Early-Career Scholarship Awardee Essay

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Early-career conference scholarship awardee Nick Beyelia.

Early-career conference scholarship awardee Nick Beyelia.

Let me start by saying how truly honored I am to receive this scholarship from WAML. This award has allowed me to learn more about maps and given me the means to have a better understanding of map librarianship in general. I can’t say that I bring something to the organization that makes me invaluable to WAML, as I am a novice in every sense; I do, however, have a deep and abiding respect for maps that is rooted in the information and history that they convey. I came to the 2018 WAML conference with the expressed hope that I would be able to learn more about maps and I did. I also met a fantastic group of people who were warm, welcoming and helpful.  

 I wasn’t aware of WAML until I joined the History Department of the Los Angeles Public Library which maintains the library’s map collection. Our Map Librarian, Glen Creason, mentioned WAML and suggested I look through the toolbox on the website to learn more about maps. The toolbox was a revelation to me, one that that I wish I had discovered a few years earlier. I also noticed the scholarship and applied. In my application essay I relayed the situation that necessitated my desire to know more about maps. I reiterate it here only because it adds resonance to the value of this scholarship and underlines the importance of having an established network of professionals like WAML for support and expertise.   

In 2012, While still a student in library school, I was hired to work with historic records for the Los Angeles Harbor Department Archives. It was a brand new archival institution connected to a very old Los Angeles City department, the Port of Los Angeles. The Port’s archival holdings included a spectacular historic map collection more than 100 years old that I, without any knowledge of maps, was suddenly in charge of. The history invested in these maps became my passion and I spent the next three years caring for them as best I could. At the end of three years, a change in city and port leadership prompted the closure of the archives and all the historic resources were removed from research access, cataloging and preservation efforts. Politicians and accountants made the decision that historic resources weren’t cost effective and therefore cataloging and preservation efforts were unnecessary. It took nearly a year and a half of advocacy on my part before I was able to get most of the historic records transferred to the city archives in downtown Los Angeles; unfortunately, this did not include the map collection. To this day, these maps remain in danger. 

I know that my lack of knowledge on both maps and map librarianship played a part in the reason why the maps were never transferred to a responsible institution. I was already waging an uphill battle and I simply didn’t know enough about maps to make an incontrovertible assessment about what to do with them and how to care for them. I had no specific map training nor were any classes in map librarianship offered while I was in school. I had to admit I simply didn’t know what to do. As someone who entered librarianship as a way to promote, preserve and protect our history, I cannot begin to express how devastating this was. I applied for this scholarship in the hope that through WAML, I might be able to bridge the deficits in my knowledge about maps and find a network of support able to offer advice and guidance about map librarianship. It’s imperative that neither myself nor anyone else who might end up in a similar circumstance feel as helpless and uninformed as I did. For me, this scholarship is the beginning of a journey not only to become educated about maps and map librarianship but a way to reverse my own helplessness in the matter I just relayed. I am grateful that WAML’s membership has made this scholarship available.     

 As a student, I had the opportunity to attend professional conferences and workshops but they weren’t anything like the WAML Conference. It can be incredibly overwhelming to enter a situation where you are both an outsider and a novice and I was anticipating a lot of awkward formal exchanges with stiff-collared academics but that wasn’t the case. From the moment I stepped foot into the pre-conference workshop, I was struck by both the helpful nature of everyone in attendance and the friendly atmosphere; I instantly felt welcome.    

 Through equal parts wonder and fear, I managed to stumble through my first introduction to anything GIS related during the pre-conference workshop.  Admittedly, I was a little overwhelmed and a bit lost, but Phil (White) put me at ease and helped me to navigate through establishing map indexes. I appreciated his positivity and willingness to help me but it was clear that I have some work to do. Despite being lost, I appreciated the fact that I was learning about maps and some of the facets of map librarianship. That point was so important to me.  

During the break and afterwards, at dinner, I met most of the scholarship committee and more of the WAML membership. Again, I stress this because I was completely unprepared for it but, it was wonderful how friendly and personable everyone was. During dinner I was introduced to more members and a group of us talked into the night which left me confident that this conference was going to be different and something that I would remember.  

The first day of the conference was fantastic – it fed my intellectual curiosity with the scientific aspects of map librarianship and gave me insights into the history surrounding maps which serves as the basis for my own interest. I was fortunate enough to have viewed some really fantastic presentations on topics as diverse as the Office of Strategic Services’ mapping efforts, the Washburn survey of the Grand Canyon, classification of fiction based maps, seafloor mapping, etc. I then got to hear a spate of lightning talks that covered a host of fascinating topics that were as diverse as the presentations. I was struck by the great energy from the presenters and found each successive presentation to be as fascinating as the one that preceded it; the presentations gave me a sampling of the challenges, nuances and conundrums that map librarians face.  

The second day’s presentations were just as engaging and informative. The presentations showed that maps really can transcend their most rudimentary objectives and have profound ramifications on both social history and science. I was shown how the interests of Indigenous peoples were erased and expressed through mapping as well as the narrative surrounding the history of mapping a controversially named highway and the challenges it created. I was also introduced to the science and technology that helps us to make cartographic information available and see how access to that information can be realized. Lastly, I thought the wine tasting seminar was a fun way to cap off a productive & informative conference; it was wonderful to see people unwinding and laughing.  

I need to express my gratitude to all the members of WAML who I met at the conference for their friendliness and enthusiasm. I was humbled that so many people went out of their way to introduce themselves and speak with me. It is encouraging for new professionals to witness the brand of camaraderie and goodwill I saw at the conference. I also owe a debt of thanks to the presenters who were generous enough to share their knowledge and insights surrounding map librarianship. Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to thank the membership for allowing this award to be possible. This scholarship means so much more than just the ability to attend a conference – in this particular instance it was the start of a journey to begin to educate and empower myself.     

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