Becoming a Cartographer

What is cartography?

Cartography is the business of making maps.  The terms ‘mapmaking’ and ‘cartography’ essentially mean the same thing: taking geographical information and transforming it into a map.  A map is a graphic which shows a simplified picture of some of the features of part or all of the world.  Our definition of cartography describes it as the ‘art, science and technology’ of mapmaking — a useful definition since it shows that cartography covers many disciplines and involves people with a range of  skills.  Making maps is an exciting and creative profession.

Cartography has developed as allied occupations have evolved with new technology.  Land surveying, satellite remote sensing, aerial photography, geographical information systems, photogrammetry, hydrography, and geodesy (the very accurate measurement of the earth) as well as cartography are sometimes grouped together as ‘geomatics’ or the ‘geosciences’.  However, although the boundaries and techniques of map making have moved, and it is integrated with other areas of applied geography, cartography remains essential to the successful visualisation of spatial data, and the demand for skilled cartographers is strong.

If you love maps, can pore over them for hours and wonder how they are made, then cartography may be the career for you!  It is an exciting opportunity to combine design, technology and geography.  The clear presentation of map data demands particular skills of design and creativity.

What do cartographers do?

The way that cartographers work has changed, as with most occupations, because computer technology is widely applied to most aspects of gathering and using geographical information.  Map production is now computer based, and maps are increasingly used in a computer environment (for example on a smart phone, a web page, or in a geographical information system) as well as in printed form.  Cartography therefore firmly links the information and communication technology sector with geography, publishing and design.

The range of map products has also increased and expanded.  Cartographers design and produce a wide range of mapping products, not just the road atlases and sheet maps that are well known.  They include plans (large-scale maps), maritime charts, globes, transport maps and route diagrams (such as the London Underground map), atlases, street maps, statistical maps, and specialist maps for very specific purposes such as maps for tourists.  Digital maps, designed to be seen and used on a computer screen or a smart-phone, account for a growing proportion of all maps made.  No longer is a map only a printed object.  The use of maps on the web has led to alternative forms of maps as methods of geographic visualisation, and new types of cartography include 3-D imagery, fly-throughs, web maps, and in-car navigation systems (SatNavs) as well as interactive and hyperlinked maps.

However, although the technology has changed, cartographers still need the same basic skills of designing and producing maps.  Whether it is a paper or a digital map, cartographers take geographical information and work out the best way to present it.  They are involved in researching and gathering information and deciding what should appear on a map (editorial work), deciding how best to present it (design work), and then producing the map (production work).

Who makes maps?

There are two main groups of map producers: public organisations and commercial companies.  The largest public producers of maps (Ordnance Survey, Land & Property Services Northern Ireland which produces Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland maps, and the Hydrographic Office, all explained below) produce a range of maps, charts and digital map data for both commercial sale, for military purposes and for use within government.  Now charged with the recovery of all their costs, the main government agencies have become important players in the competitive world of commercial cartography.  Ordnance Survey and Land & Property Services Northern Ireland have the responsibility for surveying the country to make large-scale plans, and they maintain digital map databases which are the equivalent of many thousands of printed maps.  These national topographical databases are usable in many applications and supplied for use in GIS and other computer-based applications.  The familiar range of paper maps produced by the national mapping agencies constitutes only a small part of the overall sales of the organisation, even though it is the most public face of its operations.

Other government agencies produce maps for more specialist purposes (geological maps and land-use maps are examples) and make these available for sale.  Local government produces maps for planning purposes, or for presenting the organisation to the public, but rarely for just commercial ends.

Commercial cartographers publish maps, charts and atlases under their own names, and also undertake work for book publishers, for industry and commerce and for government on a contractual basis.  Some of the larger companies are well-known names in map publishing and produce a range of map and atlas products available in general bookshops.  Road atlases (the most familiar annual map publications, and the largest-selling commercial map products) are a good example of a high-profile map product.  There are other companies which are specialist publishers, e.g. producing walking or orienteering maps, transport maps, street atlases or map-guide books.  Yet others are essentially contract cartographers who will undertake almost any mapping project from an atlas to a single location map for a local company.  In practice, most commercial cartographers will be interested in undertaking work for any client who approaches them, and the market is competitive.   Some commercial cartographers work as partners with Ordnance Survey, either re-selling Ordnance Survey data or using it and adding additional information to make specialist maps.

The market for maps is not just domestic, and most large cartographers will be working on contracts for different countries, and in different languages.  Cartography is a competitive business.  The set-up costs for a large atlas are considerable, and publishers will recoup costs and make a profit by producing versions of the atlas for many different countries.  The maps sold under the name of one publisher may have been created by another company, and maps sold under the logo of high-street retailers will have been produced by a specialist cartographer.  Some companies employing cartographers (such as oil companies) produce highly specialised products for a limited, professional audience.

