Map room a great resource

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Cartographic technician Cliff Harker runs a one-man shop at the Fairchild Research Information Center known as the map room. It is one of the larger map rooms in the Department of Defense outside of Washington, D.C.

With more than 400,000 maps available, the mission of the map room is to supply cartographic support to the faculty and students of Air University, support base missions and all Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps detachments and accommodate the many special project needs that come up.

Mr. Harker said he is very appreciative of the support he receives from the FRIC circulation and document cage staffs.

"Our maps cover all parts of the world, and are free to anyone associated with Maxwell-Gunter," Mr. Harker said. "The maps are provided by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency."

He said the variety of maps available include detailed topographical, political, survey, special purpose, aeronautical and state road maps, and are especially useful to the students of Air University. He said the facility is included on the new-student tours for Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies and International Officer School.

"The map room, which measures 62 feet by 57 feet, was part of the original Fairchild Library built in 1948 and was included to ensure Air University students would have access to maps. It is still very popular with the students," said Mr. Harker, who has been at the map room since 2003. "I think paper maps are still viable because there is a big difference between looking at a map on a computer screen and looking at a 36-inch by 24-inch printed map."

He said some of the services the map room offers include the customer information rack that contains road maps of all 50 U.S. states and other regional information, and a plotter that is capable of producing maps up to 60 inches by 36 inches from both computer and Internet files. Mr. Harker said the plotter is especially popular with international students who use the maps to decorate their booths at the International Culture Day events held each year. He said "on a high month," he might turn out 14 or 15 maps with the plotter.

"We have Arcview 9.3, which is soon to be upgraded to Arcview 10, that is a geographical information system software that allows students to overlay data on a map," Mr. Harker said. "Using this software, maps can contain information about ethnic distribution, population shifts, natural resources, forestry, agricultural land use and a myriad of other data."

Another interesting aspect of the map room is a collection of globes that runs along the top of the center divider. Among the six globes, one can be set for a location and show astronomical data for that location at a particular time and date, and another, one of Mr. Harker's favorites, is a clear plastic globe. A highlight of the globe collection is a very detailed model of the Earth's moon. A very large globe adorns the entranceway to the room. He said judging by the names of countries on the large globe, it was probably made about 1949. No other history is available about the globe.

Mr. Harker said over the years he has encountered many interesting projects that people have brought to the map room. He has worked with the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and many other government organizations. He said while the map room once produced classified maps, it is no longer involved in that
kind of work.

"I remember a recruiter that came to me needing a map that showed the population distribution of all 14 to 21-year-olds in his local area and any population trends projected for the future," Mr. Harker said. "He wanted to use the map to get his recruiter set up for future recruitments."

He said Air War College came to him awhile back requesting a high-resolution map to be displayed on a very large screen, and needed to be "briefing worthy." He was able to produce a 4156 x 2079-pixel slide that did the trick.

Mr. Harker served four years in the U.S. Navy and 16 years in the Air Force before retiring in 1987. His last Air Force assignment was with Gunter's then- Data Systems Design Center. He moved on to a general service job at the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office before joining the FRIC staff in the early 1990s.

Mr. Harker said not only is the map room a great resource for Air University students, it is also a great resource for the geography and history homework needs of family members.

For more information, Mr. Harker can be reached at 953-2747.