Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Library Hero

Of course all librarians are heroes -- they stand (mainly in sensible shoes) at the edges of our First-Amendment freedoms, defending our rights to read and to privacy. From a map library named for a geographer, though, comes a nice story of some remarkable research by a map librarian.
Jaime Martindale, map and geospatial data librarian at the Arthur A. Robinson Map Library. Image: Bryce Richter, Journal Sentinal
When a patron requested information about a military plane that had crashed in Wisconsin during World War II, she started, as the article says, digging into the records. The crash site had been well-known at one time, but had not been marked. Tom Sybert wanted to honor the Air Force pilot and crew, and wisely reached out to a library when Google proved inadequate. The article describes Martindale's deft use of multiple sources to re-find the site, and Sybert can now work on his plans for a memorial.

The USDA photos she used were a big part of my early work in geography. They were taken from the bottom of aircraft that would cris-cross the country for the purpose, flying in parallel paths over few years to make photographs for soil surveys. Active farming areas got photographed more often. The photographs overlapped by 60 percent so that any one place was photographed twice from different angles -- allowing for stereo pairs that could allow 3-D viewing.

I used them in my master's thesis research to map land uses in my study area and to measure ponds. I used them in environmental consulting to help build timelines of the properties we were researching -- many city and town sites were included because it was simplest just to keep the paths continuous. The photos continue to be archived in depository libraries such as the Robinson collection and are now available through a USDA web site.
Robinson Projection. Image: Robinson Collection.
From the article I learned a couple of interesting things about the geographer for whom UW-Madison's map library is named. I know him mainly as the inventor of a map projection that is a favorite among geographers -- the Robinson Projection. In representing a (nearly) spherical earth on flat maps, all projections make compromises among fidelity in distance, area, shape, and direction. No projection is "more accurate" than others, but they serve different purposes more or less effectively. The compromise achieved by Robinson is a favorite for representing patterns of human activity at a world-wide scale.


My favorite librarian and I are currently reading a book about another kind of library hero -- The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. Watch this space for our commentaries on the book. Timbuktu is a real place, and its librarians are worthy of the book's title!

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