Who does what in cartography?

There are different roles and functions within cartography, but, as with most jobs, the boundaries between one job and another are indistinct.  A flexible approach is essential, especially in small companies.  As well as the core disciplines of map design and production, the cartographer nowadays will probably know something of surveying, remote sensing, GIS and digital data formats, as well as publishing and, in many organisations, sales and distribution.  With digital maps the norm, the role has much in common with book publishing, and the cartographer will need to know about digital publishing procedures, especially desk-top publishing.  Cartographers may also have to liaise with printers and book publishers, with editors and clients.  Some clients have little idea of what is involved in the production of a map, and you may have to offer guidance on what can and cannot be done, especially to a limited budget.

As a guide, a large cartographic office may employ map editors, cartographers, mapping technicians, specialist IT staff and managers.

Map editors are involved in the process of compilation of maps.  Compiling means choosing base-map information and adding specific features relevant to the purpose of the map, for example new roads, statistics, or tourist information.  They decide on what features will be shown and how, by choosing the symbols, colours and lettering that appear on the map.  Creating new maps requires research, analysis and evaluation of map source material which includes existing maps, statistics, photographs, satellite imagery and aerial photographs as well as specific information required by the client.  A major atlas project, for example needs many hours of work to plan and design what will be shown on each page, and determine how it will work as a unified publication.  Most cartographic companies will hold an archive of maps they have produced before, and new maps will be made by adapting these for the new purpose.  The editor produces a layout (which shows exactly how the final map will appear) which is then turned into the final digital graphic by the cartographer.

The cartographer takes the layout which the editors have designed to the final finished map stage.  The cartographer will use a computer workstation, running design software (often Adobe Illustrator), desk-top publishing software (typically QuarkXPress or InDesign) and sometimes GIS, photogrammetric or other specialist software.   The cartographer will produce the map and check it at interim stages, subsequently revising it at proof stage when the final appearance of the map can be better judged.  They liaise with clients and map editors to resolve queries.  Cartographers may also be involved in editorial work as well as production work.

Mapping technicians are involved mostly with more basic techniques such as digitising paper maps, database input, basic revision of map features and symbols, and some new map production work.  They may also maintain databases of graphical and other information (for example, lists of place names and their population).  Technicians may be in training to become cartographers.

Managers are usually experienced cartographers and editors with responsibility for a specific range of products (or for all products in a small company).  As well as overseeing budgets, production schedules and staff, managers will liaise with clients and supervise sales staff, work out quotations for new business and ensure that jobs are progressing to specification and budget.  In smaller offices, cartographers, map editors and managers will undertake many different tasks as need arises, adding variety to the working day.

Commercial cartographers and the large public map makers also employ IT specialists.  They may manage the IT needs of cartographers, but in the larger organisations they may be adapting and writing software for specific applications and customers.  Entry into these jobs requires qualifications in IT rather than cartography, but clearly an understanding of the issues surrounding maps is an advantage.

Who else works in map making?

As well as design and production, the practice of map making involves other areas of work.  The following occupations involve specialist training, at undergraduate or postgraduate level.

  • Topographical surveying  Land surveyors are responsible for collecting detailed map data in the field.  Hydrographic surveyors chart marine features.  Surveying is a separate profession, but the map data gathered forms the basis for many smaller-scale maps.
  • Photogrammetry and remote sensing  Photogrammetry is the science of making accurate measurements from photographs or from satellite images.  In the context of cartography, much map information (for example, the exact position of a road, and height contours) is derived from aerial photographs and satellite imagery.
  • Geographical Information Systems  Geographical Information Systems are computer-based systems for relating sets of data to digital maps.  They are used to visualise, model and analyse what is happening in the world.  Cartographers use GIS as a way of storing and manipulating large databases of map and geographical information.
  • Map curatorship  Some universities and other institutions employ map curators and librarians to manage their map collections.  This role demands a love of maps, and usually requires qualifications in librarianship.  As more maps exist only in digital form, computer skills are now often needed as well.

What makes for a good cartographer?

Good cartographers

  • have a keen eye for detail,
  • are patient and thorough and understand that accuracy matters.


  • are creative,
  • have an interest in graphics and design,
  • are computer literate (much of the work involves using ICT), and
  • are technically minded.


  • should have a good sense of geography (even if not formally qualified in it) in order to produce meaningful maps — if you do not understand what you are mapping, then neither will your audience!

But, above all, the most important thing you need to be a cartographer is enthusiasm about maps and about geographical information. The subject is so varied that as long as you have basic geographical knowledge and skills, you will find a discipline within the world of maps that suits your skills and education!

What are the training opportunities?

