My Top 10 List

Photo of Linda Zellmer

Linda Zellmer

Government Information & Spatial Data Librarian

Hometown: Oconomowoc, WI
Education: University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (BS, Biology & Geology, Minors in Chemistry & German); MS Marine Science, College of William & Mary; MLIS University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Favorite Book: How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier
Favorite TV Shows: Star Trek (Next Generation & Voyager); Law & Order (Original)
Favorite Film: Hidden Figures; The Still of the Night; Foul Play

Favorite Internet Sites for Maps

In addition to serving as a liaison to several science departments here at WIU, I also oversee the map collection and help people learn about maps. I also make maps using Geographic Information Systems software, a system that can be used to combine information about geographic features with map features and organize, display and analyze that information. I learned about GIS by taking two semesters of classes many years ago, at a time when users had to enter commands to tell the computer how to perform an analysis.

During my career as a librarian, I have taught a public health nursing class how to map data about hospital services and birth rates, mapped population data, developed a map showing where people died during the Chicago Race Riots in 1919 and where Thanksgiving dinner grows. One of the earliest use of geographic analysis was the cholera epidemic in London in 1854.

Because of GIS, maps have moved from paper to the Web. Some of the map resources on the web contain scanned images of print maps (Library of Congress and David Rumsey Collection), while others are interactive mapping sites, which allow users to interact with data to make a map or learn more about their area of the World. This list contains my favorite map sites. It includes sites that contain scanned maps as well as interactive mapping sites.

1. WIU Trees

Ever walked across the Macomb campus in spring and noticed a tree or bush in bloom and wondered what it is? Use the WIU Trees interactive map to help you identify that bush or tree.

2. McDonough County Interactive Atlas

This interactive atlas for McDonough County, Illinois, developed by the people in the WIU GIS Center, can be used to explore the physical and cultural geography of the county. It includes information on property boundaries and parcel numbers, topography and roads.

3. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Illinois (Library of Congress)

The Sanborn Map Company produced large-scale maps for more than 12,000 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico showing the commercial, residential and industrial areas of cities and towns. They show the shape, size and construction of buildings and how each building was used. Since the maps were updated on a regular basis, they can be used to trace the growth and change of communities over time. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps collection at the Library of Congress (LC) contains scans of all of the maps that are in the public domain, while ProQuest’s Digital Sanborn Maps available through CARLI contains maps from 1867 to 1970. I like the LC site because the scanned maps, which can be downloaded, are in color, which means that users can identify building construction (the ProQuest’s maps are in black & white). This link is for the Sanborn Maps of Illinois available from the Library of Congress.

4. David Rumsey Collection

David Rumsey, a private map collector, began taking high-resolution digital photographs his maps and providing access to them online in 1996. Today over 93,000 items from his collection, including atlases, globes and single sheet maps from the 1500s to the present, are available through this internet site. They can be viewed online or downloaded, although people who want to download maps must sign in. The maps are useful for genealogy and for tracing place name and boundary changes over time. David Rumsey donated his physical map collection to Stanford University; his digital map collection is now part of the Stanford Digital Library.

5. NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer

Thinking that you might want to retire someplace warm near the ocean? Before doing so, you might want to check out the Sea Level Rise viewer from NOAA. Search for or zoom in on a coastal city that you like and then use the slider on the left side of the page to see what the area would look like with a 6’ increase in sea level. When zooming in on an area, users might see markers on the map showing places of interest. Click a marker to see a photograph of the area now and what it will look like with sea level rise.

6. U.S. Climate Atlas

While climate change will impact coastal areas, it will also impact people throughout the United States. The U.S. Climate Atlas can be used to see how minimum and maximum temperature and precipitation have changed over time. Users can select a variable (Precipitation, Minimum Temperature and Maximum Temperature), then choose a year and month to see what the temperature or precipitation was like during a particular month and year. Click on the Off button on the right side of the page to compare that month and year with another (later) month and year. Users can view the maps with a slide bar that they move back and forth or side by side. However, when comparing maps, users have another option: they can animate the maps to show temperature and precipitation every month over a chosen time period.

