08 May 2023

Visualizing Science: Behind the Scenes of Cartography at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry

As part of the National Library Week, the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) Library prepared an event comprising an exhibit and a dialogue panel titled Visualizing Science: A Maps Exhibit. This activity was coordinated by Library Director Yariliz Quiles. She gathered experts in GIS: Maya Quiñones, who is also my mentor as the Urban Community & Forestry Program Manager, Olga Ramos, IITF’s GIS Analyst, and Research Ecologist Tamara Heartshill, who moderated the panel. I participated in this panel by bringing my experience and my perspective on developing the first inventory of cartographic materials at the IITF Library as part of my Capstone during my Master’s in Library and Information Science.

During the activity, Olga Ramos and Maya Quiñones explained how scientists would come to them with hand-drawings and insight of what they wanted to show in the cartographic blueprints and maps, and how afterwards they would then translate their dialogues into accurate maps for publications or field-use. This dialogue between research scientists and GIS experts resulted in scientific publications where the maps not necessarily had the names of the people who created these maps; their work is not necessarily recognized in all their created maps. However, we understand their collaboration is crucial for U.S. Forest Service scientists to distribute new scientific information when it comes to geo-spatial data.

The IITF Library staff understood the need of knowing and understanding the cartographic materials that they had in storage, which is why during my practice, I started developing the inventory by using as base information the data provided by the Map Library supervisor at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, and taking into account that the cartographic materials we held were created inside the Institute for specific tasks not only pertaining to research, but also to acquisitions. The inventory I developed included regular identifiers such as the name of the map and covered areas, but it also included original landowners, acquisition tract and parcel numbers, as well as comments regarding the current state of the documents.

This allows us to understand the intricate work that the IITF has done collaboratively throughout the years and bring forward to the audience by making the collection available to IITF Library users, and having a dialogue regarding how the material came to be and the importance of having this collection for present and future audiences.

This event ultimately highlights the collaborations between the programs, the role of the IITF Library in having the resources to aid its users inside and outside the Institute, and the dedication we have to our mission as an agency. The IITF Library is specialized in the tropics and neo-tropics and their resources are available to USFS employees as well as members of the community.

I feel honored to have been given the opportunity to participate of this activity, now as a RAP intern with more insight into the behind the scenes work that goes on when it comes to researching, conserving, preserving, and improving our land.

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