The Map Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina

[This blog post comes from James Sorrell, head of the Special Collections Branch.]

In a memorandum dated October 14, 1976 to Paul P. Hoffman, head of what was at that time the Archives Branch of the Archives and Records Section, the late George Stevenson, Jr., outlined his suggestions for changes to the system of cataloging, classifying, and numbering the maps in the Archives map collection.  Now, nearly thirty-six years later, I am delighted to announce that Stevenson’s dream of corralling a collection of maps nearly out of intellectual control and imposing on it a reasonable and consistent system for classification and cataloging has finally be realized – although in ways he could not have envisioned in 1976.

From the earliest days of the agency, the State Archives of North Carolina had endeavored to create an extensive reference collection consisting of original and printed maps of North Carolina as well as photocopies of appropriate maps in other repositories.  By the time of Stevenson’s 1976 memo, the Archives had one of the best collections of North Carolina maps in the nation.

At that time, the map collection consisted of 327 smaller collections with town plans, for example, being found in twenty-three different collections. The Archives had employed various standards for cataloging maps in the past, but no standard had ever been established in regard to the information that was reported or the manner in which it was reported on the catalog cards that were prepared for each new addition to the map collection.  Stevenson proposed that the Archives adopt the Anglo-American Rules for cataloging maps and that a set of three catalog cards be prepared for each map. One card would be filed under classification (town, county, etc.) and one by mapmaker in the Search Room catalog and the third in an office catalog to serve as an intellectual control device.  Stevenson felt that the existing system of classification as reflected by the Search Room card catalog was a reasonable one. In this catalog the map cards were arranged in an expandable system of classifications (colony and state, counties, towns, watercourses, etc.).  As it related to the maps themselves, however, the cumbersome numbering system thwarted the logic of the classification scheme.  To remedy this, Stevenson created a simple expandable numerical system which would make the classification scheme as expandable for the maps themselves as it was for the cards in the card catalog.  County maps, for example, would be assigned the same numbers as the county records in the stacks (i.e. Wake County records in the stacks are 099; Wake County maps would be assigned the prefix M.C.99).  The second part of the call number would distinguish each map by date and the initial of the mapmaker.  For example, the 1871 Fendol Beavers map of Wake County would be given the call number MC.99.1871b.

The same system would be followed for other map classifications.  Colony and state maps would be M.C.150; maps of the Appalachian region would be M.C.160; military maps and plans of battle would be M.C.175, etc.  Certain classifications, such as watercourses, cities and towns, and road and railroad surveys would be slightly more complicated since they would require the name of the watercourse or city to be converted to a numeral (i.e., cuttered) using the Sanborn-Cutter three-figure tables.  Maps of the city of Charlotte would be assigned numbers beginning with MC.195.C479 followed by the date and the initial or initials of the mapmaker.  The 1877 F. W. Beers map of Charlotte would, therefore, be numbered as MC.195.C479.1877b.

Stevenson’s proposals were approved by Paul Hoffman; and Stevenson began work on cataloging and numbering of the maps already in the map collection as well as an enormous backlog of unprocessed maps, but the press of his myriad other duties as Search Room supervisor prevented him from making significant progress.  From 1985 to 1987, Druscilla Simpson, now head of the Information Management Branch, was assigned to work full-time on the map collection.  This was the first and only time a staff member was given responsibility only for the map collection, and significant progress was made. Still later, work on the map collection was assigned to and became one of the many duties of a series of special projects archivists. By this time, our MARS electronic finding aid system had been developed and map call number and descriptive information began to be entered into it.  Although main entry cards continued to be created and added to the Search Room card catalog, the development of MARS eliminated the need for the three card system Stevenson had devised for intellectual control.  In the late 1990s, I was assigned responsibility for the map collection in addition to my other duties as archives registrar; and I brought my work with the map collection with me when I was appointed head of the Special Collections Branch in July 2005.  In 2007, the State Archives partnered with the UNC-Chapel Hill library and the Outer Banks History Center on North Carolina Maps, a three year grant funded project to digitize and post online all maps from the three institutions published prior to 1923.  The project came to a successful conclusion in June 2010 and won the 2011 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

Galvanized by the North Carolina Maps grant project, efforts were renewed to finally complete the renumbering and re-cataloging of both the remaining maps in the Archives map collection bearing the old M.C. call numbers and the backlog of maps that had never been accessioned, classified, cataloged, and numbered.  This work was finished in the spring of 2012; and for the first time all maps in the possession of the State Archives of North Carolina have been cataloged and numbered using the system first proposed by George Stevenson, Jr., in 1976.  In addition, all maps in the collection have been described and indexed in MARS, digitized, and most have been posted online on the North Carolina Maps website.

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