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An atlas is a collection of maps that are usually bound together and have a connecting theme, such as natural resources in an area, or geography, like the U.S. state atlases that many families take with them on vacation. Muriel Lock, author of Geography and Cartography (1976), describes modern atlases as “graphic encyclopedias of geographical knowledge.” The information contained in an atlas can vary wildly and, as with most maps, atlases may also heavily reflect the biases of their publishers, which can skew the information presented.

Because atlases vary so much in theme and information you may find the following questions useful when deciding if a given atlas is right for your needs.

  • Do the maps cover the complete geographic area you are interested in?
  • What data are included with the maps?
  • Are the map scales clear and understandable?
  • What map projections are used and are they explained?
  • Are the maps from the time period you are interested in?
  • Does the atlas include non-map features?
  • Do the maps appear to be biased?

The Map Library has a large collection of atlases. We have state, national, and world atlases, current and historic. Atlases are organized according to the Dewey Decimal System and many may be checked out with a valid UIUC ID card or used in the Map Library’s reading room.

When handling bound atlases, please be aware that many are far heavier than most books or portable road atlases and will require using two hands. Please don’t hesitate to request assistance from library staff if you need help retrieving a large atlas. Because larger atlases can be difficult to handle, we suggest that significant scanning and reproduction be carried out by Digital Content Creation Services (415 Library, 217-244-2062). Their website has a service price guide, a reproduction request form, and additional contact information for the department. Turnaround time on services is usually 10–15 business days.

Many older atlas editions are stored at the Oak Street Library Facility and may be requested via the library catalog . Please allow an extra two days for materials requested from Oak Street to arrive at the library.

When in doubt, consult a Map Library staff person . We are here to help!

Web Resources

How to Cite a Map in an Atlas Citation guide put together by North Carolina State University.

1895 U.S. Atlas “Originally printed and copyrighted in 1895 by the Rand McNally Corporation.”

An Atlas of Cyberspaces An atlas of maps and graphic representations of the geographies of the new electronic territories of the Internet and other emerging Cyberspaces.

Delorme Produces various print and CD-ROM products including a popular Atlas & Gazetteer series currently comprising thirty U.S. States.

National Map: Small-Scale Collection Includes maps and downloadable data describing the United States.

National Atlas of the United States (1970) Scanned and available through the Library of Congress.

National Atlas of Canada Online In addition to having links to many, many types of maps of Canada, it also includes learning resources and data services.

e-Atlas of Global Development Published by the World Bank since 1966. Requires Flash Player and may take few moments to load.