Published: Jan. 3, 2020

As you walk downstairs to the map collection of the Earth Sciences & Map Library, you may find a room full of students and the chatter of discovery surrounding maps. The number of classes held in the Map Library has been steadily increasing, due to the team spirit of Map Librarians Ilene Raynes and Naomi Heiser. 

The duo has worked together for nearly two decades, but have only been hosting classes at the Map Library for less than a handful of those years. Raynes schedules classes and manages the logistics, her focus being on contemporary mapping. Heiser brings collaborators in from a range of subject areas. Her interests pertain more to historical cartography. Together, they do everything from developing the lesson plans to curating a custom map display for the class. 

“To make classes a success, we meet with the instructors, read their syllabi, read their assigned readings when possible, create in-class exercises in tandem with them, and always ask for feedback and criticism,” Raynes said. 

With a collection of about 200,000 maps covering geography, urban planning, history, and many more topics, Raynes and Heiser are never short on primary sources to share. 

Wesley Brown looking at a map with a student.

Last semester, Raynes and Heiser worked with 27 classes across disciplines. One of them was Assistant Professor of Asian Language & Civilization Katherine Alexander’s graduate course, “Topics in Early Modern Literature: Ming-Qing Contexts.”

 “It’s always a pleasure working with Naomi and Ilene,” collector and University of Colorado Boulder alumnus Wesley Brown said. He brought 15 unique Chinese Indigenous manuscript maps from his personal collection to the Map Library for this particular class. Brown said he has collaborated with Heiser and Raynes on several projects over the years.

“Naomi is an exceptional librarian because she goes out and finds users for the collection. Ilene actively solicits and promotes the use of the collection,” he said. “As a result, it brings students and faculty together to work with original documents.” 

Alexander said that Brown’s referral led to her working with Raynes and Heiser this past semester. She said it was exciting to be able to bring students into the Map Library’s space to study the ancient maps Brown provided. 

“[Naomi and Ilene] were so helpful and enthusiastic about making this work, and suggested that we hold the map reports session in the library too, which also worked out really well!” Alexander said.

Katherine Alexander looks at a map with a student.

Graduate student Shuran Jiang in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations was in that class.

“By closely examining the maps, we get a chance to touch and feel the paper, ink, and other details on the maps that would not be easily accessed anywhere else,” Jiang said. 

Raynes and Heiser have also hosted classes from other disciplines, such as "Writing on Science and Society: Topics in Writing" with both Instructor Danny Long and Senior Instructor Rebecca Dickson of the Program for Writing & Rhetoric, “Cartography: Visualization and Information Design” with Instructor Sarah Kelly, and “The Art of Travel” with Senior Instructor Giulia Bernardini in the Humanities Department. Beyond CU Boulder, the duo has also brought pieces from the Map Library’s collection to elementary school students in Boulder and Broomfield. 

“We’ve found that in this current visually-dominant culture, students are already primed to enjoy and analyze visual maps,” Raynes said. “Maps are interdisciplinary, so they can enhance understanding of just about any topic. Their spatial nature allows students to ground or contain their understanding of concepts in a definite place.”

An interdisciplinary class in the Map Library.

Giving students the agency to work with maps in their physical form provides another way of engaging with maps. 

“We really hope that students learn that maps are more than what they see every day on their phones, that they are a window into cultures and history,” said Heiser. 

About 90 percent of the Map Library’s collection is accessible through the Libraries’ catalog. Maps can be checked out for 14 days, not including rare or fragile maps and reference books. 

To connect with Raynes and Heiser about integrating a map lesson into your course, contact the Map Library.