Courses in cartography in further and higher education in the UK are now few and far between.  There are no dedicated courses in cartography at NVQ or degree level, but cartography forms an element in a number of courses in related subjects, including geography, GIS and geomatics.  As a result, those wanting to enter cartography usually need to be taken on by a company and trained on the job.

Training at technician level

There are opportunities to enter cartography at trainee technician level straight from school or further education, and these are normally in the large pubic-sector employers detailed below in Employers.  Subjects offered at school and FE level which are useful for working in cartography include geography, art, design & technology, mathematics, computing and languages.  Entry at technician level into the public sector requires GCSE or similar qualifications (usually including English language and mathematics, and sometimes geography is preferred) and involves being trained within the organisation.

The basic technician-level Civil Service grades are known as E1 and E2 (formerly known as Mapping and Charting Technicians Grades 1 and 2).  E2s must have two GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) in appropriate subjects and E1 posts require three GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) or a BTEC/SQA National award in a relevant subject; applicants who have an NVQ/SVQ at the appropriate level in a relevant subject may also be accepted.  At a higher level, grade Ds (formerly Mapping and Charting Officers) must have five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) including Maths and English, and two A levels/ four H grades.

Training at graduate level

Entry at graduate level into a cartographic organisation, whether commercial or public sector, is also increasingly normal.  Although it is not now possible to acquire a degree in cartography in the UK, having qualifications in a spatial science is a huge advantage.  Relevant degree subjects to consider include geography, geomatics, GIS, geoinformatics, geographic information technologies, topographic science, land surveying, geology, earth sciences, or environmental science if it has a spatial component.  Graduates in design, and computer science and software engineering are also represented.  For opportunities in GIS and database management in cartographic publishers, GIS or an allied subject is usually the best route.

Studying at undergraduate and graduate level

For anyone considering a career in cartography and searching for a suitable course at college or university, the advice would be to find one which includes modules or courses in cartography or an allied subject as part of the study of one of the disciplines listed above.  The British Cartographic Society maintains links to such courses on its website (  As well, it is a good idea to use a web search site to see what is currently available because new courses do arise occasionally.  As well as cartography, it is worth using similar words as search terms because the subject may be listed differently: try mapping, mapmaking, surveying, geomatics, geoinformatics,  topographic science, and topographic studies.  If you are in the position to study abroad, there are a number of universities and colleges in Europe, the USA and Canada which offer courses in cartography.

Possession of postgraduate qualifications can be helpful for entering specialised areas of cartography and for later career development, especially in a company which deals in the wider aspects of spatial data, not just map making.  A qualification in a subject such as GIS, cartography, photogrammetry, surveying or remote sensing is normally an advantage.  Major employers (such as Ordnance Survey) recruit computer scientists as well as cartographers.

Training is normally in-house and focuses on acquiring practical mapping skills.  These may include techniques of map compilation, map design and layout, as well as learning map production using software packages.  Much will depend on the particular post you have filled as to what the training schedule will be.  Larger employers will often give new recruits the chance to work in a number of different departments and may train them in specialist areas such as GIS or photogrammetry, as well as digital mapping.  Some companies will sponsor staff on training courses in specific software packages.  Smaller companies have more limited training budgets, but may offer a greater variety of projects to work on, allowing you to gain experience that way.  It is worth checking with prospective employers about opportunities for professional development and sponsorship to go on courses.

Who employs cartographers? 

Employment in cartography is basically either within the public sector or with commercial cartographers.

Public sector

The largest public employers are the four departments or agencies with responsibility for mapping the UK and the oceans: Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (based in Southampton) and Land & Property Services Northern Ireland (Belfast), Defence Geographic Centre (part of the Ministry of Defence) (Greater London), and the Hydrographic Office (Taunton). It is worth looking at their websites to find out about current vacancies and what the organisations do.  These agencies tend to be organized into divisions with responsibilities for different product ranges — e.g. very large-scale maps, charts of a particular part of the world — and each division will be responsible for assembling a team with the right mix of skills, although training and recruitment will be co-ordinated centrally within the organisation.  Recruitment tends to be as need arises rather than on an annual quota basis, and details of vacancies are advertised on their websites.  Application for employment is made via standard application forms issued by the agencies.  These four agencies account for the considerable majority of cartographers employed by central government.

Many other government departments also employ cartographers, in varying numbers.  Examples include the Countryside Agency, DEFRA, the Forestry Commission, the Macaulay Land Research Institute, the British Geological Survey, the British Antarctic Survey, and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Details of vacancies appear on their websites and are sometimes advertised in the specialist press and journals associated with their disciplines.

