1 October 2018

Meet Marco van Egmond

“I am in the waste paper business”

An interview with Marco van Egmond, curator of maps, atlases and (early) printed works at Special Collections of the University Library

What do you do?

My main task is the cataloguing and sustainable preservation of our documents. We have quite a few of them actually; in our depositories 1.5 million items are stored.

We think it is very important to make this material digitally available for education and research and we invest a lot in innovative projects. I write articles and give presentations about our works and of course we try to save our heritage for future generations.

Generally speaking we have four kinds of documents at Special Collections: manuscripts, printed works, archival collections and cartographic works. The last category, maps and atlases, is my speciality.

Often we give items on loan to exhibitions. For instance, manuscripts from our collections are part of the exhibition Perkament in stukken (‘Parchment to pieces’) in the Utrecht Archives. Sometimes our works go on longer journeys and I may accompany them in my role as curator. Cartographic top pieces have been given on loan to Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp and I have travelled to the National Library in Singapore together with the Buginese Sea Chart.

What do you like most about your job?

I have always been into maps.

I used to collect atlases and if someone asked me what my favourite book was I answered: “de Bosatlas”.
Special Collections Utrecht University Library

In my spare time I used to draw maps of my local environment. So studying geography was a next logical step. Now I no longer draw city plans, but I still like to study them. Each night I browse through my atlases. I have turned my greatest hobby into my career and I enjoy it every day.

What are your plans for the coming week?

I am writing an article on the georeferencing* and crowdsourcing project Zet Nederland op de kaart for the Special Collections website.

I will also work on a planning to digitise the entire Special Collections. As part of this planning we ask the subject specialists of the library what digitization plans their faculties have.

I am also writing a long-term view on georeferencing: what will the future look like in about ten years. We want to approach this question systematically, not in an ad hoc manner.

You are at a party and someone asks you what it is like to work at Utrecht University. What is your answer?

“I am in the waste paper business” I always say as a joke. That breaks the ice and then I explain what I really do.


* Georefencing is a technique in which digitised old  maps are laid on top of modern maps or other old maps. In this way the georeferenced maps show the changes over time. It also means that old maps can be better analysed and used as scholarly sources.


Marco van Egmond Bijzondere Collecties