Wisconsin Geospatial News

Bulletin and library reflect broader trends

By now you may have read Bob Gurdas lead story informing you that this is the final printed issue of the Mapping Bulletin. After twenty-nine years as a printed periodical, it will be replaced this fall by a redesigned digital version. Of the small number of readers who have communicated with us about this impending change, the majority have expressed understanding and agreement that this is the publishing path to take.

However, there have been a few who upon hearing the plan have expressed dismay. Over the years some Bulletin readers have told us that they enjoy reading the publication on the bus, at home, sometimes an article at a time whenever convenient. Perhaps the new electronic version will not offer all of the old advantages, but new options also present themselves..

The inexorable trend toward electronic information access affects many aspects of our lives, both professional and personal. Over the last few months, I have participated in the process of recruiting a new leader for the Robinson Map and Airphoto Library, and we have struggled with the question of where to strike a balance between the traditional collections of paper maps on one hand, and electronic formats. It is an awkward time since we cant marshal the resources to give full attention to both formats.

In the past couple of years, several articles contemplating the future of the map library1 have appeared in professional journals. Just as in the case of this traditionally printed newsletter, the status quo of map libraries is challenged by the digital revolution. Over the decades, the paper map has been the primary means to communicate vast amounts of geographic information. However, times are changing, and geographic information is heading rapidly toward an integrated information infrastructure. The end product in this new scheme will probably not be a printed map suitable for permanent archiving, but a database that changes on a routine basis.

In the electronic library, maps may become items that are printed as needed using an in-house plotter. Library staff may focus on helping users find and understand data that meets particular needs. All this is a radical departure from traditional operations. Certainly there will continue to be paper map collections, but we are beginning to experience a sharp turn in the road. Many of the same forces driving the changes in the map library community are facing us at the SCO as we consider how we distribute information to our clientele. We have built a large web site that to a great extent takes the place of many of our traditional publications. Pushing the Mapping Bulletin over into that digital world is one more step in that process.

What we hope most is that in the aggregate you will find the electronic version has more advantages than what you will lose by not having the familiar paper copy. When you get your first look later this fall, let us know what you think!

¹Keller, Peter C., The Map Library’s Future, Cartographic Perspectives, no. 38, Winter 2001, pp. 73-77.