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Here’s your guide to one of America’s great map collections (Hint: It’s right here in Maine)

With hundreds of thousands of items, the Osher Map Library just might change the way you see the world

PORTLAND, Maine — When Libby Bischof goes to work each day, she is surrounded by one of the finest public map collections in the entire country. Just outside her door are 450,000 maps, atlases, globes and books, the oldest dating back to the 1400s, all part of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education at the University of Southern Maine. For a map geek, it’s heaven.

As the executive director of the Osher Library, Bischof knows the collection inside and out. “When you bring some friends in here and want to pull out something you know will impress them,” I asked, “what do you show them?”

Her first response was a hearty laugh. “You know what’s funny?” she said. “I’m a visual historian, a photo historian. I tend to want to show people board games.” Uh…board games? In a map library? Bischof had laid out one such game on a table for me. Made in the early 1900s, it featured large, colorful drawings of the coolest high-tech transportation of the day—speedboats, airplanes and automobiles. She also loves old textbooks and shows them to visiting schoolchildren so they can see how students were taught 150 or 200 years ago.

Part of the Library’s mission is to get people excited about using its resources to better understand the world. “If you’re a kindergartener, if you’re 85, we welcome you to come in here to study the globes, to study the maps, to study the atlases,” Bischof says. “It’s really about lifelong learning.”

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