President’s Message

Thiry-YosemiteHello my fellow WAMLites.  I’m back for my second term as President.  My first time was way back at the beginning of the century.  Despite being an honest-to-goodness map librarian for over 22 years now, I still feel like the “kid” instead of the old salt that I am.  The profession has changed so much and when I tell stories of my first years at New York Public Library (NYPL), people under 30 find them amusing.

Way back in the previous century at NYPL, I took classes on how to use Gopher, Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives), and, of course, Jughead.  One of the first databases we got a demonstration on was the Geographic Names Service.  I amused all present by suggesting the instructor search for “Toad Suck, Arkansas”.

One day in 1994, someone from Business, Industry & Science came into the Map Division and said they had something mind-blowing to show us.  After firing up the old computer, she showed us a picture of a vase.  The picture was being hosted and broadcast from Cornell University!  This was my first brush with the World Wide Web (as we called it back then).

I worked with ArcGIS 3.0 (my current computer is upgraded to ArcGIS 10.3.1).  I helped stamp and file our near-weekly shipments of topos and nautical charts.  We considered getting one of those new-fangled stand-alone cd-rom drives.

I look at my profession and gape at the dramatic changes that have occurred in these last 22 years.  This is a normal feeling and has been happening to all people, forever.  As static as we think the world, our culture, and our history is, things are always changing.  Someone writing in 1993, looking back at their past 22 years in the library world would have marveled at the dramatic changes–the coming of computerized catalogs, electronic databases, computer-aided interlibrary loan, and the rise of the personal computer.

Maybe I’ll be in the profession 22 years from now (much to the annoyance of many).  What changes will the profession hold?  I’ve heard/read of dire predictions including the total demise of libraries and the profession.  I’ve also read that we’re entering a golden age of libraries.  I know things will be different.  My job description has morphed a lot in the last 5 years and I expect it to change even more.  If we wish to remain employed as “librarians” (whatever that will mean in the future), we have to adapt.

More worrisome than my/our profession is our organization, WAML.  Our numbers have been declining for a decade.  We have struggled, at times, to find people to hold key positions.  Our twice yearly meetings have been cut back to once per year.  Yet, we are living in the great age of mapping.  Ten years ago, I had to explain to people how Google Earth worked.  Now I teach them how to create their own maps online through a variety of sites.  Maps are everywhere on the interwebs, and play a vital role in e-commerce.  How can we, as map librarians, play a part in guiding, aiding, informing, or teaching people?  How can WAML do that?  What can WAML do to remain viable?  Visible?  Vibrant?  Vital?

Christopher J.J. Thiry (formerly known as “Map Boy”)
WAML President
Map Librarian, Colorado School of Mines

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