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John Borchert and the Borchert Map Library 

If someone were to map geography professor emeritus John Borchertís career, a large star would mark 9,000 square feet in the sub-basement of Wilson Library. This room is the world-renowned John R. Borchert Map Library. In a loving tribute, the family of John and Jane Borchert recently commemorated their parentsí life work with a generous gift to the library.

A public crossroads of social sciences, art, and statistics, the library draws about 25,000 people a year. Itís where anthropology students pore over population patterns, a Russian history professor traces for his students the Soviet Unionís creation and dissolution, health care professionals calculate distances between neighborhoods and clinics, amateur genealogists discover the distant towns of their ancestors, and countless others converge to use, create, analyze, and discover maps. "Iím confident in saying that this is the most highly used academic map library in the country, maybe even the world," says head map librarian Brent Allison.

Borchert first envisioned the map library in the 1950s. As an esteemed young professor, he was drawn to a collection of World War II topographic maps at the St. Paul public library. "I borrowed them all the time. I was the only user," he recalls. The library donated the maps to the geography department, and the collection moved to the sub-basement of Ford Hall. One day as Borchert was carrying the stack of maps up the elevator to his class, he ran into Ned Stanford, then director of libraries. "Weíve got a mess of maps here and we really ought to have a map library," Borchert said.

While acknowledging that he "struck the match of an idea in the elevator of Ford Hall," Borchert credits others for making the library happen. With help from many able faculty and librarians, the size and popularity of the map collection has grown like wildfire. In 1995, the library received the American Library Associationís annual "Library of the Future" award for its pioneering efforts in electronic-based cartography and state-of-the-art access to multimedia map resources.

In Allisonís view, the success of the library has hinged largely on Borchert himself. Thatís why, when Borchert retired in 1989, the library was dedicated to him. "Dr. Borchert has been a champion of the map library for his entire career," says Allison. "To be honest, weíre pleased Dr. Borchert would lend the honor and prestige of his name to this library."

Indeed, Borchertís accomplishments and reputation extend far beyond the library. Named among the One Hundred Most Influential Minnesotans by The Star Tribune, Borchert has served as director of the Upper Midwest Economic Study, board member of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, consultant to the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, and member of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission.

Borchertís research has had broad impact. His discovery of the critical link between transportation and urban growth patterns initiated much-needed infrastructure development and the creation of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Planning Commission, now the Metropolitan Council.

One ambitious project, which brought together students in computer science, soils, forestry, geography, and even law and public affairs, resulted in a massive database on over 12,000 miles of lakeshore. Borchert says it was "the first land use plan of an entire state and the first computer-based land use mapping system in the entire country."

Through their gift to the library, the twenty-five members of John and Jane Borchertís three-generational family (including seven former and four current University of Minnesota students) are honoring not only their father/grandfather but also the maps that have been central to his life and work. And, says David, they are expressing their gratitude "to the institution and discipline that provided John with such a rewarding and fulfilling career."

Noting that Borchertís legacy surpasses the tangible products of his work, David and his wife Patricia recall many times when their childrenís "social studies teachers told us that John Borchert was the most influential teacher they ever had. That wave of influence, propagating out through his students into the classrooms, businesses, and public agencies of the community, is probably his most important legacy.

Check out the Borchert Map library at

From CLA Today, Spring, 2000

Contributions  to the John R. Borchert Map Library Endowment Fund can be mailed to:
        Department of Geography
        414 Social Science
        University of Minnesota
        Minneapolis, MN 55455

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