Print Maps are Still Important

Recently, I was told by someone that that printed maps are outdated and are no longer needed in the library.  I disagree!  I still read print maps and I thoroughly enjoy the historical versions.  Now keep in mind, I’m not advocating a return to the olden days before Google Earth and GPS devices.  I’m going to present reasons why printed maps are important and how they can exist side-by-side with digital ones within libraries and the educational world.

A Map of Lincolnshire

“A Map of Lincolnshire” from United Kingdom’s National Railway Museum. Courtesy of Europeana. Creative Commons License.

  1. Print maps present the “big picture:  On digital maps, one has to zoom out to see larger areas and this might make areas on interest too small to identify.  Print maps are scaled and labeled in such a way this doesn’t happen.  Printed maps also make it easier to visualize places in relation to others because of the larger scope that preserves details.
  2. Digital maps are current:  Currency is great for digital maps because it aids travel.  However, digital maps do not always represent our historic past because they are constantly updated.  While digital maps of past eras can be created, often through scanning, most are still in print form.  If libraries do away with them, a wealth of historic data could be lost.
  3. Print maps are art:  Digital maps are made for use.  Print maps are too, but they have the side benefit of being an art meant for display.  Thus libraries, other institutions, and individuals might wish to hang maps for reasons other than to study, such as for decoration or as part of an exhibit.  I’ve done this many times.
  4. What if digital maps fail?:  Digital maps rely on internet or satellite data.  What if these data points fail?  For example, a GPS might not have a rural gravel road listed but printed maps usually do.  Or one could be traveling and suddenly lose their GPS’s satellite connection.  For internet-based maps, what if cyber criminals manage to shut down the internet or a server containing maps failed?  What to do?  In all these scenarios, a printed map can still save the day.
  5. Most digital maps are a combination road and political map:  Most people thing of the standard atlas when they think of print maps.  These use a combination of road and political maps.  The latter are maps that show cities, counties, states, and countries and their boundaries.  However, there are many other types: topographical (shows elevation), nautical (maps underwater features), physical (maps geographical features, like water bodies and mountains), climate (weather trends), star charts (maps the night sky), etc.  Many of these are not easy to find online and those available on specialized GPS units are very costly.  Thus it is still necessary to use printed maps.
  6. Some specialized maps may not be in digital form:  Sometimes a highly specialized maps, like those for hiking trails and streams, may not be online.  Since the creators know that access to satellite or internet might be sketchy at best while on location, these are often only printed.

In all, printed maps are still very useful.  They are useful for historical study, specialized map types, and as a back-up to digital ones.  Thus, I advocate that libraries think twice before removing printed maps.  I also advocate that students still be taught to use printed maps.  While they might not use them as frequently as digital ones, students need to know what to do should modern technology be unavailable.

Do you agree or disagree about the need for print maps to remain in libraries and as educational tools?  Why?

Additionally, do you have another reason print maps are still important that I missed?

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12 thoughts on “Print Maps are Still Important

  1. Another advantage of print maps — they can be passed down as heirloooms. To the side of me is an old map of Mexico — when Texas was still part of it — that has been in my family for generations.

    • You are absolutely right about how print maps can be heirlooms! I’m glad to hear your family has preserved that old map of Mexico. I hope future generations continue the process.

      And thanks for commenting!

  2. There are places in the forest that have no internet service. Printed maps are still valuable and fun to look at too.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      Your point about needing print maps while in the forest is very true. Too many people don’t realize how much of our country still lacks internet service. In fact, that issue will be the theme of a future set of posts I’m working on. And I completely agree with you about how printed maps are still fun to read.

  3. I love maps as art. Such a shame if they went away. And, as others have already pointed out, internet and GPS isn’t always reliable. I feel secure with my hard copy (but then, I’m old and I like printed everything).

    • I like maps as an art too! When maps hang on the wall (especially older ones and their reproductions, such as above), they are the best of both worlds: art and information. And like you, I feel more secure to have a hard copy map of my state in the car. I’ve found it useful several times when my GPS device lost its signal!

      And thanks for commenting!

  4. Pingback: One Year Anniversary! | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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