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The Gwen Curtis Map Collection, housed on the Fourth Floor of the Science & Engineering Library, is the largest research map collection in Kentucky. With over 250,000 paper maps and aerial photos – including current and historic Kentucky city, county, and state maps, topographic maps of all 50 states, and international geological maps – it contains materials useful for instruction and research in departments across the university.

The collection also features materials that push the boundaries of conventional cartographic methods, including maps that use new or unique mapping techniques or highlight historically marginalized perspectives, populations, and areas. 

Sarah Watson, the Maps & Geospatial Services Manager, oversees and curates the collection and is working to grow its holdings through new acquisitions.

One of the newest additions to the collection is the Atlanta Hip-Hop Map created by graphic designer and illustrator Joseph Veazey in 2021. Painted by hand, the map features the people and places that have contributed to the rich history of hip-hop in Atlanta. Everything included on the map is referenced in a hip-hop hit or influential album, from streets, businesses, and recording studios to community organizations, automobiles, and even fictional characters. The map is ringed by 60 portraits of hip-hop artists that span the many periods and subgenres of Atlanta hip-hop history. Watson said she initially came across the map in the latest Atlas of Design and decided it would make an interesting addition to the collection as 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop.

The development of the map collection is guided by UK Libraries Strategic Priorities related to enhancing diversity in collections. Along with maps that challenge conventional methods, perspectives, and histories, Watson also acquires new maps and materials that fill historical or contemporary gaps related to Kentucky or the Appalachian region. 

Many maps in the collection are received via the Federal Depository Library Program. These include items produced by agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Maps are also acquired via donations, most recently sets of historical Army Map Service maps and historical landowner maps focused on areas of western Kentucky.

“Beyond acquiring new items, one thing I’ve worked on is highlighting older items in the collection,” said Watson. “Given the large number of maps, the collection houses many interesting items that deserve to be rediscovered.”

The map collection has been expanding since its inception in 1973, when Gwendolyn “Gwen” Sternberg Curtis began working at UK Libraries. For 45 years she curated, developed, and maintained the UK Libraries Map Collection, which grew to 250,000 maps during her tenure. During a ceremony in September 2018, UK Libraries honored Curtis by naming the collection in her honor. 

All UK students and faculty have the opportunity to create their own maps in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Lab, also located on the Fourth Floor. The GIS Lab has four workstations equipped with 30-inch monitors and mapping software, including ArcPro, QGIS, and Google Earth. The Lab also holds a variety of training workbooks and GIS reference materials. The Lab is open during the Science & Engineering Library’s operating hours

The map collection is open to the public, but maps do not circulate. Digital scans can typically be shared for items that are not copyrighted. Users who want to view any maps in person must request an appointment through the map’s listing on InfoKat Discovery or through the Maps Library Guide. Mapping resources and additional information about the collection are available through the Guide.