Local government (County and District Councils and Unitary Authorities) employs cartographers, often in planning departments, who usually work on planning maps, typically involving large-scale Ordnance Survey map data.  Some local authorities will use cartographers to produce maps for public consumption, e.g. in reports and local brochures — the transport routes for a local authority, for example.   Vacancies will be advertised on websites, in local newspapers and occasionally in the specialist press, especially for more senior positions.  A few university departments (principally geography) employ cartographers to provide illustrations for publications.

Commercial sector

Commercial cartographers employ a variety of personnel with different cartographic skills, and may recruit someone who has a specialist skill (e.g. GIS, photogrammetry, desk-top publishing) to complement the existing staff.  However, cartographers and map editors working on producing maps are the main category of employee, and even the specialist will also usually work on map production.  As well as publishing-based cartographers, other private sector employers include the public utility companies (maintaining maps of pipe and cable networks), land and air survey companies, consultants (e.g. in planning or environmental consultancy), and oil companies.

It is worth looking at the list of Corporate Members of the British Cartographic Society on the BCS’s website to see the range of employers represented.  It is also useful to look at the range of map products (sheet maps, atlases and guide books) which appear on the shelves of large bookshops, and on-line — it will give you some idea of the range of products available, and who is producing (or at least publishing) them.

Vacancies for commercial cartographers and map editors are often advertised on the websites of the British Cartographic Society and the Society of Cartographers and one or other of the two discussion-group e-lists Carto-Soc and Lis-Maps (details under Further Information below).  They may also be advertised in the specialist geomatics or cartography press.  Since the world of cartography is not large, word of mouth about vacancies can also play an important part.  Application is usually by submission of a curriculum vitae and covering letter, or by completion of a standard application form if the company is larger.  If you go for interview, a portfolio of work or design ideas or maps you have already produced as part of previous studies is often a good way to demonstrate your graphical ability.  You might also prepare a critique of a particularly good or poor map for discussion at an interview, especially if you do not have a portfolio to show.


A number of people leave paid employment to become freelance cartographers.  Typically, they receive work from former employers who have a large contract to fulfil which requires additional resources, or by networking with contacts.  Some have carved out specialist niches such as producing maps for holiday brochures, company reports or other forms of targetted publishing.  As with all self employment, there is no security of income, but the start-up costs tend to be low (computer hardware and software) compared to other areas of self-employment.  Freelancers are geographically not fixed — some freelancers live and work in very remote locations — and many tie in part-time work with family responsibilities.

Working hours

The working week in both public and private employers is similar to most jobs, but on occasion you may have to work longer hours to get a job completed on time.  Budgets and time are always tight, and cartographers have to be able to produce maps efficiently and quickly.  The ability to work as part of a team is essential but cartography offices are friendly places to work.

Where are companies based?

There is no particular geographical focus for the UK-cartographic industry, with employers in different regions.  There is perhaps a concentration of companies nearer to London than any other city, but relatively few in Greater London itself.  Geographical mobility is, however, highly desirable (especially in securing a first job in cartography) so you should be prepared to move if a vacancy arises.  If you are tied to living in a particular part of the country, you may find that there are no cartographic companies reasonably near.  There are opportunities for employment abroad since the skills used are universal.  Having foreign-language skills is a great asset.

Cartographers are usually office based.  Sometimes they will need to check map data on the ground or undertake research in a library, but this is the exception.

Career progression

It is hard to generalise about career progression in cartography since much will depend on the individual and the place of work.  Those working in the public sector tend to have a clearer path to follow than those in commercial cartography, and the chances of promotion in a structured organisation may seem clearer — but the job may be more varied and fulfilling in a smaller organisation.  In the public sector, progression tends to be through established grades, with greater responsibility (for a product range or for more junior staff) assumed with promotion.  Major public-sector employers such as Ordnance Survey advertise vacancies internally and actively encourage internal applications, but will also advertise and recruit from outside.

In commercial cartography, there may be fewer chances to progress without moving companies, and so a degree of geographical mobility is desirable.  In a small company, there may be opportunities to become the house specialist in web design, GIS, photogrammetry, 3-D visualization, map animation or desk-top publishing.  As cartography becomes more bound up with other areas of geomatics, having an interest and skills in related areas (e.g. GIS and photogrammetry) may open up more opportunities.  Some commercial cartographers are parts of larger groups (especially publishers), and opportunities for jobs in other areas of publishing may arise within the group.  Many of those who work in cartography continue to love to produce maps and offset the modest salaries generally on offer against the personal satisfaction and fulfilment of producing good maps.

Membership of one or both of the professional associations of cartographers (the British Cartographic Society and the Society of Cartographers) is useful for establishing contacts within the industry and for keeping up to date with technology and current publications.  Both the BCS and the SoC hold annual symposia and trade exhibitions which provide a good opportunity to keep up to date with developments in the industry as well as to ‘network’.  The International Map Industry Association holds an annual conference and trade show which promotes contact with map publishers and traders worldwide.  Details are given under Further Information below.

