January 26, 2012 at 10:04 AM

History Library Wins Grant to Catalog Extensive Map Collection

“Nearly 6,000 items cover early trails, water rights, railroads…”

By Tom Maguire

Culture Vulture

Tom Maguire is a musician, arts supporter and a guy who travels the Southwest in a 13’ Scamp trailer, because he couldn’t figure out how the tent poles went together.

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Want to see the hand-drawn, 18th-century manuscript maps of New Mexico drawn by Bernardo de Miera y Pacheo? This is the kind of historic material that fascinates viewers of Antiques Roadshow when specimens turn up in the hands of regular people who bring them to the popular PBS television show after finding them in the attic or at garage sales. Well, we have a great treasure trove of such artifacts right under our collective noses here in Santa Fe at the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, tucked away in a small building on Washington Avenue, across the street from The Burrito Company. I describe the location this way because I know of no other way to direct visitors and locals alike to the unobtrusive location of one of our nation's greatest collections of historic material. My exact directions are: Go to The Burrito Company and have a great breakfast or lunch; come out the front doors and look directly across Washington Avenue; look for a bronze statue of a Franciscan monk and, violà, there you have it. 

The Fray Angélico Chávez History Library is a non-circulating, closed-stack research library that preserves historical materials documenting the history of the state, the Southwest, and Mesoamerica from pre-European contact to the present.

A recently-announced $179,600 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) will go a long way in erasing the worldwide ignorance of the existence of these 18th-century manuscripts and the other important historic materials hidden away in this state library. Our 400-year history as a city guarantees that we have an enormous amount of material that would be quite intriguing to historians and the general public worldwide. But, how to get the information out? That is where this grant and the process it will fund comes in.

The grant will help fund a three-year project aimed at cataloging the library’s map collection. That effort will help researchers and the public find and make use of these hidden jewels. The council’s award program, Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives, seeks to increase awareness of collections of substantial intellectual value that are unknown and inaccessible to scholars. CLIR administers this national effort with the support of generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The History Library’s map collection consists of nearly 6,000 maps on New Mexico and the Southwest region that provide valuable historical information on topics as diverse as early Spanish exploration, American settlement in the Southwest, famous roads like the Camino Real and the Santa Fe Trail, water rights, the development of cities and counties and more. The materials include blueprint railway maps, surveyors' maps for Western expansion and topographical maps.

With the grant, the library – currently a two-person operation – can hire a full-time professional librarian and two part-time assistants. By producing web-searchable records of the library’s holdings, available both locally in the library's catalog and on the international database, WorldCat, the maps will be discoverable to an audience both near and far.

The grant, however, will not pay the further expenses of digitizing the materials. In order to see the maps, people will have to come to the library. I hope this is the next step in making this rich historical record available in our Google world.

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