After more than 45 years of service with the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Susan Peschel, the Visual Resources Librarian, has now retired…not without a bang, however. Susan chose Independence Day to send her off. A serendipitous connection from the beginning, Susan became a part of the Library since the collections moved from New York City to Milwaukee in 1978, and has since played a vital role in helping to resettle and expand the collections at the UWM Library and, in the last sixteen years managing and expanding the Library’s photo collections.
An undergraduate Geography major at Montclair State in northern New Jersey, Susan was keen on becoming a librarian since high school. A faculty member at the time knew about the American Geographical Society and suggested she call them about an internship. Susan’s commute from Clifton, NJ to the AGS located at 156th and Broadway was an education in itself. By chance, on her first day, UWM’s Library Director William C. Roselle was visiting AGS to view their collections. It was then that he encouraged Susan to consider pursuing her Master’s Degree in Library Science at UWM in anticipation of the AGS collections’ move to Milwaukee. She did just that, completing her degree, then applied for the first job at the AGS Collection in Milwaukee in 1979 and never looked back.
Today, the AGSL is home to a collection of more than 1.3 million items including maps, atlases, globes, monographs, serials, and photographs as well as digital and archival collections. One of the main goals of the AGSL staff has been to be good stewards of the collections and to treat them with the respect they deserved. Since digitizing more than 65,000 images from the map and photograph collections, the Library’s reach has expanded internationally. Besides maintaining, growing, archiving, and cataloging the photo collections, Susan has responded to countless requests from around the world to use their photos as resources for a variety of projects.
When asked if and how her understandings of Geography or the world in general have changed since working with such a large collection of earthly images, Susan noted, “Cartography has changed quite a bit from the days when I learned how to make a map manually. GIS has changed that process and is now used extensively. I find things about the world to be interesting and ever-changing. The best part about my job is working with researchers who are experts in the field, and knowing the collection well enough to offer what we can to them.”
The AGSL’s collection is not just magnificent in size but also in rarity. They contain various single copies – meaning one of ones – of images and maps many have never seen before. When they find out they have the only copy of an image, book, or map, they protect it in a rare room that is environmentally controlled with steady humidity and no temperature variations – something they didn’t have in New York. Susan explained, “UWM was one of the only libraries in the country that had the space to store the growing collection at the time the move was planned. A whole section of the library was emptied in order to house the collections after the move. After that, work was done to create the library within the library.”
Although retired, Susan is still very much active in the cartographic community. She continues to be involved with a professional organization, the North American Cartographic Information Society, which was founded at the AGSL after the collection’s transfer. Bringing together the mapping community, the Society went from just a concept in 1979 to an international organization of over 500 members today.
Thanks to the AGSL, the connections made between Susan and researchers over her 45 years there have turned into long-lasting relationships. She has worked with hundreds of people from around the world, many of whom have shared with her their personal connections to the Library’s collections. Building these contacts has been a rewarding part of her job as she has been able to introduce people working on similar research projects who might not have known about similar work being done. “You make these relationships that last forever and bring you around the world,” Susan remarked.
While Susan may be in Milwaukee, her retirement has been felt all the way in New York. From providing images for AGS’ academic journal, the Geographical Review, to answering AGS questions, to phone calls with our Board Members, Susan Peschel has been an invaluable part of not only the American Geographical Society and Library, but the entire geographic and cartographic community worldwide. We thank you Susan for your commitment to the Library!