Harvard College Library

Donna Koepp Appointed to The National Map Review Committee

September 19, 2002 -- Donna Koepp, Head of Government Documents/Microforms and Head of Reference and Instruction for the Social Sciences Program, has been appointed to the Mapping Science Committee Review of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Concept of The National Map. The National Map is a project that will provide up-to-the-minute digital spatial data for the entire United States. In a three-day session, at the end of September, in Washington D.C., Koepp and the seven other committee members will meet with individuals in government, private, professional, and academic sectors and gather information in order to prepare a formal recommendation to the USGS for the development of The National Map.

Donna Koepp, Head of Government Documents/Microforms and Head of Reference and Instruction for the Social Sciences Program, views an electronic map.
Since the 19th Century, the USGS has produced printed topographic quadrangle maps to chart the nation – progressing through technologies such as copper plates, Mylar separates, and now electronic formatting. Most recently, maps were prepared using Mylar separates, a process that involves drawing each feature by hand with a stylus on separate transparent sheets. For example, place names appear on one separate, rivers and lakes on another separate, and so on. A print run is done for each Mylar separate, resulting in the overlaying of the sheets to create a total picture. These labor-intensive maps made frequent updates difficult, so the average primary series topographic map is 23 years old.

"The move from print to electronic format dramatically changes how maps are created, used, and archived. The USGS has employed electronic maps for the past ten years, but this project will make electronic maps their primary format," said Koepp.

The National Map project will create a seamless digital map that will be consistently maintained so that it is accurate within seven days. Users will be able to digitally overlay different layers of information, adding and subtracting elements such as land elevation, transportation networks, and geographic names.

"Electronic maps offer many new and unique possibilities. Yet, a precedent has not been established on how electronic resources are archived and accessed by libraries. In the original USGS proposal for The National Map, there was no provision for documentation; the plan was to delete the old copy each time a map was updated. The goal of the committee is to ensure that all aspects of the project have been considered. As the only librarian in the group, I hope to impart to them how crucial it is that libraries, and in turn scholars, have access to current and archived electronic maps," said Koepp.

Before coming to Harvard in June, Koepp served as Head of Maps and GeoMedia Services at the University of Kansas, where she began a campaign to educate government and private groups on the library’s need for electronic cartographic and spatial information. "Currently, the Government Printing Office (GPO) distributes one copy of all printed government publications and maps to designated depository libraries. The GPO is gradually transitioning to electronic distribution, but when publications are born digital, archiving and permanent access become very complicated. With The National Map, I hope that we can ensure adequate archiving to meet historical needs as well as maintaining long term access to the data in the public domain," said Koepp.

David Cobb, Head of Harvard Map Collection, stated that, "The world's changing political geography, environmental disasters, and national security issues have forged a commitment to process spatial data more quickly and to create a seamless set of public domain information. As a stakeholder, the library community will be able to use The National Map to meet the growing demand for current geographical information for our users studying census information, environmental change, transportation development, public health issues, biodiversity, and other related topics. While there remain many challenges before The National Map becomes a reality, the positive implications for libraries and library users of a uniform national data set are vast."

Lynda Leahy, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research and Instruction, noted, "HCL's map collections range from rare maps and globes to digital materials. The College Library is addressing the problems associated with the management of these digital images, and I'm very pleased that a Harvard librarian will be participating in the National Map planning process. Donna's contribution will have a significant impact on the map collections of research institutions, including Harvard.

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
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