Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fantasy to Federation

The gulf between 2001, the year this exhibit at the Cambridge University Library in Cambridge, England was on display, and 2009 seems immense. For the ever-changing electronic world, it's practically a lifetime.

"Fantasy to Federation" was one of two exhibits on display in the Cambridge University Library in the year 2001. The library has two exhibits every year, with this one taking up the early half of the year.

The focus of this exhibit was neatly summarized on the one-page teaser the library put up to advertise the display. The text preceding the small thumbnails set the stage, giving a brief overview of the history of the mapping of the southern continent of Australia up through the year 1901.

The page then describes some of what may be found in the exhibit, including a map from 1540 (the oldest on display) by a professor of Hebrew at Basle University and images from Cook's first voyage in 1773 .

Beneath that lie the seven maps chosen by the librarians to highlight the contents of the exhibit. The thumbnails of each map lead to a small jpeg image, a picture that displays the full image of the map just large enough to make out the depiction of Australia, but no more.

Beside each thumbnail is the biography of the map. The mapmaker and map name are given, as are any other known facts, such as when it was made, the city that housed it and the Atlas or other volume where it was originally found. The details vary from map to map, and the meaning of the names beside each map are not readily apparent.

The University displays two exhibits a year, each getting its own web page starting in 1998. The evolution and growing complexity of the internet can be seen at a glance from these web pages, the first being simply pages of text, a limited navigation bar, and links to the items chosen to represent the exhibit online. By 2009 however, the exhibit pages have grown more complex, with the amount of text dramatically increasing as it gives great detail and description of what may be found on display.

On none of these pages lie an explanation for why these objects were selected for the website, or how the exhibit was chosen. Presumably, these were all items already in the library's collection, but without a statement from the library, such a thought is pure conjecture.

And while the pictures linked in this specific exhibit's webpage do display the full map, it's small size shows little detail, nor does it do anything to truly entice a browser to come see the exhibit. The biography of each map does describe it in brief, but says nothing about its history after creation.

The exhibits at the Cambridge Library are open to the public free of charge. Directions to the library, as well as the library hours, are linked at the bottom of the page. This exhibit webpage specifically links only to the University, and would therefore only be found by people already on the library webpage.

The library itself is open to Cambridge students only, although private researchers, students of other universities and academic staff may apply for use of the library. There is also a £10 administration charge for non-UK academic students and the public to apply for use of the library.

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