The USGS and particularly its National Mapping Division (NMD) are looking toward the beginning of the next century with a sense of purpose in order to continue meeting successfully the map needs of its traditional users and a growing community of new users. For that reason the director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1987 requested that the National Research Council (NRC) establish a committee (the Mapping Science Committee) under the auspices of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources to provide guidance on current mapping and geography issues.

The initial charges to the committee were the following:

  1. Examine the needs for the geographic and cartographic data provided by the USGS. Do the Survey’s current mapping activities and products adequately address these needs?

  2. Examine and advise on USGS programs of research and development of hardware and software for original data acquisition, processing, storing, marketing, and distribution of digital cartographic data and synthesized information products to the user community.

  3. Examine the scope and content of the USGS’s activity in geographic information systems (GIS) and recommend their role in assembling and maintaining digital data bases from within the USGS and from other sources.

  4. Respond to specific requests for guidance on mapping and geography.

This report was prepared to address the first and third of these charges in a specific fashion, and to provide general guidance on the second. Future committee efforts will be directed toward the second, and, as requested, the fourth charges. This selection was made because of time constraints on the committee and because the committee felt that it was necessary to address user requirements and GIS involvement before research programs could be adequately addressed.

Assessing USGS/NMD’s mechanisms for establishing and meeting user requirements is, in this era of technological transformation, not nearly as straightforward a task as it might first appear. The committee experienced difficulties in agreeing upon concepts and terminology that were essential to the formulation of its recommendations. This situation arose largely because much of the discipline of “spatial data handling” is still evolving. The USGS/NMD’s “sense of purpose” alluded to earlier has its origins not only in what is happening to spatial representation technologies, institutions, and the user community today, but in the changes between how things have been in the past and what seems to be emerging for the future.

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