Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One for the Nerd Record Books

Calling all those with stamp collections, pocket protectors, or glasses held together with masking tape: Sally and I have a story for the Nerd Record Books, one certain to make my old man proud. Yesterday Sally and I spent over an hour alone with the cartographic expert at the Alexander Turnbull Library (the map division of the National Library of New Zealand) poring over centuries-old maps of New Zealand. Readjust your spectacles...yes, that's right. Nerds.

All this started a few years ago when Sally was studying in Europe. On a weekend trip in Amsterdam she found an old map of Europe for me, had it framed, and it's graced the study ever since. Because I used to teach Geography as part of World History, I have lots of maps myself and am starting a little nerdy map collection. So, Sally and I decided we would try to find an old map of New Zealand while we were here.

At a bookstore in downtown Wellington yesterday, we found a book of maps that said it was from the "Alexander Turnbull Library." Instead of buying a book of maps, we thought we'd go straight to the source to see if we could perhaps buy a print or a copy of some of these old maps which were exactly what we were looking for. We thought we got proper directions, but ended up in a library on the wrong side of town. After walking several miles for other sightseeing purposes previously in the day, we decided to cab it back to the other side of town to the National Library. Once there, the reference librarian "enquired" (one of the many words they spell differently here) as to why we wanted to see some old maps. She actually put me on the phone with the "cartographic curator of the Alexander Turnbull collection." Without exactly lying, I calmly and confidently told her that I had a private collection of maps and that my wife and I were in search of a "late 18th, early 19th-century map of New Zealand." It worked.

We went up to the second floor of the National Library and had to wait for Rita (the map expert) to open the locked door for us to clear security! Hilarious! She then walked us down a long corridor and into the Alexander Turnbull Collection room. There were maps on the walls, maps in file cabinets, and then long, wide drawers which pulled out to reveal more maps. After looking around for awhile, we realized that we were just really being shown the old maps and that we couldn't buy a print or a copy like say at the gift shop. But not one to disappoint, when we pushed a little, Rita said she could probably arrange something for us. After about 45 minutes of excitedly looking at old James Cook maps of New Zealand from 1770, Rita was convinced that we were legit and as equally as nerdy as she was. The result: she took a copy of an old map of New Zealand off the wall and handed it to us! It was a pretty decent one, just held up by tacks, but the holes were outside of the actual map. And for good measure, she then decided that we could have another one, this one from another wall, and one of much higher quality, in Italian. We thanked her profusely, signed a form stating our nerdy purpose for viewing the collection, and went on our merry way. Nerdy mission accomplished!

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