Further Information

The British Cartographic Society maintains a website with links to educational courses, corporate members, and current vacancies, as well as other information on the world of cartography (

The BCS’s sister organisation, the Society of Cartographers, also maintains a website with useful links and current vacancies (

The International Map Industry Association brings together producers and traders of maps and map data worldwide.  The website carries comprehensive listings of map producers throughout the world by country, and also carries job vacancies:

There are two e-mail discussion groups in the UK where vacancies in cartography are often advertised.

  • Carto-Soc is the more wide-ranging discussion group run by the Society of Cartographers; joining instructions can be found at: .
  • Lis-Maps is run by the Map Curators’ Group of the BCS and concentrates on map librarianship matters but also carries discussion of wider aspects of cartography; joining instructions can be found at:

The four government agencies with principal responsibility for mapping are:

Careers Websites

A search on the web for ‘cartographer’ will lead to a number of useful websites which tell you more about being a cartographer. A good general description of cartography as a career is to be found on the web pages of the UK Graduate Careers Advisory Service: . The National Careers Service also has a good description:  (

Related professions



Profiles of cartographers

To help you get a feel for what it is like to be a practising cartographer, the following profiles may help.

  1. Mary Spence mbe Cartographic Consultant

A graduate geographer and cartographer with 40 years in cartographic publishing.

‘My sixth-form geography jotters with their carefully hand-drawn maps are a reminder that cartography was for me the start point of geography — first draw the map then write about its content.  My original career plan was to be a geography teacher but at some stage through my degree course at Aberdeen my Cartography Tutor there steered me towards the Diploma in Cartography course then offered at Glasgow, and the rest, as they say, is history.

‘I started work as a cartographic editor with a publisher in Oxford and gained experience before moving to join David Fryer and Co. in Henley-on-Thames and it was there that I began to develop my passion for cartography.  David Fryer himself was an innovative map designer, far ahead of other publishers at the time, and his Cartographic Manager was Bob Hawkins whose Royal Engineers’ training ensured that I had a basic grounding in the serious discipline of map making.  His exacting standards laid the foundations of the future success I was to achieve in the industry.  In 1982, the company became GEOprojects (UK) Ltd, and soon after this I was promoted to Chief Cartographic Editor, and in 1999 was appointed General Manager having experienced every aspect of the business over the years.

‘After 28 years with GEOprojects I joined Global Mapping as Project Manager in 2002. Global Mapping provides solutions for the cartographic industry - what this means in everyday language is that we provide mapping in any form, whatever best suits the client's requirement. Products range from maps for print or GIS to interactive websites for local authorities as well as our own range of wall maps and posters. My day-to-day work includes original research and preparation of new products as well as editorial input and design of existing geographical datasets.

‘Throughout my career I have been involved in the production of many beautiful maps, some of which have been recognised for their cartographic excellence, but the highlight has to be when I was awarded an MBE in 2004 for Services to Cartographic Design.  Somewhere along the line I have developed a love for sharing my knowledge and experience with students of the subject – teaching, in other words!  And I think that was where this tale began…’

  1. Angela Wilson Gespatial Analyst, MoD

‘Originally I had wanting to join the Army. After my A Levels, I attended an Army careers interview where I was advised to complete a degree and become a member of the Officer Training Corps (OTC). Off to Reading University, I went to study Geography, joining the Oxford University & Reading University (OURU) OTC in the process. After the degree was complete, I decided the Army was not for me but had no other career path in mind.

‘Being a member of the Engineer Troop within the OTC, I had loved using maps for reconnaissance, planning and orienteering, but had no idea this could be a career or that it was called cartography, until I completed a careers questionnaire. The top two recommendations resulting from the questionnaire were land surveying and cartography. Oxford Brookes University at this time offered a post-graduate course in cartography. Already knowing a few people on the course who were members of the OTC, my immediate reaction was to continue studying and I completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Cartography.

‘Whilst on this course I attended a British Cartographic Annual Symposium where I met my first employer who was exhibiting. After four years of working as a cartographer within various companies, I decided to go it alone and became a freelancer. Working from home was ideal for bringing up two children as well as keeping my career moving. However after 17 years of producing maps for BBC Publications, various universities, Dorking Kindersley, and AA Publications (to name but a few), I missed having people around me. Additionally a move down to the south coast as well as having young children had resulted in my no longer being a member the Army Reserves. I had joined 135 Topographic Squadron in Ewell when I became employed. I left the Army Reserves with two medals for my services and 14 happy years of experience as a Cartographic Survey Technician. My Army Reserve experience had also left me with many connections, one of which led me to apply for a role as a Geospatial Analyst for the MOD. Within the MOD there is a myriad of roles using, creating and analysing maps. To date, maps have given me a varied career as well as kept my passion for cartography alive.

