I used to put ads on the internet for a living. You know, those colorful rectangles asking you to buy shoes or tailored shirts or to click out to the Pottery Barn sale when you are trying to read th
e news. Yes, I justified it by telling myself that advertising was what kept the internet free, and I really did love the daily lunches and bottomless coconut water fridge that came with the tech world. But, dear reader, as someone who geeks out as you do in your niche career, you can understand how soul crushing it must have been to work just for food and money.
I was 38 when I finally went back to library school, hopeful that I could start fresh in a career that would take advantage of skills and strengths that I now understood about myself and also fairly anxious about starting fresh in a career 15-20 years later than those other “kids”.
Library school proved to be a good fit. Descriptive categorization came
naturally to me, and I found myself drawn to archival work and the handling of historic and cultural artifacts.
I am currently working in the archives of the San Francisco Maritime National Park, but I got into maps and map cataloguing through a summer internship at the Sierra Club. Over the Club’s 125+ year history, the focus of the collection has evolved. It was founded by “naturalists” who wanted to sponsor outings and explore the Sierra Nevada. So a rather extensive map collection was started, and included a few hand drawn or hand-edited maps. As the club evolved towards environmental advocacy and justice, so did the purpose of and use of the map collection. Now the maps were used to draw boundaries of proposed wildlife refuges, or the path of the Alaska pipeline. While this collection would not be considered rare, it does reflect the Club’s history and values. In the age of Google maps and GPS, the map collection is not requested much anymore, but remains an important part of the club’s legacy. My job was to organize, rehouse, do minor repairs, and make a detailed container listing of the entire map collection.
I loved this job. I loved the organization, I loved watching the pile of maps to process shrink, I loved learning about the USGS map system, I loved working with spatial-visual representations of information, and I was touched by how both Chris Salvano and John Ridener (mappy connections I made through the Sierra Club) were eager to help me figure out how to do things correctly. Of course, they turned me on to WAML. I thought about going to the annual meeting to connect with map experts. When the meeting scholarship was announced, I applied.
I was a 39 year old intern at this point. I was happy with my work, but also a little embarrassed about being a 39 year old intern. Imagine getting an email letting me know that I had won the scholarship and that they wanted to meet me at the meeting! This was incredibly validating to me. I felt like my hard work and love and enthusiasm for this field was recognized and being rewarded.
The WAML conference was the very first conference I attended in my new career field. As an early career librarian, I was hoping to gain two things from my experience at the WAML annual meeting – to meet and become a part of a network of established professionals, and to learn new things about the field of map librarianship. I’m glad to report that I was not disappointed! While map libraries and map librarianship is certainly an extremely niche field, WAML makes up the lack of representation with a deep commitment by its members.
My most significant take-away from the WAML meeting – people are members for the long haul and have really formed long lasting relationships together. This impressed me in a few ways. Firstly, that the meetings are small enough to really get to know other members, and that you can really meet EVERYONE at a meeting, and learning about their roles and specialities. Secondly, it was warming to see that there are people who, despite coming from different areas of the continent, have seen each other through years of career development, technology advances, and problem solving. They were supportive and genuinely friends to each other.
Dozens of members took the initiative to come up to me during the conference breaks to introduce themselves to me, introduce me to others, and were generally curious about my journey. The evening banquet at Louis’ Basque Corner was another great opportunity to have long conversations with people and learn about their own experiences with the organization and in their careers.
You know what else was amazing? Learning about how much I didn’t know about maps, map education, and cutting edge applications that I had never considered before. For instance, maps are very widely used in mining to this day. Perhaps due to the location and speciality of the University of Reno, Nevada, there was a strong theme at this conference on mining and minerals. There were a few talks enlightening me as to how mapping was used not just with identifying mining claims, but also using 3D renderings to show what is below the surface. I learned about how maps are used to teach not just geography and geology, but also history, business, policy, environmental issues, and how maps can be layered with existing datasets for say, the weather, and we can gain whole new understandings about our environments.
Chrissy Klenke, the resident UNR map librarian, took us on a tour of her library and collection, and I finally got to see a real life map library and all of its drawers and piles.
Personally, the part of the conference that I liked the best was making professional connections with people that extend beyond those fews days in Reno. I have connected to not one but two map-enthusiast networks in the bay area (shout out to Guerilla Cartography!), received job leads (nothing’s panned out yet, so give me a call!), ran into a WAML member at the Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography where I knew no one else, and I am hoping to collaborate with Nick Beyelia to help save the Port of LA maps and plans using my connections at San Francisco Maritime.
This community is everything I could have reasonably hoped for – online resources, a network of helpful professionals, new friends and a wonderful experience. Thank you so much for selecting me for your scholarship. I look forward to paying it forward by serving on the scholarship committee next year and advancing the next round of new map librarians!