How to Store Maps

Caitlin Dempsey


Hallie Pritchett, the head of the Map and Government Information Library at the University of Georgia presented on the care and storage of maps.  The University of Georgia stores over 400,000 maps and 240,000 air photos covering the state of Georgia, making it one of the largest academic map repositories in the United States.

This MAGIRT (Maps and Geographic Information Roundtable) presentation contained some helpful tips on storing maps which are summarized below.  The recording (along with slides) can be accessed here.

Housing of Maps

The housing or storage of maps is one of the first considerations.  Map cases are also known as flat files or plan files.  

Map cases tend to be large storage units which allows the maps to be stored unfolded.  Map cases can be made of wood although Pritchett noted that the most popular material for these storage units is steel.

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File Maps Flat When Possible

Storing maps unfolded is the most ideal way to place them in a drawer.  Folding maps weakens the paper by creating vulnerable spots and leads to increased wear and tear, especially at the creases.  

If the dimensions of the unfolded map are larger than the map drawer, then use the least amount of folds possible to store the map.  When storing folded maps, place the folded side towards the front of the drawer so that additionally maps are accidentally stored inside of a folded map.

USGS paper topo maps on top of a tan metal map drawer.
USGS paper topo maps on top of a map drawer. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Other instances when it is not practical to store maps unfolded or flat:

  • Very small maps that may get lost in large drawers
  • Folded maps you don’t intend to retain permanently
  • Maps with attached covers
  • Maps that accompany text

Map Folders

Map folders are used within the drawers to store maps together such as maps belonging to a map series or maps of the same subject. Pritchett recommended using .010 Buffered Lig-free Type 1 folders which she maintains are strong enough but flexible when rolled back in the map drawer.  This type of folder is also easily recut when needed.

Using File Cabinets to Store Smaller Maps

Smaller maps (letter sized and smaller) can be stored in filing cabinets.

Where to Store Map Collections

Pritchett notes that full map cases become very heavy, weighing upwards of 2000 lbs for a 15 drawer map case. Therefore, many large map collections are stored at the lowest level or basement of a building to prevent floor damage due to the weight.

How high to stack map cases?

A 15 drawer map case is about 4′ high.  A 25 drawer map cases is 7′ high which requires the use of a ladder, creating liability issues with users.  All tall map drawers need to be anchored to a wall or to each other to prevent toppling, especially for map libraries in earthquake zones.  There should be a five foot map clearance in front of the case for access.

Lower height map cases (e.g. 15 drawer) create better sightlines and the tops can be used by patrons to lay out the maps.  The flip side is that lower map cases can store less maps.

Cataloging Maps

There are three methods of cataloguing maps.  The Library of Congress methods allows for maps to be stored geographically.  The advantage is that all of the maps can be housed together.

Government Documents, received under the Federal Depository Library Program, are organized using the SuDoc (Superintendent of Documents) Classification System.  Under SuDoc, the maps are arranged by agency and this catalogue method can only be used for Federal documents which means those maps are stored apart from the rest of the map collection.

Maps can also be arrange alphabetically by title.  This works well for a small collection of maps with obvious titles or for USGS topographic maps.

Map Security

Map theft is unfortunately a serious problem.  Maps can be easily concealed among clothing or backpacks.  Therefore,  GIS and map librarians should take care to keep rare and valuable maps in closed stacks.  Keeping sightlines uncluttered across the map storage area is important to prevent illicit activity and patrons should never be allowed unsupervised access to map collections.

Map Preservation

Never allow patrons to refile maps.  Only have trained map library staff return maps to the storage cabinets.  Old and brittle maps should be retrieved and restored only by staff members.

Encapsulating old and brittle maps is recommended.  This allows for the continued use of those maps without further damage.  The encapsulating process is reversible and involves the use of Archival polyester (Mylar) – .003” thick.  The encapsulating process does create a thicker map which reduces the amount of maps that can be stored in a drawer.

Map References

Map Collection Management

Armstrong, HelenJane. “Compacting Your Collection: Innovative Strategies in Map Storage.” Special Libraries Association. Geography and Map Division. Bulletin 167 (1992): 2-20.

Campbell, Lyn. “Transport, packing and storage of maps.” The Globe 40 (1994): 38-39.
Carlucci, April. “Physical Considerations of the Storage of Printed Cartographic Materials in Libraries, or,

My Life in a Map Case.” Cartographic Journal 42.3 (2005): 245–54.

Larsgaard, Mary L. and Katherine L. Rankin. “Helpful Hints for Small Map Collections.” Public Libraries 35 (1996): 173-79. Also available as MAGERT Electronic Publication 1 (1996). <>

MAGERT Task Force on Security for Cartographic Resources. “Map Collection Security Guidelines.” MAGERT Electronic Publication 8 (2010). <>

Map Librarian’s Toolbox. Western Association of Map Libraries. <> March, Gregory H. “Using AutoCAD to Help Relocate a Map Collection: the University of Tennessee

Libraries’ Experience.” Journal of Map and Geography Libraries 5.2 (2009): 157-73. Musser, Linda and Anne Behler. “Building a Map Humidifier: How to FLATTEN Your Maps!” Western Association of Map Libraries. Information Bulletin 37.2 (2006): 64-68.

Snow, Cason. “Maps for the Ages: an Overview of the Preservation of Sheet Maps.” Journal of Map and Geography Libraries 6.2 (2010): 112-28. FDLP

Federal Depository Library Handbook. Appendix C: Important for Map Librarians. <>

Schular, Michele D. “A Guide to the Cartographic Products of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).” MAGERT Electronic Publication 6 (2005). <>

Map Librarianship

Larsgaard, Mary L. Map Librarianship: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited. 1998.

MAGERT Education Committee. “Map, GIS and Cataloging/Metadata Core Competencies.” MAGERT Electronic Publication 7 (2008). <>

Perry, R.B. Perry and C.R. Perkins, eds. The Map Library in the New Millennium. London: Library Association Publishing, 2001.

Map Cataloging

Andrew, Paige G. Cataloging Sheet Maps: the Basics. New York: Haworth Information Press, 2003.

Andrew, Paige G. and Mary Lynette Larsgaard, eds. Maps and Related Cartographic Materials: Cataloging, Classification, and Bibliographic Control. New York: Haworth Information Press, 1999. Co-published simultaneously as Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 27 (1999).

Cartographic Materials: a Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, 2002 revision. Prepared by the Anglo- American Cataloguing Committee for Cartographic Materials, Elizabeth U. Mangan, editor. 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.

Kandoian, Nancy A. “Cartobibilography for Catalogers: Reference Materials to Support the Identification of Early Printed Maps.” Journal of Map and Geography Libraries 3.2 (2007): 45- 78.

Lubas, Rebecca L. “The Evolution of the Bibliographic Control of Maps.” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 35.3/4 (2003): 437-46.

Map Catalogers’ Toolbox. University of Buffalo Map Collection. <>

Map Library Journals

base line – Newsletter of the ALA Map and Geospatial Information Round Table (MAGIRT) v.1-28 (1981-2007); online only v.29 (2008) – present <>

Information Bulletin. Western Association of Map Libraries – v.1 (1970) – present Journal of Map and Geography Libraries – v.1 (2004/05) – present

Map and Map Library Associations

ALA Map and Geospatial Information Round Table (MAGIRT) –

Cartographic Users Advisory Council (CUAC) –

North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) –

North East Map Organization (NEMO) –

Western Association of Map Libraries (WAML) –

Map Related Listservs

MAPS-L – the Maps and Air Photo Systems Forum –

MapHist – the Map History Discussion List –

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.