The collection of old and modern maps and plans may be consulted in the Map Room.
The chief purpose of the collections is to serve the needs of teaching and research within the University of Amsterdam.
Reproductions are available of many early cartographic items.
As a rule maps and atlases cannot be borrowed and must be consulted in the Map Room. Some books may be borrowed, however, but in special circumstances and with the permission of the curator.
Information about the collections and the reference library and guidance and advice for teachers and researchers is available as follows:
A variety of reproductions can be ordered. Monochrome xeroxcopies (up to the size A0) or photographs and slides or transparencies can be supplied of both maps and atlas leaves. Orders cannot be accepted by telephone.
The map and atlas collections of Amsterdam University Library go back as far as the history of the Library itself, though the documentary evidence for their existence is at best sporadic. The oldest atlases first appear in the first catalogue, that of 1612, of what was then the City Library. Maps, unfortunately, were not included in that catalogue. They make their first appearance in the lists prepared by Isaac Dornseiffen, but these only cover the maps in the collection of the Netherlands Geographical Society, which were entrusted to the care of the University Library at the end of the 1870s.
A good idea of the impressive holdings of old atlases and geographical works (it is by far the largest collection in the Netherlands) is given by part one of the Catalogus Geographie en Reizen (Geography and Travel Catalogue), which was completed by Combertus Pieter Burger Jr. in 1923. The atlases dating from before 1801 have recently been extensively inventoried and described by former curator Albert H. Sijmons. When the University Library was rehoused in about 1880 and the Dutch Geographical Society was able to move its books, atlases and maps into the new building, one room was designed the Map Room. This was the beginning of a steady growth. Cartographic material both ancient and modern was acquired through donations and purchases, first almost exclusively by the Society and later increasingly by the University Library, producing what is now a collection of international stature. It is the Library's long history, stretching back over many centuries and numerous donations, bequests and later antiquarian acquisitions, that accounts for the present near complete record of Dutch cartographic production, dominated by the activities of publishers in Amsterdam. Today the collection is still one of the most important in its field in the world.
In 1932 the Map Room was again obliged to expand to make room for the vast increase in its holdings. Between 1960 and 1966 the collections were housed in the Ceres repository: an unhappy episode, demonstrating clearly the mutual interrelationships with research collections elsewhere in the Library. Despite this, under the collection's first full-time curator Herman Sleurink it was still a period in which the space and resources were found to provide its holdings, hitherto kept in folders and portfolios, with what in its day was extremely modern accommodation. 1967 was a major turning-point for both University Library and Map Room. In the new building at Singel 425 the collections moved into a well-equipped new Map Room, though part of the collection had to be left behind in the Ceres building. In 1985 this remnant, after years during which valuable items had been removed to the Singel, was transferred to another repository. Meanwhile, the Map Room itself had again become crowded: between 1967 and 1990 the numbers of both map cases and maps doubled, while there are now several times the original number of refence works and atlases in the reference library.
The shortage of staff and the problems peculiar to the cataloguing of maps have always meant that making the map collections accessible for study has been a singularly difficult task. In 1936 the honorary curators Henri van der Bijll and Ernst Crone joyfully announced that they had succeeded in the physical arrangement of the then c. 45 000 sheets of the map collections. This meant that maps relating to a specific region were all kept together and were easy to find. But this was far from being a catalogue, and in 1967 Albert H. Sijmons began the work of producing a uniform, geographically and thematically ordered catalogue for the complete holdings, which in the mean time had reached the number of 100 000 sheets. This card catalogue was completed in 1976, an occasion commemorated in festive style with an exhibition in the University Library. After Sijmons's retirement in 1978 work continued on updating and perfecting the catalogue, replacing and extending the sheet-index system with a companion updatable overview and producing inventories and user guides. In 1995 the collection moved to new surroundings: a quite modern map room provided with special facilities and adjacent fully air-conditioned stacks for maps and atlases.
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Last modified: 11 June 1998