As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Who needs maps of China? The Western Australian experience of map demand and availability -- a case study.

William H. Lamble
Library and Information Service of Western Australia


Australia in the mid-late 1980s. It examines the nature and some of the problems of what is claimed to be the most isolated public reference library in the world. Western Australia is traditionally a primary industry economy. Part of its economic development programme is to export technological expertise and to invest overseas. Some of the major markets for this activity are China and Sout heast Asia. Western Austr alian business has been advising on, assisting in and investing in Chinese industry development for the last decade and a half. Companies involved naturally wished to investigate the viability of such projects thoroughly from the earliest stages. Most preliminary studies required access to a wide range of thematic maps. Although historically based it offers valid gui delines for the present day provision of map services in the medium sized public reference library.


This paper is a case study of demands placed on the map collection of Western The theme of this session is maps in economic development with the Section's traditional emphasis on maps of the host country. It seems pretentious for a foreigner to comment on the mapping of China but it seems appropriate to investigate how Chinese maps become available and some of the ways in which they are used in a western country - one moreover isolated geographically and bibliographicall y.

Who needs maps of China? The need for maps is continually expressed. We are all committed to the use of cartographic information - but we are often selective in our application and may sometimes be found wanting. This paper arises from a series of projects in the mid-late 1980s and not only demonstrates the role of maps in economic development but highlights the relevance of the map collectio n in the public library to that development. It also demonstrates the parallel demands for cartographic information in geographically disparate areas. For comparison of the two areas, China's is 9 597 000 km2, Australia 7 687 000 km2 and Western Australia 2 525 000 km2. These figures are highly significant in relation to the number of map sheets required to cover the areas adequately and also in the cost and space requirements of a map collection.

National and other major map collections collect maps exhaustively within their own political areas and seemingly exhaustively elsewhere. Overseas item acquisition is often driven by international exchange agreements. Academic libraries have to meet the teaching demands and faculty research requirements of the day. This can lead to short term planned geographical and temporal coverage by the c ollections. The smaller public libraries, including the "State" libraries of less populous states are generally limited in size and face demands for maps of the local jurisdiction, collected exhaustively and national maps, collected definitively. This does not allow much scope for maps of the rest of the world in great detail. Acquisition must balance availability, client demand and quantity o f sheets. Major demands in Australia come from genealogists and tourists. All types of library are noted for collecting and retaining any other maps they can obtain accidentally and incidentally.

The State of Western Australia was first settled by Europeans in 1829 as a free colony. From the beginning it struggled as an agricultural settlement. To meet demands for population growth it became a 'convict settlement' for about 20 years from the late 1840s. Discovery of gold in the North-West in the 1880s and the Kalgoorlie Region in the next decade caused a rapid spurt in growth. In the 1960s technology became available to exploit the major iron ore deposits in the North-West and other minerals in the eastern and southern areas of the state. With over 12 000 km of coastline and prolific fishery resources the state has become noted for its expertise in agriculture, fishing and mining, expertise it exports throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The state today still only has a population of under 2 million. Of these 1.8 million live in the south west corner of the state and 1.6 million in the metropolitan region of the capital city Perth. The State Library had its beginnings in the 1880s but it was not until 1956 when it was joined with the newly established State Library Service that it began to develop as an effective reference libr ary collection. There are three map collections - State Archives (no figures available), the West Australian collection (21 600 items at June 1995) and the General collection (21 500 items) which covers the rest of Australia and the rest of the world. There are also a large number of maps integrated in other subject collections. Some 15 years ago I identified at least 10 000 map sheets in pub lications such as geological reports, parliamentary papers and other governmental and research publications. I would not like to hazard a guess at the present number but many of the recent additions are retrieved for housing (and cataloguing) in the map collection. As the library originated in the colonial i.e. pre-Federation period it has enjoyed a certain amount of 'national' as opposed to 'state' status and this has allowed it to take advantage of exchange and deposit schemes. This should place the state and its library in the proper perspective.

Australia has long been involved in overseas aid programmes. More recently it has been expanding into overseas investment and technology transfer as an adjunct to its traditional export trade in primary products. Markets have been targetted mainly in Southeast Asia, the Far East and the Middle East as well as its traditional British Commonwealth linkages. An early venture into China was the Au stralian Mining and Minerals Survey Mission to Hainan Island in 1981-82. In 1984 the Western Australian Overseas Project Authority sent a consultant and team to Qinghai Province to examine prospects and projects in the province in the fields of town planning and urban development (particularly of Golmud), tourism and mineral resource exploitation. It was as a result of this latter mission that a group of mining businessmen began to examine the feasibility of joining the programme of mineral development in China especially in coal mining. The stages of such projects are increasingly costly as more resources are committed to the groundwork. Justification for such investment is sought from the beginning and before continuation into each successive stage. These businessmen called on th e State Reference Library of Western Australia for the material for their initial investigation and justification for their involvement in coal mining in such areas as Shanxi as well as the south western regions.

The team visiting Qinghai submitted a list of questions to the Provincial Government which typifies the details sought by this later investigation. The questions included:

I. Topographic maps. Are these available?

These questions were quite proper to have been made in China and it would have been too optimistic to expect satisfaction outside the Province and large specialist collections in major libraries etc. The questions posed in Perth were:

It may seem simple for a library to have the materials readily available but put in the context of the areas involved it is difficult for a medium sized overseas library to respond satisfactorily. The WA map library collection policy was to provide world map coverage at scales of 1:2 500 000 and 1:1 000 000 for geographic maps and 1:5 000 00 for thematic maps. Individual country coverage is generally by national atlas (if available) and single sheet or small scale mapping. Also collected are thematic atlases and certain countries given more detailed coverage as identified by proven demand or historical links. China had not been recognised as a case for special treatment at this time. Maps from China were also not easy to acquire.

