Career profiles: David Sherren


Map Librarian

Place of work

University Library, University of Portsmouth

What qualifications do you have and what training have you had?

I have a BSc Hons in Geography/Geology from the University of Lancaster. About 18 months after graduating I got a job as a Data Assistant in the Department of Geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic, where I was generating computer-drawn maps based on 1981 census data. It was a 12-month contract and, in a stroke of luck, I was offered the role of Map Curator at lunchtime on my last day! There was no interview – I just walked straight into the job. I have no formal training in librarianship and feel incredibly fortunate to have spent my whole working life at Portsmouth, working for an academic department, a faculty and, since 2007, the Library. Learning from others, especially through contacts in the BCS and Map Curators' Group, has helped me enormously over the years.

What is the best part of your role?

There are two elements of my job that I like most. Firstly, I enjoy the autonomy that comes with the post. As a Map Librarian/Map Curator I feel like the lucky member of an exclusive club, membership of which is not easy to achieve because the staff turnover is so slow. Secondly, I really like working with the students. Most of them have absolutely no experience with maps, so it's a pleasure to be able to help them find what they need to support their work.

What is your favourite map that you've drawn, seen or used?

I have seen countless amazing maps over the years during visits organised by the Map Curators' Group. The Map Library at Portsmouth is typical of many small academic collections and ours has a significant focus on Ordnance Survey mapping. So there are none of the amazing manuscript maps that you would find in one of the large collections. However, I absolutely love looking at our 1:500 Ordnance Survey Town Plans of Portsmouth, published in the 1860s/70s. I know the area they cover very well and the maps give me a sense of time travel as I look at them. A feature I enjoy on sheet LXXXIII.12.16 is the maze that once stood in the garden of Beaulieu House. A colleague researched the property and discovered that in 1886 the house, then one of the largest in Southsea, was dismantled brick by brick in 1886 and rebuilt nearly a mile away! The maze, I later discovered, is a copy of Hampton Court Maze.

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