By Fernando Peinado
Hidden away and almost always deserted, the Map Room is uncharted territory for many SIPA students. If you rarely venture away from the spaces between 3rd and 6th floor, it’s completely possible that you’ve never seen it. One afternoon, this Morningside Post reporter decided to explore this mysterious corner of Lehman library and found out how this relic in room 213 is surviving in the age of the Internet.
This phantasmagoric space is full of cabinets organized by geographic regions and the drawers are left unlocked. We have at our disposal 114,000 sheets with US, international, nautical, aeronautical and geological maps. But do students use them?
“It does get used”, Jeremiah Trinidad-Christensen, the librarian responsible for the Map Room, assures.
There is no staff sitting permanently at the Map Room but Trinidad-Christensen knows when users have been there because consulted maps are left on the table at the center of the room. This is not a sign of how careless students are: we are asked not to re-shelf maps, as to avoid putting them in the wrong place.
Trinidad-Christensen can be found for assistance next door, he says, pointing beyond the cabinets, in a corner at the back of the Map Room. Once you cross that door, you find yourself back in the future. In room 215, called Data Service, a handful of students are consulting maps on computers. So, why do we need to keep physical maps? Isn’t everything already up online? “Not at all”, Trinidad says. “Copyright is a big issue for digitalizing maps”, Trinidad-Christensen explains. “There is a wealth of information that you can only find physically”.
Columbia has scanned maps that are in the public domain as part of an increasing effort to digitalize content. “Most of our journal collections, references resources and government documents are now available online and we are beginning to purchase e-books as they become available”, writes Mary Giunta, the director of Social Sciences Libraries at Columbia, in an e-mail response.
The Columbia catalogue of maps is accessible online, and students who need assistance working with map software can ask Trinidad and three other consultants at the Data Service. This is the only place at Columbia where any student can find that help, Trinidad tells me. SIPA students who have to work with maps are lucky that such assistance is so readily available.
One of the computer users, Jennifer Delvir, a School of Public Health student, had come to SIPA from the Medical Center campus, fifty blocks uptown. “The consultants have been tremendously helpful”, she said. “If you do not have experience using the software you can spend hours researching on your own”, said Delvir, who had come four times since January to our building in search of help. She was working on a map for her dissertation, in which she seeks to illustrate the risk of infection that drug users run of contracting HIV in different areas of New York.
Delvir said she had found the Data Service at SIPA by chance. “I needed help with putting data on the map and none of the faculty could help me. I just found this place by googling it”, she said, and concluded with a sad truth. “I think a lot of people are not aware of the resources available at our University”.