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Cartographic Resources, Maps, and Spatial Data

Information different types of maps and how to read them.

Learning about maps

In basic terms, a map is a representation of geographic features of the Earth. An example is a topographic map, which contains contour lines to show elevated geographic surfaces and labels or symbols for significant landforms. A chart can be defined as a map, either nautical or aeronautical, designed primarily for navigation, or a sheet exhibiting information in a tabular or graphic form.

Beyond the geographic features of Earth, there are other categories of Maps

  • A reference map is a map that serves to show the location of features, examples include zoning maps, topographic maps, and street maps.
  • A thematic map is designed to convey information pertaining to a specific theme or feature (population, cultural lifestyle, etc.) or phenomena (rainfall, etc.) connected with a geographic area.
  • A choropleth map is a kind of thematic map where data is displayed in discrete categories. Its geographic regions are colored, shaded, or patterned in relation to a value.

Do you know how different map projections distort the image when our round world is displayed on a flat map? Do you know the difference between large and small scale maps or how to convert from one scale to another? How would you cite a map when you use one in your paper or presentation? Explore these resources to find answers.

Using and citing maps

Using maps

Maps produced by government agencies have different copyright policies than maps produced by private companies. The following links explain the different ways you can use government-produced maps without violating copyright laws.

Sometimes the use of maps can get a bit tricky and you may need to talk to an expert about copyright issues in regards to private or government maps, please feel free to contact the Library to be put into contact with the Copyright Librarian.

Citing maps

After using a map to research, it is important to cite the information you learned from the map. Yet maps aren't as simple to cite as a book or a website, the follow resources provide different ways to cite maps and atlases.

Adapted from Kollen, C., Shawa, W., & Lasgaard, M. (2010). Cartographic citations: A style guide (Second ed.). Chicago: American Library Association.

Static Map from Website **

FORM: Author. Map Title. Scale. "Title of Website." Date created/published. <url> (date accessed).
EXAMPLE: Visscher, Claes Janszoon. Leonis Belgici. Scale not given. "David Rumsey Map Collection." 1611. <> (Accessed July 14, 2023).

Map in a Book or Atlas

FORM: Map author. Map Title. Scale. In: Book/Atlas author. Book/Atlas Title. Edition. Place of Publication: Publisher, Date, Page.
EXAMPLE: Thera Fresco. Scale not given. In: Harley, J.B. & Woodward, David. The History of Cartography: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, Plate 3.

Map in a Periodical Article

FORM: Map author. Map title. Scale. In: Article author. "Article Title," Journal Title, Volume (Date): page.
EXAMPLE: Gough Map of Britain. Scale not given. In: Lilley, Keith D., Christopher D. Lloyd, and Bruce M. S. Campbell. "Mapping the Realm: A New Look at the Gough Map of Britain (c.1360)," Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, 61:1 (2009): 29.

Single Sheet Maps

FORM: Author. Title. Edition. Scale. Place of publication: Publisher, Date.
EXAMPLE: Prakash, Om. Kingdom of Shivaji. Scale ca. 1:1,875,000. Delhi: All India Educational Supply Co., 1986.

Manuscript Maps

FORM: Author. "Title". Scale. Date. Collection, records or papers to which the manuscript belongs. Name of repository, Location. Library reference designation
EXAMPLE: University of Pennsylvania. "University of Pennsylvania campus plan, circa 1796-1802.". Scale not given. ca. 1796-1802. Manuscript collection. Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Philadelphia. Ms. Oversize 45


** Includes maps originally found in books/atlases, periodicals, manuscripts, and sheet maps now found on websites