Eighteen Years of Map Librarianship, or, Will Someone Please Hand Me My Cane?

 by Mary Lynette Larsgaard 

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 (Reprinted from WAML IB 19 (3), June 1988, pp. 126-128) 

 When I was asked to give the keynote speech for WAML’s twentieth anniversary, I was not only very flattered, but also most grateful to do something for an organization that has helped me so much over the years. My only regret is that I started as a map librarian in 1969, not 1967, so I cannot claim to be in at the beginning of WAML! 

The theme of my lay for this morning is going to be the ways in which WAML helps its members, and — with a shocking lack of originality — I’m going to use my own experiences as examples of how very well WAML does this. I would like to assure all of you that I am well aware of my list of WAML’s sterling points is by no means exhaustive, but I do believe that it hits the high points. 

I’m going to go through these examples in the order in which they occurred to me as I slowly became a map librarian in more than name. First of all, I’d best set the scene by letting you know about where I was in 1969. I’d graduated from library school at the University of Minnesota in May or June of that year; I had a job by (ah, those dear, dead days!) about March (before graduation, that is), and was to start work at the then Central Washington State College (now Central Washington University) in Ellensburg on August 4. At that time, I’d read everything I could find on map librarianship that was listed in Library Literature, but I had never worked in a map collection. Outside of one brief visit to a map library, the only time I had ever even seen that workhorse of the map room, the USGS topographic quadrangle, was in one of my undergraduate geology courses at Macalester. Once! I suppose it would be truthful to say that the spirit was willing but the knowledge was weak; shall I ever forget the first time a library user gave me a range and township reference and, looking at me trustfully, asked me which map it was on — my answer was somewhat slow in corning, owing to my not knowing what range and township was.  

And here is where we come to my first, favorite example in which WAML helps map librarians: Enabling the librarian to learn about map libraries, how they are to be run, and how one takes care of cartographic materials. I am reasonably sure that over my first five years in the field, while I was attending at least one WAML meeting a year, taking notes frantically and asking questions of anyone who couldn’t move fast enough to escape me, that more than a few of the veteran map librarians in attendance must have wondered if I would ever stop pestering them; as they’ve all learned — doubtless to their grief — the answer to that one is no. Everyone was always so helpful in answering all my questions, and in referring me to a citation or to someone in the know if they themselves were unsure or uninformed. Incidentally, this is an area in which — as I have just implied —benefits keep on coming. There has never been a WAML meeting I’ve attended that I haven’t learned a good deal.  

This leads me nicely into my next example that WAML helps map librarians: WAML gives the new librarian a chance not merely to meet but to learn from and socialize with (the three often happening simultaneously) the top persons in the field. How well I remember — at my first WAML meeting, when I met and spoke with Carlos Hagen; those of you who know me will scarcely believe this, but I was nearly speechless with awe. 

The next example — to descend to the financial — is in getting the academic librarian active in an organization and into elective office, one of the bases upon which salary increases are decided. I became Secretary in 1971, remained in that position through 1973, and then in 1974 was elected Vice President, becoming President in 1975, all of which helped me substantially in the crucial matter of the size of the monthly paycheck. 

Linked to the latter is WAML’s easing a new librarian into national organizations; once I had attended a few WAMLs, I became less nervous about meeting new persons, taking care of flight and hotel arrangements, and so on; I must admit that I had never been in a commercial airplane until I flew to my first WAML. There is one bad side here in that WAML members can get so embroiled in national matters  — as I have in SLA’s Geography and Map Division and ALA’s Map and Geography Round Table [MAGERT] that attendance at WAML drops — but only temporarily, I assure you. As a side note, I might mention that MAGERT is, in some ways, definitely and shamelessly patterned after WAML. I would also like to emphasize the importance of WAML’s hospitality committee in making newcomers feel welcome. 

