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MAPTIME MADISON

John Czaplewski, a mapper and web developer at UW-Madison, spoke to Maptime Madison during a meeting on Nov. 19.

PHOTO BY LAUREL WHITE

Members call it “like a knitting group for maps.”

But there are no delicate china cups of tea or gauzy shawls at this meeting. Instead, there are REI water bottles and Converse sneakers.

“I was ecstatic to hear a chapter was starting in Madison,” said Ethan Nelson, an attendee at Thursday night’s Maptime Madison event at Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St.

Maptime Madison is a local spinoff of Maptime, an international organization dedicated to providing a collaborative, member-driven environment for learning about modern mapmaking technologies.

The Madison chapter has been around for about a year. Previous meetings have covered wonky-sounding subjects like “creating basemap tiles” and programs like CartoDB, a cloud-based map design platform. One of their first and most popular meetings, however, was a throwback: hand drawing a map.

Students in the UW-Madison’s Department of Geography, home of the nationally renowned Cartography Lab, which was founded by a man who headed the Office of Strategic Services’ mapping division during World War II, started Maptime Madison as a way to study industry concepts outside the classroom.

“Right now, the field is changing quickly, and all the software we’re using changes so quickly that we have to be self-taught,” said Rashauna Mead, one of the event’s organizers.

“I was trying to teach myself a lot of this stuff and getting frustrated, because there’s only so much you can learn from reading online tutorials and watching videos,” said Robin Tolochko, another organizer. “It’s so much better to learn when you’re with other people who are also learning.”

But cartography students aren’t the only ones who find the meetings interesting. At a recent gathering, attendees ranged in age from twenties to middle age. They ate Ian’s mac ‘n’ cheese pizza while taking notes on where to find online data for maps, from government-run databases to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Organizers estimate the size of the group has tripled since its first meeting about a year ago. They’ve had to create a cap for participants at 30 so meetings don’t get too unwieldy.

 “I came to reconnect with mapmaking,” said Anne Larsen, a meeting attendee. “I was kind of removed from the industry, and wanted to rekindle that connection.”

Larsen studied geography in college, but her first job after graduation had nothing to do with mapmaking.

“I think a lot of people who come to Maptime are people who haven’t taken formal classes,” said Tolochko.

Those individuals may be interested in creating a map of their travels or helping with community mapping initiatives like OpenStreetMap, a “Wikipedia for maps” where users can help build out map details for places around the world.  

Other Maptime Madison attendees have done things like create an interactive map of where Winter Olympics athletes are from in the United States (“Are they all from one region – the colder states?” asked creator John Czaplewski) and a database of location-linked lyrics of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan (that data has yet to be made into a map, according to creator Katie Kowalsky).

“What I really like about Maptime is that it’s really integral to the idea of beginners teaching beginners,” Kowalsky said. “It’s really cool to meet people in the community.”