Library preserves historic mining maps

Anthony Brino | January 28, 2009    

‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt’s nearly 20-year relationship with Consol Energy Inc. reached a new level when the… ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt’s nearly 20-year relationship with Consol Energy Inc. reached a new level when the coal company granted the University thousands of dollars to maintain its historic coal maps. ‘ ‘ ‘ Over the next five years, Consol Energy Inc. will give the University Library System $100,000′ to preserve and document the company’s regional mining maps,’ some of which date back to the 1850s. ‘ ‘ ‘ The state Department of Environmental Protection promised to give the University Library System $75,000, and the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining pledged to give $25,000.Officially called the Consol Energy Mine Map Preservation Project, the endeavor began in 2007 and includes 700 maps. ‘ ‘ ‘ The project is ongoing, might require more funding and has not set a completion date, said Pitt preservationist Amy Baker, who specializes in paper conservation. She said she works daily with a student employee to clean, treat, humidify and flatten delicate maps.’ She said they treat and complete about 10 maps every six weeks, but that depends on the size and condition of the maps, many of which are covered in soot and cracking. Many of the maps, which can be up to 30 feet long, haven’t been opened in half a century. ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt archivist Debbie Rougeux studies and surveys the maps, searching for noteworthy information, and then reports her findings to the Department of Environmental Protection, said Baker. Rougeux could not be reached for comment, nor could Consol Energy Inc. After the maps are interpreted, treated and deemed usable, the department takes them to the National Mine Map Repository in nearby Green Tree where they are digitally archived, said assistant University Librarian Michael Dabrishus, who helped secure funding for the project. After digitization, the Department of Environmental Protection will place the maps in an extensive database on its Web site, where users can search for specific information pertaining to a certain site or year and navigate through mines that once existed or still exist in different regions, towns and cities, said Dabrishus. ‘ ‘ ‘ The department hopes to catalog every mine that ever existed in the state, said Baker. ‘ ‘ ‘ The physical maps will eventually sit in the library archives at the Preservation Department, which is about three miles east of Oakland. Both Baker and Dabrishus noted that their interest in the project was influenced by the 2002 Quecreek Mine accident in Somerset county, during which nine miners spent three days trapped underground after unintentionally drilling into an abandoned mine that flooded with water. Baker, who earned her master’s degree in library and information sciences from the University of Texas at Austin, said she finds it rewarding to be involved in a project that could prevent future accidents by providing miners with accurate maps. Baker, a Pittsburgh native who was hired specifically for the Consol project in 2007, said the fact that her great-grandfather was a coal miner added a special genealogical element and personal connection to her work. While the use of coal predates other fossil fuels like oil, it is still a major source of employment and energy in Pennsylvania and around the country. Consol employs 2,285 people in Pennsylvania, most of them in the state’s southwest region. ‘ ‘ ‘ And though often cited as a major pollutant and contributor to global warming, coal generates almost half of the country’s electricity, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.’ Dabrishus said he is proud of Pitt’s involvement in the project and noted that he and Consol expect society to benefit from the maps’ digitization and the information they reveal. ‘ ‘ ‘ He said the maps could aid in construction, engineering and geological planning projects. Knowing the location of old, abandoned mines is integral to safety in public panning, he said.

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