Once again, the last paragraph leads quite well into this one, whose theme is that WAML make business as much fun as it can possibly be. How well I remember a state library association meeting I went to some years ago; after the last speaker had completed his talk, I looked around — somewhat shaken by the implications of what I had just heard — for someone to chew it over with, preferably over a friendly libation. There was no one. Apparently everyone else had left. It is of the utmost importance that we get together after presentations and discuss what has been said, to analyze which doors are closed and which windows remain open, because: 1. as I seem to have heard in my class-taking days, we remember best what we’ve heard if we go over it again immediately after the first hearing; and  2. except in the northeast U.S. and in parts of California, fellow map librarians are not exactly thick on the ground; one must seize one’s chance to speak to someone who understands the jargon and the situation. 

 The last-mentioned item alone is a whole example in itself, in that WAML gives map librarians a sense of community, a feeling of not being alone, and — at last — of having someone to talk to who will understand what you’re talking about. I well remember, at a WAML meeting in Eugene when Phil Hoehn and I happened to be walking together from one meeting to another, and sheerly by chance we got to discussing cataloging; either he or I said, “Well, when I started cataloging, I did not use standard AACR and LC practices, and it’s one of the stupider things I’ve ever done,” and the other one of us, electrified, looked at the speaker and said, “No! not you too?” It’s true what they say; misery loves company. This may seem a rather negative example; I can only assure you that it had the positive effect. When I got back to Ellensburg, I recommended that “my” old system be scrapped forthwith and AACR be followed religiously. 

The next example in which WAML helps its members is linked to several of the former ones, and that is the forging of friendships over the years, which makes getting things done in map librarianship so much easier, quicker, and more fun. When I was writing the introductions to the two editions of Map Librarianship and wanted to include thanks to those persons whose assistance and company I’d enjoyed over the years, my main problem was the space limitation; it was impossible to list everyone that I wanted to. Knowing whom to call when one doesn’t know an answer, or knowing to whom to refer a library user, are obvious ways in which these friendships help the library user. 

Which leads me into the next example, namely that WAML makes strides forward in map librarianship far more likely; these steps forward may be signalized by committee actions or by publications or both. Without WAML, many classic actions and publications would never have happened. Speaking for myself, I know that Map Librarianship would either not have been done at all, or would have been a poor publication. 

A most important part of the previous example, deserving of being listed on its own, is that through WAML, members become acquainted with new ideas and new technology, and in so doing the members become aware of how map librarianship needs to change or how it inevitably will change over the corning years. Change must be presented in a positive fashion to be implemented as quickly as possible; WAML provides a venue for that to occur. 

Here I would like just to cast my eye briefly over what I’ve been holding forth about, and to emphasize that WAML definitely does not benefit only the new kids, but rather each person who attends; it’s a cradle-to­grave sort of organization, with the benefits received by the members directly proportional to the amount of time and effort the members are willing to put forth. 

Members of WAML are proof that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. Together we do more than we could ever have done each on our own; without our being together, some tasks would either have happened slowly or not at all, or — worse yet — not even have been thought of. When I think back to what map librarianship was like in 1969, I see so many improvements in the profession, and I am convinced that many of them would never have happened without the work of WAML members. As I look forward to the next twenty years, I see WAML continuing its role of enabling map librarians to provide the best possible service to map users, to deal with automation and access, and anything else that comes along, with intelligence and panache. 

From all the foregoing it is obvious why I feel I must close with what is in essence a toast: To WAML’s 20th! and may there be many more. 

Mary L. Larsgaard, Map Librarian and Assistant Head of Special Collections, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado; currently President of the American Libraries Association, Map and Geography Round Table (MAGERT), past President of WAML, and the Special Libraries Association, Geography and Map Division. Author of, Map Librarianship, in its second edition. 

They are in agreement that Social Events are one of WAML’s Longest-running, and Most Important Opportunities for the Exchange of Information and for the testing of the Hydrographic Quality of Map Librarianship 


Stan Stevens and Mary Larsgaard 

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