Eastern Hemisphere maps donated by Nokia-Siemens to Chicago, Northwestern libraries

Nokia-Siemens Networks of Arlington Heights, Illinois, has donated an extraordinary set of approximately 24,200 sheet maps to the University of Chicago Library. The maps were selected from a larger collection as part of a collaboration with Northwestern University.

Carte d'Algérie 1:25 000

Carte d’Algérie 1:25 000. A small fragment of one sheet in this multi-sheet set now held at the University of Chicago Library.

The maps are nearly all topographic maps. They show buildings and settlements, infrastructure, vegetation, hydrography, relief and, in some cases, land use. Scales range from 1:5,000 to 1:500,000. The maps date from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Many of the maps are from countries where topographic mapping is normally restricted. The collection includes, for example, local 1:50,000 maps of much of Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, and South Korea, and Soviet 1:50,000 maps of all or part of Poland, Greece, and Turkey. Even beyond the likely cost, it would be essentially impossible to recreate this collection by purchases.

The maps were originally used mostly to site cellphone towers. They were collected by Motorola before its acquisition by Nokia-Siemens Networks. According to Malcolm Matthews of Nokia-Siemens, the company began to use satellite imagery and GIS in the late 1990s rather than sheet maps. A decision was made in 2012 to offer the maps to local research libraries.

The collection is being shared with Northwestern University, with each institution receiving maps that are most appropriate for its collection. Northwestern has taken most of the maps of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and the University of Chicago Map Collection has taken most of the maps of North Africa and the Middle East, Europe, the former Soviet states, and South, Southeast, and East Asia.

With this donation, the University of Chicago Library Map Collection’s holdings of sheet maps will likely reach 460,000.  Our Map Collection has been adding approximately 2,500 sheets per year over the last decade, so taking on more than 24,000 sheets at one time represents a substantial addition. A major shift to accommodate the new maps was necessary. Its chief component was the compression of U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps to create space in the Eastern Hemisphere cases. More than 300,000 maps have been moved in the last two months.

Processing the maps is also a major task that is currently underway. It will take several months to process the maps. In the meantime, there is a rough list of acquisitions and the maps can be accessed. Researchers who need to consult this list and to access the new maps should contact me at wintersc@uchicago.edu.

As the maps are being processed, they have already found a University of Chicago user. One of the Map Collection’s student employees is writing a bachelor’s essay on Amman and is consulting a 16-sheet set of excellent 1:10,000 maps of Amman in the 1980s and 1990s. This set of maps is not held by any other library and is not for sale in Jordan.  This project suggests just the beginning of the enormous research potential the maps offer to University of Chicago faculty and students. 

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