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Tucked away in a corner of Mills Library lies one of McMaster’s hidden treasures. The Lloyd George Reeds Map Collection is home to 130,000 maps, 18,000 aerial photos and 3,000 atlases.
The late Prof. Reeds, who passed away in 2002, was born on a farm near Lindsay, Ontario. He is considered one of the founders of Canadian geography, the subject area he taught in at McMaster for over 30 years. He began gathering maps to supplement his lectures, but his hobby did not become a collection until 1965, when the library system took ownership of the project. Since then, the collection has expanded to serve the needs of many faculties at McMaster.
Gordon Beck, the current Maps Specialist at Mills, is excited to see the range of ways the collection can supplement courses.
“We started off supporting mostly geography, but now with GIS, we’re supporting more and more departments not only because of GIS but also because we now have a large format scanner,” Beck explained. The addition of this scanner has helped revive the paper map collection.
Thanks to the digitization project, the collection is more widely accessible than ever before. “We have a lot of environmental assessments that take place here so we also service the community around,” Beck said. “Engineers, lawyers and people from banks, all those types of people will come in to view things we have in the collection.”
The collection is open to students during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Beck added, “we’re also open to the general public because we do have maps in the collection like topographic maps and other maps that we get from the government, free of charge, on the condition that we make them available to the public.”
Despite being a fairly mid-sized institution, McMaster boasts what Beck estimates is the third largest map collection in the province, just behind the University of Toronto and Western University. Due to the limited availability of space on campus, the digitization process means some physical maps can be discarded. “[For] the historical collection, we would never get rid of the paper original,” Beck said. Some of the collection’s older specimens are stored in the archives in the basement of Mills so their preservation can be properly regulated.
While Beck feels as though more could be done to promote the physical maps on campus, its online presence has kept the collection relevant. “I think what’s happening is that … people are doing searches and they’re finding us through our digital collections,” he said. “As we get more of this stuff in digital format, there are more and more classes that are able to use our material.”
“Pretty much anybody at some point in their life is going to be interested in a piece of land and how it has changed over time,” Beck added. “That interest in temporal studies has helped [the collection] to cut across all faculties.”
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor