“Will Work for Maps”: A History of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Special Map Processing Project

Paige G. Andrew, Laura K McElfresh, Linda R. Musser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After World War II, the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress acquired large quantities of military-related maps through the U.S. Army Map Service and similar military agencies, as well as from traditional domestic and foreign sources. The Division found itself in possession of many duplicates or otherwise expendable cartographic materials. The Division managed the surplus with its Special Map Processing Project. It recruited from the ranks of students, faculty, and librarians to secure hands-on staffing assistance with a kaleidoscopic variety of frontline projects. The Project served as a conduit to redistribute maps and other cartographic materials from their surplus collection. As the Division enjoyed the benefits of this arrangement — such as gaining control of their collections — many university, college, and other libraries benefited from acquiring duplicate materials, which strengthened, enlarged, and sometimes “seeded” map collections. The authors explore the Special Project’s roots and founding; its structure, staffing, impacts, and outcomes; and important changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-223
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Map & Geography Libraries
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Mr. Ed Redmond, Reference Specialist, LC Geography and Map Division, for finding and sharing unpublished ?Division Chief?s reports? (or, in actuality, appropriate portions thereof) because these provided deep detail of who was involved, what projects were tackled and by whom, the numbers of materials processed, the educational opportunities afforded attendees and the number of duplicate maps and atlases received in trade for work accomplished. These details provided the clearest picture of individual summer project activities, especially regarding the evolving structures and changes that the summer programs underwent. In addition, project participants Stanley Stevens and John Anderson deserve our thanks for providing us personal level documents that helped provide insights and details into aspects of individual summer projects that we would not otherwise have uncovered elsewhere. And finally, sincere gratitude to former, and now retired, Geography and Map Division Chief Ralph E. Ehrenberg for the several emails in conversation with us to provide knowledge about the Division?s operations and ?thinking? as well as for other contacts to reach out to along the way. Gaining perspectives about the inner workings of the Division beyond what had been published was an invaluable service to us.

Funding Information:
Participants in the program were either paid, compensated with maps, or both. A majority of the work-for-maps participants, called “cooperative” or “co-op,” received financial support from their home institutions rather than from LC. Often this was in the form of internal grants (Kidd , 28) or funding reallocated from acquisitions (Rockwell , 11), but G&M records show that some participants received outside support. For example, in 1971 “a Ghanian (sic) student, recently awarded an M.A. degree in geography at the University of Iowa, participated for nine weeks supported by a grant from the Afro-American Foundation” (Library of Congress Geography & Map Division , D1). The other category of participants was temporary employees on the Library of Congress payroll, mostly geography students, referred to as “paid” and sometimes as “LC-supported participants” ().

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Library of Congress Geography and Map Division
  • acquisitions
  • gifts
  • librarian education and training
  • library technical services
  • maps
  • provenance
  • summer projects


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