  1. Jethro Lennox Senior Publishing Editor, Collins Bartholomew, Glasgow

‘The drawing of maps of imaginary desert islands when a child was the first indication that a role within cartography would be my future.  After graduating with an honours degree in Cartography from Oxford Brookes University, I worked for three years for Draughtsman Maps based in London.  A small company of three employees, we mainly produced tourist maps of city centres, and occasionally you would leave your Mac to travel to places such as Rome, Florence, Brussels and Amsterdam to check the maps by foot or bike!  We also did a lot of small contract mapping jobs and it was a great place to start my cartographic career.

‘My current role involves commissioning and overseeing the efficient publication of world atlases and other related products.  At Collins Bartholomew we are in the great position of publishing both The Times and the Collins range of world atlases.  The Times is the market-leading world atlas brand and the Comprehensive Atlas of the World is without doubt the best atlas in the world, and it is a huge privilege to work on it.  Whilst we try to keep The Times atlases as traditional world atlases, we can try out new things with the Collins range.  This has tied in with a general Collins reference policy to ‘do more’ in our products — so that is our challenge with Collins World Atlases.  I feel this has been achieved and we have included several new features such as fact boxes, internet links, some great images and new topics in our latest Collins atlases.

‘As well as maintaining the two world atlas ranges, it is my responsibility to assess the market and competition and to propose any new products which could be published.  In the current publishing environment where margins are very tight and reference books do not sell huge quantities, this is not an easy task.  But one of the advantages of working for a bigger publishing company is its world-wide links.  We worked on a series of reference books as a joint venture with the Smithsonian in the United States, and our world atlases are often translated into different languages.  We produced, for example, our first-ever world atlas with Cyrillic type for a Ukrainian publisher.

‘A role within publishing does not always involve drawing, or editing maps all day, but it does provide a great variety and many challenges.  It is a great feeling when you see someone buying an atlas or using a map which you have worked on!’

  1. Rose Birley Senior Mapping and Charting Officer, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO), Taunton

‘I took the Diploma in Cartography at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in 1974.  During my final year at college I visited the UKHO for 6 weeks.  I had chosen to go there for my period of “industrial training” for three main reasons

  • no-one from college had been before
  • college held no Admiralty Charts for us to ponder over
  • there was a fence surrounding the site as well as a strange hill behind the main buildings which, even now, locals will tell you is where all of the “secret stuff” is kept.

That was 31 years ago and I am still there along with the fence and the hill!

‘The underwater world is fascinating.  The navigator has no idea what lies beneath his vessel and it is the task of the chart compiler to provide him with an accurate picture of the seabed and the necessary navigational features he relies on to ensure he has a safe passage wherever he is.  When a new survey comes into the Office, I still get a thrill from the fact that I may be the first person to assess this data against our current charts and decide whether immediate action is required to update our products.  Hydrographic charting is so different to land mapping and I still cannot get enough of new data assessment, compilation, editing, proof-checking etc.

‘Chart compilation is only one of the tasks a Mapping and Charting Officer may undertake.  As already mentioned there is the assessment of incoming data that arrives from many sources such as foreign governments, survey vessels and ships’ reports.  From these, decisions have to be taken as to the criticality of that piece of information and how best to promulgate it.  In order to do this, it is necessary to understand the needs of mariners wherever they are in the world — our chart users range from Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) with a draught exceeding 30 metres to a Cornish fishing vessel working off the South coast.  Then there are the underwater divers, cable and pipeline laying companies, weekend sailors and so the list goes on. Beyond the diversity of surface vessels, there are also the submarines to consider, whose needs are just as important but are so very different.

‘Over the past three decades, I have worked in a number of areas of the world without leaving Taunton!  I have compiled charts of UK waters as well as North, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Russia, Norway, Iceland, France, Spain, Portugal and the Far East.  As you gain experience within these waters of the world, you build up an invaluable in-depth knowledge of local requirements.  This is essential to ensure the safety of all life at sea.

‘Mapping and Charting Officers also have the opportunity to work in a number of service areas, which provide essential information to the cartographer, such as Geodesy, Photogrammetry, Wrecks, Lights, Radio Signals and Sailing Directions.

‘For the last two years I have been the head of a team of cartographers working in one of the Defence branches.  Here we work directly with our customer — the Royal Navy — producing charts specifically for Fleet use.  We also produce bespoke graphics for use during exercises and in operational theatres such as Iraq.

‘Since 1974 the UKHO has seen many changes.  At one stage I was working alongside the last copper engraver  —we used to print charts from hand-engraved plates.  Now I am sending charts for printing via computer-to-plate technology and using the Internal Print On Demand process for short-run items.

