At first it made me angry and I wanted to know why these buildings were labeled in that way. I did some research and was reminded that at the time these maps were published the terms “Negro” and “Colored” were used regularly to describe African Americans.  As a result I found myself wanting to learn more about African American communities, especially those in Washington, D.C., and about the buildings found within these communities.

From Page 77 of Volume 3 of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia. 1916
From Page 77 of Volume 3 of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia. 1916

From Page 21 of Volume 2 of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia. 1904-1916.
From Page 21 of Volume 2 of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia. 1904-1916.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

When I first started working here I would talk to people about the Library and encourage them to come visit the Library. Once I spoke to a family from Australia and told them that they hadn’t seen anything until they saw the Library. They came and I provided a tour of the Great Hall in the Jefferson Building and the Geography and Maps division. The father did tours of the Outback by plane and he said that he could use some of my ideas during his tours.

I loved hearing from a parent who told me how much she enjoyed how I explained the various features on a map. She talked about how much fun she was having while learning about maps. She also mentioned that she and her child spent lots of time talking about what they learned when they got home.

Another memorable event happened at this year’s Take a Child to Work Day. I spent a lot of time showing the children of Library of Congress, Congressional staff and their parents the maps at the Library of Congress. Later on that day, I saw one of the little boys who had been on my tour taking a picture in front of the Globe outside the Geography and Map Division. When he saw me he screamed to his Mom, “There she is Mommy, The MAP TEACHER!” Now my colleagues call me “the Map Teacher” and I smile and say to myself, “Well, that’s one way to put it.”

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?

Explore, explore, explore….We have millions of maps in the Geography and Map Division and have provided access to over 45,000 maps on the Library of Congress website. Take the opportunity to explore the website and explore the wide variety of geographic resources we have available.

If you are in town please come and visit us. The Library of Congress is just as cool as the other museums and monuments on the National Mall. It’s a great place to visit and one of the best kept secrets in Washington, D.C.


Comments (2)

  1. I am interested in learning more about the POW escape maps found on playing cards. Will you please let me know how to find this at the LOC. Thank you Laura

    • I encourage you to use the Ask A Librarian service for the Geography and Maps Division provided at You can direct your question there and the staff will lead you to resources here at the Library and at other repositories.

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