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Atlases, maps, gazetters, and guidebooks


Atlases, maps, gazetteers, and guidebooks help you find

  • locational information
  • directions
  • information on road systems
  • information on topography
  • information on climate and climatic zones
  • information on population
  • agricultural and economic statistics
  • place names, historical places and events, and tourist attractions, especially unfamiliar ones.

Atlases, maps, gazetteers, and guidebooks are works that contain

  • collections of maps
  • geographical information
  • topographic information
  • economic data
  • population data
  • travel and tourist information
  • historical events and dates
  • lists of animal, bird, and fish species
  • astronomical, oceanic, anatomical, or physiological charts
  • current information on geographical and political changes in the world
  • tables, charts, or plates that systematically illustrate a particular subject


Atlases are collections of information presented in a graphic format. There are three main types: general, subject, and road atlases.

General atlases

  • contain maps showing the physical and political features of individual countries or groups of countries throughout the world.
  • may contain maps on a wide variety of topics such as climate, population, economic activities, and environment
  • one example is: Hammond's Standard World Atlas.

Subject atlases

  • are discipline specific, such as
    • astronomical maps or photographs of stars and other celestial objects
    • geographical maps showing changes or activities over time, such as borders, military campaigns, exploration, and cultural differences
    • topographic maps showing the physical terrain of an area
  • examples are:
    • Atlas of World History
    • World Atlas of Birds
    • Human Anatomy Atlas
  • one example is: Hammond's Standard World Atlas.

Road atlases

  • contain maps that show major highways and secondary roads for geographical areas
  • examples are: Rand McNally Road Atlas, Hamlyn's Road Atlas of Australia, Europa Autoatlasza = Road Atlas of Europe

Organization of atlases

  • World atlases are organized by geographical region:
    • maps of the entire world first
    • then the main regions
    • last individual countries within each region.
  • Some atlases have a subject, thematic or topical arrangement
  • Depending upon the discipline, some atlases may contain charts, tables, statistics, photographs, and illustrations in addition to actual maps.

To find atlases

  • find the map section of your library and look for the shelves of atlases
  • do a SUBJECT search in a library catalog.
    • most atlases are found under the subject heading "Atlases".
    • atlases developed by cartographers in another country are generally found under the subject heading "atlases, (name of country)". For example the Prentice-Hall New World Atlas is under the subject heading "atlases, British"
    • For historical atlases enter the subdivisions "Historical geography-Maps" after a country or a region, eg. "United States- Historical geography-Maps" or "Europe- Historical geography-Maps".
  • do a KEYWORD search in your library's online catalog on your general subject and atlases - for example "stars and atlases" "anatomy and atlases" or "cities and atlases".

To find out how an atlas is organized look at the introduction, table of contents and the index.

If you have trouble using an atlas or don't know which one is best for your needs, remember ASK A LIBRARIAN.


  • are conventionalized representations of spatial phenomena.
  • project three dimensional reality on a flat surface
  • are selective and, unlike photographs, may show various quantitative and qualitative facts such as boundaries, physical features, patterns, and distribution data
  • Each point on a map corresponds to a geographical position in accordance with a definite scale and projection.
  • Maps may be presented in a variety of formats:
    • Flat sheets
    • charts
    • atlases - collections of maps
    • globes, etc.

Maps can be divided into two categories: 

Locational maps are generally political or physical and topographic.
  • Political maps show boundaries and places.
  • Physical or topographic ones show landforms, physical features, relief, etc.
Topical maps
  • are thematic
  • show population, pollution, ethnography, etc.

Organization of maps

  • Maps are organized in a systematic way
  • Consult the legend for the scale, the elevation key, the key to symbols, how boundary lines are demarcated, what features are shown, etc.
    • Scale is the relationship of size of an area on a map to the area it represents. As a scale gets larger, the amount of detail which can be given increases.
  • The date the map was created is important information. Boundaries, names, production patterns, even landforms change-so always ascertain that the date of a map you are using is appropriate for your needs

To find maps

  • do a SUBJECT search in your library's online catalog on a broad topic followed by the subdivision "maps" - for example, "Japan-maps" or "boundaries--maps."
  • do a KEYWORD search on your general topic and "maps" - for example, "anatomy and maps" or "housing and maps."
  • look for map cabinets in the map section of your library. Maps are generally filed by geographical region in map cabinets.

If you cannot find a particular map or are not sure how to read the map you have found, remember ASK A LIBRARIAN.


  • are dictionaries or encyclopedias which alphabetically list place names, political divisions, and physical features as well as providing basic location data about each.
  • may provide additional information on population, climate, and economy.
  • are useful for finding out precisely where a city, mountain, river, or other physical feature is located.
  • generally do not contain maps
  • Examples are:
    • The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World
    • Webster's New Geographic Dictionary

To find gazetteers

  • do a SUBJECT search in your library's catalog for "gazetteers" or a topic search followed by the subdivision "gazetteers", eg., "United States-Gazetteers"
  • or try a keyword search.

Scan the introduction to a gazetteer to find out how it is organized.

If you are not sure how a gazetteer works or you don't know which one is best for your needs, remember ASK A LIBRARIAN.


Guidebooks are compendia of useful and sometimes unusual information on something, generally a place.


  • are frequently oriented to the needs and interests of visitors or tourists
  • contain information on and descriptions of a city, region, or country
    • places and events of interest, such as historic sites, landmarks, festivals
    • cost of lodging and meals
    • often contain detailed maps
    • brief histories
    • notable people and events
    • contacts for help or information
  • examples are: the Baedeker, Fodor's, Fromm, or Lonely Planet guidebooks

To find guidebooks

  • do a SUBJECT search in your library's catalog for a city, region, or country plus the subdivision "Guidebooks" - for example, "Greece-Guidebooks" or "Scandanavia-Guidebooks".
  • do a KEYWORD search in your library's catalog for a city, region, or country and "guidebooks" - for example "Seattle and guidebooks" or "South America and guidebooks"

If you don't find a guidebook to meet your needs or aren't sure how to use one you have found, remember ASK A LIBRARIAN.