WHEN YOU VISIT the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University’s Green Library, if you can, take the stairs. Yes, you’ll have to spiral up three flights, but the wallpaper will give you plenty of excuses to take a break. Like: a Grand Canyon panorama, a birds-eye view of Manhattan, and a Buddhist world map featuring the imagined spiral of headwaters for the region’s three great rivers high in the Himalayas. There are more, but don’t dally too long. The stairwell is barely a prelude.
The Center itself is classroom-sized, and packed with approximately 150,000 historical cartographic artifacts. Many are stored in wooden cabinets that take up an entire wall. Along the other walls are globes galore, banquet table-sized plats, and massive, many-paneled digital touchscreens capable of calling up millions of megabytes of high-resolution historical maps stored on Stanford’s servers.