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Using the 'British Library Map Catalogue on CD-ROM'

(a brief and selective Guide)

There are many ways in which the CD can help you find what you want - not all of them expected. Search results appear virtually instantaneously, because every individual word, number, abbreviation, etc., has been indexed. Even if you are an experienced computer user, it is recommended that you look through these notes (which occupy the equivalent of four typed pages). This text may be printed off and used by an individual owner of the CD, or by a user in a library. For more extensive information, see ‘Searching The British Library Map Catalogue on CD-ROM’, a 61-page guide that comes with the CD.

Getting Started

Types of Search


Tips and Techniques



Getting Started

Mouse. Move the mouse pointer to the relevant part of the screen, then click on the left-hand button. You will be using the mouse for everything except typing in search words.

Main Screen. If you are at the screen with the map background, click on ‘Start’.

Search Screen. You start from the ‘Search Screen’, whose centre is white with horizontal lines. There should be no lettering in the white boxes. If there is, click on the blue ‘Clear Search’ label to remove a previous user’s search.


Demonstration. You may find it helpful to experiment first with the demonstration screen (click on the ‘Search Help’ button to the right). Click on the various elements in turn (whenever you see a hand symbol) and an explanation will pop up.

On-screen Help. Two sorts of Help are available on the Search Screen, in the form of tips:

Let the CD-ROM answer your questions!

There is a wide range of Help available on the CD. You are offered four alternative routes to it:

  1. ‘Basic Searching’ [see ‘Demonstration’ above].
  2. From where you are. Press the F1 key and you will get Help about the particular search field you have clicked on or about the screen or window you are in.
  3. Via the Contents screen. Click on Help (top of the screen) then ‘Contents’. You can click on any of the sub-headings under which the Help file is organised.
  4. Via the Index. Click on Help (top of the screen) then ‘Search’. This leads you into a comprehensive index to the Help file. Start typing a query where the cursor is flashing, double-click on the relevant term, then click ‘Go To’.


How to search. There are two ways to search:-

Hits. The relevant entries for each search appear to the right. The total ‘hits’, i.e. the number of records that match all your criteria, appear at the bottom.

Display. You have two options (click on the buttons top right to select or change the Display option):

To move between or within records, use the ‘scroll bar’ to the right. Use the up/down arrows to move one element at a time; click above/below the square button to move a screen at a time; drag the square button to make bigger movements; use Home/End to go to the beginning/end of List Display.

‘Parent’ and ‘Child’ records. If there are subsequent editions (Child records), the List Display will show how many there are, e.g. "Subs: 4". Their details will appear on the Full Display beneath the description of the earliest edition (Parent record). Click on the horizontal dividing line and drag it up to give more space to the Child records. You can search on elements in a Child record, e.g. its date. There are about 18,000 subsequent edition records.

Sorting. In List Display select ‘Sort’ and then the relevant option. You need to sort a geographical search on Place/Area Covered to bring together the separate sequences of the four source catalogues. Note that the Year option will sort on the date of the first edition, even if the record was selected because of a subsequent edition.

Clear Search. Return to the Search Screen (button near the top) and click on ‘Clear Search’ to prepare for a new search. Click on ‘Search History’ to retrieve and then reinsert an earlier search. Click again on ‘Search History’ to close its window.

Types of Search

Date. To restrict to material pre/post a certain date, or for date-ranging, look at the instructions in the bottom left of the Search Screen, first placing your mouse cursor over ‘Year’. Some of the earliest records omit a publication date. If you want everything that is, or might be, pre-1600, enter: <1600 OR NONE

Geographical. There are two possible routes:

Name. For pre-1975 material, try entering the surname into ‘Whole Record’ (bottom of the screen) [see ‘Tips and Techniques' below]. That way you may pick up names from titles, imprints and cataloguers' notes. For example, under ‘Name/Publisher’, Speed* produces 48 hits for John Speed; under ‘Whole Record’, the figure is 259.

Place or country of publication. This allows you to retrieve material recorded as being published in either a town, e.g. New York, or a country, e.g. United States (which will include all the New York entries).

Scale. The Representative Fraction (e.g. 1:15,000) was generally not recorded for printed maps until about 1940. The scale statements of manuscript maps were included, however, in the 1844-61 catalogue. Most of these statements have been translated into an RF. You can select by scale and scale-range but remember that there will be limited retrieval for printed maps.

Subject. Start by finding the relevant term in the Subject index. For best results, type this term (or its significant word) into Whole Record along with relevant title words (linked by OR) [see ‘logical connectors’ below]. NB. If you are using Whole Record you need to delete the entry under ‘Subject’.

Tips and Techniques

Whole Record. The Whole Record search looks at every single word, number, abbreviation, acronym, etc. in the whole database (190,000 main records). Some information can be retrieved here only, e.g. ‘Notes’ (cataloguers’ comments). Since the Whole Record will also pick up the formal headings supplied by cataloguers (Place/Area Covered, Name, Subject, Format) it is recommended that this option is used for most searches [for pre-1975 records]. Click on ‘Whole Record’ and press the F1 key for guidance on special searches, e.g. facsimiles, manuscript maps, series mapping, topographical views.

Logical connectors. You have three options:

Truncation. Always consider using this. Put * after the stem to get any word that starts thus, e.g. geolog* (for various language equivalents). Use the Whole Record index to spot the possibilities beforehand. There are 100 for geolog* !

Keep it simple! Enter as little as possible, e.g. a surname, or two or more distinctive words, preferably from different fields, say, an author surname and a title-word. If what you enter is not exactly matched in the record you will retrieve nothing. If you receive zero hits for a single field you will receive zero hits in total.

Accept irrelevant hits. To achieve all you want, you must accept some you do not want.

NB. This is a retroconversion. It allows new forms of access to essentially unchanged records, some of which date back to the early 19th century. The CD comprises the complete sequence of the published and automated catalogues of printed maps as well as the 3-volume Catalogue of Manuscript Maps (1844-61). The following are not included:

There is a review by Liz Sagues in Mercator's World, 5:2 (2000). Other questions should be addressed to the publisher, Primary Source Microfilm (part of the Gale Group). See also their Map Catalogue page.

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