GeoCarta Has Moved

Jun 9, 2008

In Defense of Paper Maps

News that the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) is getting out of paper map publishing has struck a nerve with Caille Millner. Ms. Millner shares her love of paper maps and her defense of their usefulness in our digital age in a article in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

I,...get tunnel vision at the mere sight of a map. To put it another way: it is difficult for me to play "navigator" when someone else is driving - not because I suffer from some silly, gendered inability to determine what direction the car is headed in, but simply because I find it too trying to pull my eyes away from the mysteries contained in the map for long enough to chart a course.

Take it from someone who is far less emotional about this subject than I am: Curt Sumner, the executive director for the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. "There are a lot of uses for which just data, digitized map data, are OK," he told me. "It's just not good for every use." When I asked him for a few examples of where digitized data was creating headaches for the professional surveyors he represents, he offered small examples like water lines, fire patterns, and right-of-way property rights. He mentioned that his organization had a rider on a bill in Congress "going forward right now" to require the preservation of documentation of monuments that show right-of-way access (railroad tracks, for instance) because "when the old maps get destroyed, there's no way to determine who has the right of way." Then there the "engineers and fire departments, who really need more accurate information than what's stored on geographic information systems. You know, to build infrastructure." He added that many "official" centers for maps - county recorders' offices around the country, for instance - are in the process of digitizing their maps, and not all of the old maps are being kept.

The CSAA is scheduled to produce its last map by the end of the year.

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