‘No two days are the same.  You never know what may be dropped into the “In Tray”.  Then the adventure starts again!’

  1. Nick Millea      Map Librarian, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford

‘I studied for a degree in Geography at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and then took a postgraduate Diploma in Library and Information Studies at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University).  After working as a reference librarian in Northumberland, and then as Map Curator at the University of Sussex, I have been the Map Librarian at the Bodleian Library in Oxford since 1992.

‘The job of Map Librarian is extremely varied and revolves around providing services to the many users of the map library and constantly maintaining and updating one of the World’s ten largest map collections.  As well as contact with the public, the job has many elements of supervision and project management.  For instance, a recent initiative involved a US$500,000 project to convert old card records into fully searchable online content.  I have to control the Map Room budgets, make library material available for publications, and promote the collection by way of lectures, presentations and articles in journals and blogs, plus chapters in books, or even entire books.  The Maps team is also responsible for digital mapping and GIS training throughout the University, enabling the academic community to give locational and graphic value to its research and teaching.

‘Outside of the Map Room, I’m involved with a number of map-related committees both in the UK and internationally where map curators get together to develop services to readers.  One of our biggest challenges is currently having to deliver electronic (as opposed to analogue) legal deposit to Library users.  I also organise seminars in cartography, as well as cartographic symposia in Oxford.

‘To get a map librarian job, you ideally need librarianship qualifications.  Nowhere in the UK offers a specific map librarianship course, but if my experience is anything to go by, I made it clear I was only doing the librarianship course to become a map librarian.  They allowed me to do virtually all my project work and placements with maps.

‘The best part of the job? Working with and being surrounded by millions of maps!’

6.  António da CruzMap Curator and map lover

‘One of the occupational hazards of working with maps is the ease with which they can tantalise and tempt me away from the job in hand, be that processing new map stock or just filing maps away.  An unusual feature, a name, or perhaps the whole landscape will catch my attention and set me studying the map more closely.  How did these settlements grow up?  What agricultural system uses fields like that?  Who built this road?  What a wonderful place name for one's address!  Oh, I've been to this area; now, where did I go…?  What is it like to grow up here?  Suddenly I realise that twenty minutes have passed and I've done nothing but ponder the map and the place that it represents.

‘I've ceased to be surprised at the amount of enthusiasm people exhibit when they learn that I work with maps.

“I love maps!” is a common response before they ask me about the sorts of maps that I have and what I actually do with them.

“I'd love your job,” they continue, “it sounds fascinating.”

I have to agree that I'm very fortunate.  Maps are such aesthetically pleasing objects to work with, and there is such variety.  It would be a dull person who didn't become entranced by them.

‘Increasingly I have to make my own maps (okay, I flatter myself, map-like objects) with digital data and GIS package.  What creative fun it is!  And how rewarding when you go to the printer and it produces something that looks like a proper map.  But, hmmm…, if I just tweak this line thickness, and maybe move the title a little, and just try this colour here, and alter the size of this symbol… I'm sure I can make it look better.  I'll just try again…

‘Be warned; cartography can be addictive!’

  1. Alice GadneyCartographer

‘I started my love of maps at a young age (5yo) - as my dad always gave me the OS map as my brothers were car sick. Whizzing through the Suffolk roads off to see Grandpa Bernard .. "Alice - Can you find Aldeburgh Golf Course? Can you find the Estuary and Marshes? There are some houses along a lane - that’s B’s House." I loved the colours, patterns and eventually finding funny named places. My Grandpa had travelled a lot with the England Rugby Team in the 1930s and had books and photos of the exotic places he’d been to. My other influence was my Great Aunt, who travelled extensively in Africa, America and Europe. she would always read me books with maps in – which are now on my bookshelves!

‘As I was packed off to deepest darkest Diss (where’s that I feared?), I found myself a new love of the outdoors - (didn’t think much of the posh girls with their ponies and hamsters). I was introduced to geography by a wonderful teacher, Mrs Smart. She is still my hero 30 years on! She was so enthusiastic about all things geography which was infectious and I caught the bug!

‘We had maps on the walls of the local area throughout the history of the school and we would draw the Countries of the world and learn about geology and rivers. One day, Princess Diana came to visit and she asked me what I liked best and I said ‘Geography’ and she said ‘she wished she listened a bit more - as she was doing a lot of travelling!’

‘Fast forward through GCSEs and A levels – Geography (Mr Evans) and Geology (Mr Wells) and French. I had secured a place at Royal Holloway to study Geology. But before that I was to visit Mexico to help UCL map the Impact Crater at Chicxulub in Yucatan (What? Where is THAT on the map?).