Map supply on an international exchange basis work very well if there is the authority and the material to exchange. WA has been limited to its European and Anglophone heritage and its linkages to international organisations. Books are readily available commercially and identifiable through the traditional reviewing sources. This is not true for maps, other than atlases, and especially in an isolated region such as WA -- the nearest capital city to Perth is Djakarta, the distance from Perth to Sydney is comparable to San Francisco to Miami, and most of the intervening space is empty. Map selection is dependent directly on specific map producers and a few international dealers such as GeoCenter.

Access to maps in series such as the range of publications of the U.S. Geological Survey is only effective through searches in such databases as GEOREF. This last also has the advantage of retrieving maps from geographical and geological texts. A search produced only 10 items between 1980 and 1988. Of these 5 were produced by the U.S.G.S. and were available, the rest came from China (2), Germa ny, Russia and a United States university. All were small scale. 'World mapping today' lists 9 map producers in its section on China, also listing a small selection of Chinese atlases and maps (including overseas publications). Most of these are available through regular suppliers but it is the larger scale maps which are not listed and not readily available. The Asian Research Service is lis ted under Hong Kong. This service produced the Current data maps : China between 1984 and 1986. These maps at scales of 1:7 000 000 or smaller proved very useful. Apart from tourist maps and town plans the stock of maps specifically on China was 20 maps and atlases. The total is now 27 exclusive of maps accompanying monographs and serials from the U.S. Bureau of Mines, ESCAP etc. and trade b ooks on geology and mineral resources. At the time of the request the map collection catalogues had not been automated and the Australian Bibliographical Network was not effectively accessible. ABN now holds over 11 500 000 records with over 23 000 000 holdings, of which nearly 250 000 are cartographic. ABN includes LC, BNB and other national bibliographical databases. A current search f or maps of China shows 583 records (13 only of mines and mineral resources).

Quite obviously the State Reference Library was not able to supply all the information required for the achievement of the project, nor all the preliminary requirements from its own resources. The oldest of the state's 5 universities has a very large map collection and the two collections work closely together, lending and referring to each other freely. For other material it is necessary to re ly on interlibrary loans - from the other side of the continent or overseas. The alternative, often necessary when large quantities of maps are required, necessitates the client to travel to resource collections. In the latter case it is necessary to identify both the materials to be consulted and their locations. This it was possible to do.

Investigations by the Western Australian companies in China during the Qinghai visit came to the conclusion that the WA companies would need to convince the Chinese Government to provide the funding. In return it would get: the best expertise in geological mapping and exploration, the very latest state of the aerial magnetic, gravity and geochemical surveys and access to the best developed art of gossan identification and interpretation.

Western Australia is recognised as world leader in the practice of these fields and these claims are supported by the Australian and particularly Western Australian experience of resource and topographical mapping. In quantity Australia is covered by 44 sheets of maps at a scale of 1:1 000 000, this translates into 538 sheets at 1:250 000 and (within 250 km of the coast) over 3 000 sheets at 1: 100 000. Each sheet at 1:1 000 000 comprises 16 at 1:250 000, 96 at 1:100 000 and then increases by multiples of 4. The bulk of Australia's mineral resources are in the 'outback' desert areas and these were usually not yet covered by the systematic survey programmes before development. It was left for the exploring companies to conduct their own surveys and they had to deposit their results wi th either the Federal or State mining authority. These reports were initially archived, listed in geological bibliographies and made available to enquirers on request. There were legal safeguards for the companies in this process. More recently these survey results have been used to produce series sheets of maps ahead of their systematic programme. This has served the publication of Australia n geophysical mapping well.

In conclusion it is apparent that there are two aspects emerging from this experience. The first is the adequacy or otherwise in map production and marketing. Map libraries depend on maps being produced and made available for acquisition. The second is that the library cannot be expected to be completely self-sufficient and able to meet all demands from its own resources. However it still ha s an important role to play as a gateway for accessing cartographic information, especially for economic development. Collection development aims to predict future demands but this must be tempered by practicability and there will always be the unexpected. To provide a service is more than having a selection of maps to meet immediate needs but having the tools to facilitate the access to the m ore detailed materials for the follow-up processes. This entails the identification of both materials and their location and the facilitation of access for the client. Modern information technology promises answers to the problems involved but further detail if not immediately available must be accessed by facilitation by the map librarian. The difficulties faced in this enquiry may disappea r with the spread of current information technology. Direct access to digitised cartographic information is still restricted, and availability of computerised systems limited. Maps and map libraries are highly relevant in local economic development and can also participate in global economic cooperation projects.


Carr, David. Report on visit to Qinghai Province. Western Australian Overseas Projects Authority, 1984.

Chadwick, John. Chinese coal projects proliferate. in International mining, July 1986.

Geology and mineral resources of the Far East. edited by T. Ogura. University of Tokyo Press, 1967-

Library and Information Service of Western Australia. Annual reports. Mineral resources of China. edited by Chinese Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources Information. China Building Materials Industry Press, 1993.

Wang, K. P. The People's Republic of China : a new industrial power with a strong mineral base. U.S. Bureau of Mines, 1975.

World mapping today. edited by R.B. Parry, C.R.Perkins. Butterworths, 1987.