7. EnviroAtlas Interactive Map

EnviroAtlas is an interactive mapping site developed by a group of partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey and LandScope America. It contains more than 400 layers of data, from the number of acres of land enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program to the working age population who live within a 45 minute drive of an area. Users can change the map background by clicking the base map gallery button, which looks like 4 squares in a circle, in the upper right corner and select their favorite background. In the upper left corner, users can click on buttons to narrow the data options to work only with demographic data (house button), time series data (clock button) or add their own data. At the top center, are some round buttons that provide mapping tools, change analysis tools, hydrologic unit navigation, a raindrop tool, an elevation profile and save their session. The raindrop tool (looks like two balls connected with a string) allows users to see where a raindrop that falls in their back yard goes on its way to the nearest water body. Users could easily lose track of time while exploring this site.

The EPA’s EJScreen is a scaled down version of EnviroAtlas that can be used to explore environmental hazards that affect vulnerable populations, including minorities and the poor.

8. Library of Congress Digital Collections – Maps

The Library of Congress’ Digital Collections contain over 40,000 digitized maps in 17 different collections. In addition to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps described above, the Digital Map Collection contains maps related to the U.S. Civil War, including those of Confederate cartographer Major Jedediah Hotchkiss. The collections also include maps showing other military battles and campaigns, such as the post D-Day World War II Situation Maps for Western Europe. It also contains scans of 19th century Panoramic maps (maps drawn as though they were viewed from above, also called birds eye views), maps dealing with the European discovery and exploration of the Americas, and a general collection showing various areas of the World. All maps can be downloaded at different resolutions. While it is not part of the Digital Map Collections, the Library of Congress has also scanned the 1893 Plat Book of McDonough County, Illinois.

9. U.S. Serial Set Maps (WIU Only)

The Serial Set is a collection of reports and publications issued by the U.S. House and Senate. They contain reports of legislative activites in addition to other reports on activities of government agencies. The WIU Libraries provide access to the online Serial Set through Readex from 1817 to 1980. Some of the Serial Set reports contain maps, which are part of a separate Serial Set collection. The maps in the collection dealing with Illinois include maps of the Mississippi River, a map of Peoria from 1821 showing French land claims, the Illinois River, the Rock Island Rapids surveyed by Lt. R. E. Lee in 1837 and other topics. The collection can be browsed by state and location or searched. Maps can be downloaded as PDFs or TIFF images. To access the Serial Set and Serial Set Maps, users must be WIU students, faculty or staff or come into the Library.

10. The National Map

The U.S. Geological Survey began making topographic maps showing the shape and elevation of features in the late 1800s. The print maps, which ceased in 2006, have been replaced by The National Map viewer. When connecting to the site, users will see a map of the entire United States. To zoom in on an area, enter the name of a place in the search box. Click on Layer List (looks like a stack of papers – third button from the left at the top). Map layers can be turned on and off by clicking in the check box next to one of the layer names. Click Elevation Contours to turn on the contours. It is also possible to turn on computer generated contours by clicking 3DEP Elevation – Auto Contours. Other theme layers are available (hillshade, slope, land use, etc.). They can be turned on and off by clicking in the check box next to that theme. To view the legend, click on the button next to the layer list.

Other sites to explore:

FEMA National Flood Map Service Center – Users can enter a place name to view flood insurance rate maps for an area. Flood insurance rate maps show the areas that have a 1% chance of flooding during a given year (also called the 100 year floodplain) and a 0.2% chance of flooding during a given year (also called the 500 year floodplain).

Web Soil Survey – The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides information on soils through their Web Soil Survey. While this site is not very user friendly, once a location has been found, users can click on soil areas to learn about the soils in a given area.