Map Library Madness

Things are slow in the research world. I feel a bit like I’ve been trying to swim through hummus, where every little task takes so much more effort than anticipated. I’m attempting to compile a checklist of maps that Andrew Millar was involved in either commissioning or selling… This doesn’t sound that difficult but really, I’ve been on it two weeks and UGH it’s slow plodding though catalogue after catalogue, some online and some paper. The nature of the searching is such that I don’t just now and then come across a random map, it’s more of an all-or-nothing situation. Of the two weeks I’ve been at it I’ve had two breakthroughs, one of 10 maps in Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers (ed. 1999), and one batch of 14 maps on the British Library’s electronic catalogue. The National Library of Scotland (NLS), which is supposed to have one of the best map collections and cataloguing systems in the entire world, has been largely (and frustratingly) useless. The librarians really have done their best to help me but haven’t had any fantastic ideas, and I feel that they rely too much on their electronic catalogue. Whenever I have a question I am ultimately referred back to the electronic catalogue. Part of the problem is that there is no one who specialises in eighteenth century maps, which is crazy to me because this is, after all, Edinburgh. This is where the Enlightenment happened, and it’s sheer insanity that there isn’t anyone in particular that the library has on hand to assist with what must be an absolute treasure trove of eighteenth century maps.

Another part of the problem is that the publisher isn’t often included in the NLS online map catalogue; the emphasis is on the mapmaker and engraver. This makes sense, I suppose, but it’s not very helpful to me. Although, to be fair, when I have spent time looking at actual maps the name of the publisher isn’t usually on there. I would love to get my hands on some good old fashioned Dewey Decimal System catalogues, where librarians made notes and collected ideas as much as simply cataloguing, but I’m not even sure if they still exist, and when I’ve asked about it all I’ve been told, as predicted, is to check the online catalogue.

Anyway, this rant is finished for the time being. I’ll just continue to swim through this hummus till I either run out of steam or reach the other side.


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