‘During my degree, I really enjoyed the geological field mapping in Spain for the second year project – so much so I went back and spent 6 weeks mapping 15 kmsq. I went on to study Cartography at Oxford Brookes. With a PGDipCart under my belt – I went to London to seek my fortune?! Working through the transport and travel industry, mapping fried chicken shops (?!), then back to the geology. For four years, I worked in Mozambique – geological mapping in Pemba, Nacala and Maputo, helping the Energy Ministry with their Cartography practises. What an amazing place: culture, environment, people and geology were all fascinating. I joined OMV, the Austrian Oil Company as their Cartographer and found it fascinating mapping the resources under the sea (things you can’t see), and meeting my counterparts in different countries to see what differences there are in maps throughout the industry.

‘To now – I am BCS Restless Earth Coordinator and a Freelance Cartographer. I am really enjoying the challenge of Restless Earth – seeing the blank maps I lay on the tables, to collecting the full maps at the end and the children explaining what they have done and what challenges they have had overcome!’

  1. Giles Darkes, Cartographic Consultant and Editor

I trained in cartography by studying it at university level, and after postgraduate study, I spent several years lecturing in cartography, specialising in thematic cartography. Thematic maps are maps which show a specific topic or subject, as opposed to general purpose reference (or topographic maps).

Since 2003, I have been self-employed as a cartographic editor and consultant, working mostly on thematic maps.  I have been working on a number of projects of varying scales.  They have included being the cartographic editor of a new edition of Routledge’s Atlas of the World’s Languages, cartographic editor of An Historical Atlas of Oxfordshire, and I am also the Cartographic Editor of the British Historic Towns Atlas which involves producing maps of towns and cities to show how they looked at different periods in their history.

The work is very wide ranging and I enjoy the variety which is involved.  In a nutshell, as a cartographic editor, the job involves working out exactly what should be on each map and how best to show it. That said, it is often a complex process.  You are constantly liaising with the maps’ authors (those providing you with information) to determine exactly what they want to show, and what the purpose of the map is, and then you work out how best to show it.  It’s easy to overload a map with too much information, hence much of my job involves devising ways of showing the information clearly and unambiguously.

Sometimes I create the maps myself, or employ freelance cartographers as sub-contractors, or I will liaise with a cartographic company who undertake the work which I commission.  I have to provide them with very clear compilations and instructions on what to do and then check the work afterwards. Sometimes you have to re-think designs because they don’t work as effectively as you thought they might.

I also liaise with publishers and printers, and prepare work for them.  This may involve devising the layout of a map publication (the map and associated text and photographs, cover designs, etc.) and so I get involved with the wider publishing industry as well as just cartography.  Flexibility is a hugely useful attribute in the job, but it means variety, so I am never bored.


Appendix II

Sample Job Advertisements

  1. Cartographer

The position requires the individual to be involved from initial concept through to print preparation of digital mapping. The ability to liaise directly with customers, work with initiative and an eye for detail is essential.

A working knowledge of the following is required on Mac platform — FreeHand, QuarkXpress and Photoshop. Experience in pre-press requirements would be an advantage, but is not essential.

If you are interested and possess the required skills, then please send your CV and salary expectations to:-

  1. 2. Senior Cartographic Editor

The main purpose of this role is as follows:

  • To carry out cartographic compilation and editorial tasks relating to map and atlas products and databases
  • To develop and implement editorial strategy and policies for products.

To be successful, you must have

  • A degree or equivalent in Geography or Cartography/ Geomatics
  • Editorial experience in a commercial publishing environment
  • Experience in cartographic compilation and production
  • Knowledge of main graphics/ cartographic software packages
  • Experience in writing for publication
  • Good communication and team working skills
  • Ability to work under pressure to tight deadlines

The following skills/ qualifications would also be desirable:

  • Management qualification / experience
  • Publishing / editorial qualification
  • Experience in use of software packages including Illustrator, Quark, Photoshop, FreeHand, Map Publisher
  • Management of publishing projects.

To apply, please send your CV and current salary details to...

  1. Editor / Digital Cartographer

An exciting opportunity within the current publishing team working on a number of prestigious projects within a well-established company with international clients.  Industry standard DTP skills and a knowledge of databases an advantage.

Salary by negotiation

For full details and descriptions of these opportunities please contact:

Appendix III

Magazines and Journals of Interest

You may find the following publications related to maps and mapping of interest:

  • Maplines (published by the BCS three times a year; news of what is going on in mapping. Available to view or as a PDF from the BCS website:
  • The Geographical Magazine (occasionally has map-related articles)
  • The Cartographic Journal (the academic journal of the BCS, including news of the BCS)
  • Society of Cartographers Bulletin
  • GeoInformatics
  • GEO:Connexion
  • Geomatics World
  • Cartographiti (published by the Map Curators’ Group of the BCS, and including news of map libraries and map librarianship).