Great Lakes Maps Find Their Way Into NOAA Historical Collection

Anne Moser, senior special librarian for the Wisconsin Water Library.

Credit: Wisconsin Sea Grant

November 21, 2017

By Marie Zhuikov

Archives are usually quiet things in quiet places. But one collection of historical maps is making noise in the library world. It’s the U.S. Lake Survey charts. This collection of 76 maps, created at the request of Congress in the mid-1800s, were used for navigation and research purposes.

The print maps lay scattered in various libraries until they were gathered in Madison and digitized in 2007 by Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Wisconsin Water Library with help from the UW Digital Collections Center. The project was undertaken in cooperation with the Library of Congress, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Sea Grant’s parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Office of Coast Survey, took over the nautical chart making responsibility from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s.

Although NOAA had a large collection of historical charts, they had no digital images of any historic Lake Survey charts at all until the Wisconsin collection became available. When they found them online, “They were ecstatic,” said Anne Moser, senior special librarian for the Wisconsin Water Library.

“They had been trying hard to find

A map of the Straits of Mackinac from the U.S. Lake Survey Chart Collection.

Credit: Wisconsin Sea Grant
these maps, and when they saw that a digital collection was already created, they were grateful. We had done all the hard work for them: finding the maps, digitizing them and adding library metadata,” Moser said.

In addition to their home on the Wisconsin Sea Grant site, the maps are now highlighted at the top of the page on the NOAA Office of Coast Survey Historical Map & Chart Collection page.

“It is always nice to add historic charts to the collection,” said Ben Galdi, NOAA Office of Coast Survey GIS specialist. “They are great for researching the history of charts as well as preserving the Coast Survey’s history.”

Making the maps even more accessible is something to crow about!