PORTLAND — After being closed for nearly two years, the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine will open its doors to researchers and the general public this weekend with a range of events.

The reopening of the map library at the corner of Bedford Street and Forest Avenue completes an effort by university officials to improve the Bedford Street entrance to the USM campus and create a University Commons. 

The $12 million project was funded by donations, a state bond and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, according to USM spokesman Robert Caswell. More than $8 million was invested in the map library construction and updating of its equipment to make it a state-of-the-art digital map center. 

The new facility, which is decorated by 140, 3-by-13-foot aluminum panels depicting a 1946 Dymiaxion map by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller, is four times the size of the old, 4,525-square-foot facility in the Glickman Library.

The new, 19,000-square-foot facility has a 75-seat auditorium for lectures and school visits, the Cohen Education Center.   

Matthew Edney, holder of the Osher Chair in the History of Cartography, said an effort is currently underway to scan and take digital photos of the thousands of maps, atlases and other items in the collection.


Many of the images will be available online, but more importantly, he said, the digitization will allow staff to better organize the collection, most of which is stored in security vaults on the second and third floors. By scanning bar codes, researchers will find it easier to locate items in the 7,750-square-foot, two-story vault, which is equipped with a waterless fire suppression system.

While the library can currently scan maps up to 30 inches wide so they can be put online, it will soon get a large digital camera to shoot the wall-sized maps that will be added to a high-resolution online collection. 

“The last five to 10 years have seen such a change in the availability of online material,” Edney said. “More and more libraries are putting more of their collections online at high resolution. We’ll be adding a lot to that community.” 

Edney said the expansion will allow the map library to resume accepting donations from collectors and estate benefactors, the source of much of the current collection, which consists of more than 300,000 maps as well as astrological and surveying instruments. 

“After 15 years, we were bursting at the seams,” Edney said. “We had to stop accepting donations.”

The library also features hundreds of rare globes, which are displayed in glass shelves in the public reference room. That display is routinely covered by blinds that minimize light exposure, but when lifted reveal a stunning collection. 


Edney pointed out his favorite globe, a pocket-sized orb in a protective shell from the 1730s. Once opened, the inner globe reveals a terrestrial image of the world, while the inside of the case is inked with a celestial map.

Although a ribbon-cutting ceremony won’t take place until 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18, the weekend of events begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with a lecture by John Hessler, a senior cartographic librarian at the U.S. Library of Congress, in the Hannaford Lecture Hall of the Abromson Center.  

Hessler’s lecture,  “Thoreau, his Maps and his Image of Nature,” will examine the work and life of Henry David Thoreau, a mid-1800’s land surveyor who was best known as the author of “Walden” and “The Maine Woods.” The lecture will examine how Thoreau’s tracings of early maps of North America shaped his view of nature. 

There will be a day-long conference on Saturday about new directions in the study of early American cartographies, which requires a fee and advanced registration by calling 780-5960.

The ribbon cutting will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday and will be followed by a guided tour of the new facility, including a gallery exhibit called “American Treasures,” which will run through Aug. 21, 2010.

Edney said the exhibit shows how people make and use maps for different purposes. On display will be a map of the world in five climate zones, contrasting indigenous and European people, as well as a 1928 map made by the Portland Baby Hygiene and Child Welfare Association called “A Portland Map and Some Places Thereabout.”    


The exhibit will include the first showing of the library’s latest acquisition, a 1672 wall map of the Americas by Amsterdam cartographer Frederick de Wit, one of only seven copies known to exist. A framed reproduction of the map will be given as a door prize.

An original map of the Gulf of Mexico, dated 1762, will be raffled off to those who join the Osher Library Associates, a friends of the library group.

More more information, visit the Osher Map Library Web site, USM.Maine.edu/maps

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

p-oshermap3.jpgThe new Osher Map Library on Bedford Street completes the University Commons at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Sidebar Elements

p-oshermap1.jpgProfessor Matthew Edney points out his favorite globe in the University of Southern Maine’s Osher Map Library, which will reopen this weekend with a series of special events. 
p-oshermap2.jpgA close-up of a pocket globe that contains terrestrial and celestial maps, one of the hundreds of antique globes at the University of Southern Maine Osher Map Library, which reopens this weekend in Portland with a series of special events. 

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