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American Geographical Society Library

About the AGS Library

Background Size and Scope



Display case in entrance of AGS Library.
Display case in entrance of AGS Library.

The American Geographical Society Library is one of North America’s foremost geography and map collections. Formerly the library and map collection of the American Geographical Society (AGS) of New York, it was transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries in 1978 following a nationwide selection process by the Society.

The AGS was formed in the early 1850s to promote the collection and diffusion of geographical and statistical information and to establish and maintain a library with a collection of maps, charts and instruments. By 1870, this library was already recognized as the “largest and most valuable” of its type in the United States. Later, at the conclusion of World War I, the United States Government centered the preliminary work of its delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, President Wilson’s famous “Inquiry,” at the Society’s headquarters in order to draw on its unique resources.

Through the years, the collections expanded in response to the Society’s research activities and through donations from its members. Today, this tradition of world-class geographic information support continues in UWM’s Libraries, while the AGS in New York actively sponsors programs, publications and events in the field of geographic research, education, and national policy.


Size and Scope of the AGS Library

The AGS Library presently consists of well over one million items, and includes maps, atlases, books, journals, pamphlets, photographs, slides, Landsat images, and digital spatial data. The scope of its collection is worldwide. Currently, the AGS Library is also the home of the archives of the Association of American Geographers, and an affiliate member of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Science Information Center (ESIC) network and its Natural Science Network consortium.


Cartographic Collections

General Maps and ChartsGeneral Maps and Charts. The AGS Library contains over 500,000 maps of all types covering the world at a wide range of scales. Included are the major national topographic series, navigational charts detailing the Earth’s coastlines and a wealth of thematic maps treating the full range of physical and human factors. Holdings date from 1452. More information can be found at our Cartographic Collections page.

Rare MaterialsRare Materials. The AGS Library contains many items that are extremely rare and valuable. Rare items include Mappamundi by Giovanni Leardo, dated 1452 and the oldest map in the collection, and a 1478 Rome edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia on velum. The AGSL’s holdings of rare books, periodicals, maps, and atlases are housed in a special environmentally controlled and monitored room within the Library. Please see our Rare Materials page for more information.

AtlasesAtlases. Also in the cartographic collection are over 9,000 atlases ranging from 15th Century editions of Ptolemy’s Geographia to the most modern compilations in paper or digital format. All of the classic atlas publishers are represented: Ortelius, de Jode, Mercator, Blaeu, Coronelli, Robert de Vaugondy, and Homann, to hame just a few. Included are general world atlases, sea atlases, thematic, regional and national atlases, and a large collection of American state and county volumes. Please see our Atlases page for more information.

GlobesGlobes. The cartographic collection includes over 100 globes, most on permanent display. Several globes are of historical value, including a 1613 Hondius globe and an 1831 matched pair of Wilson globes, plus a variety of thematic, special purpose, lunar, planetary and celestial globes. The largest and most spectacular is a rare example of the fifty inch “President’s globe,” produced by the OSS during World War II for President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. Please see our Globes page for more information.

Wall MapsWall Maps. The AGS Library wall map collection consists of over 300 maps, including a large assortment transferred from the UW-Milwaukee Department of Geography in 2005. The online collection includes pictures and descriptions of all maps that are not too fragile to be photographed. The maps date from the 1890s through the 1980s, and cover a wide range of locations, from the world and continents to nations, regions and metropolitan areas. Map themes range from climate, relief (elevation), land use, and vegetation, to political boundaries, historical events, industrial areas and transportation routes, among other subjects. Please see our Wall Maps page for more information.


Photographic Collections

Photographic Collections Hundreds of thousands of photographs and slides are held by the AGS Library. Dating from the mid Nineteenth Century to the present, these photographs document a wealth of geographic themes such as early western exploration, early aerial exploration, the world’s physical features, its peoples and its cultural landscapes. For more information about the photos, please see our Photographic Collections page.


Monographs and Serials

MonographsMonographs. The AGS Library’s large monograph collection dates back to 1472 and contains some of the earliest printed geographical works. Broad themes include:

  • The history of geographical thought and knowledge
  • The Age of Discovery
  • The exploration and mapping of the United States
  • The exploration of the polar regions
  • Military geography, history and tactics
  • Scientific exploration
  • The history of cartography
  • Descriptive regional geographical works
  • Modern and early reference works

SerialsSerials. Chauncy D. Harris and Jerome Fellman (Geographical Review, 1973) concluded that “the leading American library in recorded holdings of the older geographical serials, those which began publication before 1950, is the library of the American Geographical Society ... for recent geographical serials, the American Geographical Society and the Library of Congress have an impressive lead over all the other libraries in the United States." This tradition continues through affiliation with the UWM Libraries and the University of Wisconsin System. For more information, see our Monographs and Serials page.


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Data

GIS Data The AGS Library actively collects and archives digital spatial data which it makes available to users in a variety of formats. Included are digital datasets showing roads, rivers, property boundaries, land use, zoning, geology, etc.; tabular spatial datasets with U.S. Census and property information; and raster orthophotographs and scanned maps. More information about digital spatial data and services is available at our GIS Data page.


Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing

Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing The cartographic collection includes a wide variety of aerial photographs and satellite imagery in digital and paper formats. The James J. Flannery Aerial Photography Collection contains over 5,000 air photos covering much of Wisconsin and surrounding areas. In addition to the Flannery Collection, the AGS Library contains orthophotos; georefrenced, digital scans of paper air photos; and hard-copy air photos of various places in the upper Midwest. Satellite images are also available in digital and paper formats, including worldwide Landsat imagery and Milwaukee area SPOT and Ikonos imagery. More information is available at our Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing page.


AGSL Digital Collections

AGSL Digital CollectionsOver 11,000 photographic and map images are found on the AGSL Digital Collections Portal. Selected images from the AGSL print archive and map collection can be seen through the work of the UWM Libraries Digitization Department and AGSL staff members, who continuously add new images to the digital archive. Images are available for purchase through the site. More information is available at the AGSL Digital Collections Portal.



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