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Map Resources at UNC, and Beyond: Types of Maps

Types of Maps

The sections on this page describe some of the major types of maps contained in the Maps Collection in Davis Library. This list is by no means comprehensive; several other kinds of maps can be found in the collection.

Use the library catalog to search the collection.

Aeronautical Maps

portion of a map

Aeronautical charts are mainly designed to help pilots plan and fly a selected route, but they also contain features that are useful for other kinds of research. Aeronautical charts are typically topographic charts with flight information overlayed on top of them. These charts are often the only means of getting topographic information for various parts of the globe.

The following are the main kinds of aeronautical charts collected by the library:

  • Joint Operations Graphic (JOG), scale of 1:250,000
  • Tactical Pilotage Chart (TPC), scale of 1:500,000
  • Operational Navigation Chart (ONC), scale of 1:1,000,000
  • Jet Navigation Chart (JNC), scale of 1:2,000,000
  • Global Navigation & Planning Charts (GNC), scale of 1:5,000,000

These charts are produced by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). (This was formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.)

How To Find Aeronautical Maps

These charts are listed in the catalog. Tactical Pilotage Charts (TPC) and Operational Navigation Charts (ONC) for the world can be found in the Map Cases in the Davis Library Lower Level. Please ask at the Davis Library Service Desk for assistance in locating these materials.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Maps

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for the management and conservation of over 250 million acres of public lands and nearly 700 million acres of subsurface mineral deposits. Most of this land is in the western United States. BLM produces maps covering a variety of topics including surface management, subsurface mineral management, recreational access, mineral surveys, floating guides, and more.

Two kinds of BLM maps are predominantly represented in the Maps Collection. They are topographic maps with the appropriate theme overlayed on top. The scale for these maps is typically 1:100,000.

  • Surface management maps
  • Subsurface mineral management maps

How to Find BLM Maps

BLM maps and charts can be found using the catalog. Please ask at the Davis Library Service Desk for assistance in locating these materials.

Country Maps

portion of a map

Country maps show basic details of the political and physical terrain of a country. Cities, provinces or regions, rivers, lakes, mountains, major roads, and similar features are often shown.

Country maps are produced by a variety of private companies and public agencies. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is one of the more notable public agencies that publishes country maps. Country maps often come in various scales and often differ in their thematic content (i.e. physical vs. political).

How to Find Country Maps

A basic collection of country maps is available in Davis Library. Please ask Service Desk staff for assistance in locating these materials.

Electronic Alternatives

Geologic Maps

portion of a map

Geologic maps portray selected natural features of the earth. The United States Geological Survey (USGS)  is a major producer of geologic maps as are a variety of state level departments (i.e. Colorado Geological Survey, North Dakota State Water Commission, etc.).

Below are some examples of what geologic maps portray.

  • Resources (metals, petroleum, water, etc.)
  • Soil Types
  • Structure Contours
  • Coastal Geology
  • Paleontology
  • Seismology
  • Land Slides
  • Magnetics

Various kinds of geologic maps for other countries are available but are produced and collected with far less frequency than for the United States.

How to Find Geological Maps

Geologic maps are located in the Maps Collection  Many can be identified using the catalog.


portion of a map

This category covers a diverse range of material, from facsimiles of maps produced in the ancient world to maps published in the 18th and 19th centuries depicting the world, world regions, and the Americas. Generally, time periods covered in these maps range from the classical period to the 19th century.

How to Find Historical Maps

The Map Collection has several items that may be of general interest. The library catalog can be used to identify many of these.

If your area of research focuses on North Carolina, you may want to contact the North Carolina Collection, which also holds a large number of maps. Many historical North Carolina maps can be found in NC Maps.

Electronic Alternatives

  • David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
    Primarily focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North and South American maps but does include some coverage for other parts of the globe.
  • Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection
    The Gilmer maps are an extensive group of Civil War maps, including both manuscript maps and printed maps with manuscript annotations and engineers' drawings of military construction, housed in Wilson Library.

Nautical Maps

portion of a map

Nautical charts are meant to assist sailors in navigating water hazards and finding safe passage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Coast Survey produces many of the maps used for marine navigation and all current issues of these are available online (see below). The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA) also publishes a substantial number of navigational charts covering the globe.

Nautical charts come in a range of scales depending on the area to be displayed. Bathymetry data (in fathoms) is typically shown on Office of Coast Survey charts.

How to Find Nautical Maps

These charts are listed in the catalog. Please ask Davis Library Service Desk staff for assistance in locating these materials.

Electronic Alternatives

  • Office of Coast Survey
    All nautical charts produced by NOAA's Office of Coast Survey are available online as raster images. These images are also referred to as Raster Navigational Charts or RNC's. To view these familiarity with GIS software (particularly ArcGIS) is necessary. The Office of Coast Survey also makes available Electronic Navigational Charts. Again familiarity with GIS software is essential for using and manipulating this data.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

portion of a map

Sanborn Maps were originally created to aid the insurance industry in assessing risk. They show towns at specific points in their history and provide detailed information on street layout, civic infrastructure, building type, building use, ownership, public buildings, and construction materials.

Sanborn maps are valuable historical tools for urban specialists, architects, geographers, genealogists, historians, planners, environmentalists, and anyone who wants to learn about the history and development of specific cities, towns, and neighborhoods.(Source: NC LIVE)

How to Find Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library contains an extensive collection of Sanborn Maps for the state.

Electronic Alternatives

USGS Topographic Maps

portion of a map

Among the most well-known and well-used maps in the map collection, topographic maps provide users with a quick way to assess the elevation of a given area.

The United States Geological Survey publishes topographic maps for the U.S. at the following scales.  NOTE: The USGS no longer publishes topo maps in paper format.

  • 1:24,000. Typically the most popular maps in the collection, these show the greatest detail but the smallest area.
  • 1:100,000. Less detail than the 1:24,000 scale maps but cover more area.
  • 1:250,000. The smallest scale, it takes about 9 of these maps to cover the state of North Carolina

Aeronautical charts (see to the left) often contain topographic information as well. They are often the only way to get topographic information for areas outside of the United States.

How to Find

The most recent printed topographic maps (for all scales) for North Carolina can be found in the Map Collection at Davis Library. Older versions of these maps as well as topographic maps for other regions (with an emphasis on the American Southeast) are usually available. It helps to know both the scale and name of the particular map you need. There is a map locator available from USGS to help with this process. The catalog provides information on which maps are contained in the collection.

Electronic Alternatives

  • USGS Store
    Use the Map Locator to search by address, place name, or USGS map name. You can also navigate using the mouse.
  • AllTrails
    Online service lets you see topographic information for an area of your choosing.

US Non-Current Maps

This designation refers to topographic maps that were published in series by the U.S. government from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, often at a scale of 1:62,500. They can often be very useful for historical research.

How to Find Non-Current US Maps

These charts are listed in the catalog. Please contact a member of the Maps Collection staff if you require assistance.

Electronic Alternative

  • Last Updated: Feb 3, 2021 9:57 AM
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Subjects: Maps