FAQs & History
Penn State University Libraries has the largest map collection in Pennsylvania. It is the 3rd largest academic collection in the Eastern part of the United States and about 10th in the whole nation. There are nearly 345,000 maps and 5,000 atlases, globes, aerial photographs and other materials. The Libraries has three main maps collections open to the public: Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps & Geospatial Information (about 238,000), Fletcher L. Byrom Earth and Mineral Sciences Library (14,000) and the Eberly Family Special Collections Library (1,700.) There are about 90,000 maps stored in our Annex.
Collections on site: minimum of 243,000 items (as of June 2020)
The collection is organized by the Library of Congress call numbering system, which groups maps by location, scale then by subject. The vast majority of maps are cataloged down to the sheet level, unlike many map collections.
The collection of strength is Pennsylvania with 17,800 distinct titles and 53,600 sheets.
Typical patrons are external to Penn State. Many are doing property research for personal reasons. Those patrons are typically interested in the Sanborn Fire Insurance Collection or historic aerial photographs.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are the most used and asked after collection. Our collection consists of Pennsylvania maps from 1884 to about 1956. Most of the collection is from 1884 through the early 1920s. These maps cover populated places and mainly town centers and industrial sites. The maps were designed to assess fire risk and as a result show building details such as construction materials and site plans. Patrons use these for building research mainly for genealogy and site research. Most of these patrons are external to Penn State.
Historic aerial photos are the other main area of interest. Even though we do have a physical aerial photograph collection, with many of these photos duplicating online photos, we mostly help patrons access online photos. Most of these patrons are also non-PSU patrons looking for PA photos. We do have a short video tutorial on how to use the site as we get this question frequently. We help people access these photos using the Pennsylvania Imagery Navigator through PASDA. But we do get requests for photos for other locations. We have a guide on Historic Aerial Photos.
Outreach and Consultations
All members of the Center perform outreach and consultations. There is an emphasis on integrating geospatial technologies into classroom instruction in many classes that are not in the Department of Geography. Members of the Center lead the University’s GIS Day event and also give external training and presentations.