Mapping made miserable Cartographers challenged by Soviet changes.

September 10, 1991|By McClatchy News Service

The changes in what used to be the Soviet Union seem endless.

The Baltic states are establishing independence, Sverdlovsk is restoring its name to Yekaterinburg and Leningrad will return to St. Petersburg.

Charles E. Lees Jr. and his colleagues in Maplewood, N.J., meanwhile, are re-sharpening their drafting pencils.

"The world is changing all the time, and so are maps," said Lees, vice president and cartographic editor-in-chief for the Hammond Map Co. "What's different about this is that there are so many changes happening so fast that affect so much.

"The Soviet Union was the largest country in the world," said Lees. "Parts of it touch maps of Europe, parts touch maps of Asia. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

Lees and other mapmakers said that not since 1960, when 17 new African countries were recognized as the continent shook off colonialism, has cartography faced so many important changes at the same time.

"We're doing a lot of watching and waiting," said Barbara Moffet, a spokeswoman for the National Geographic Society, which issued its voluminous once-every-decade-or-so atlas last year and thus missed -- or escaped -- the current cartographic chaos.

"We will be putting out a map supplement of the Soviet Union in the magazine soon, but I don't know just when . . . I guess when things are a little clearer."

Even if the Soviet Union were still the Soviet Union, for example, cartographers say they would be busy monitoring changes in Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and other countries.

Last year, the reunification of Germany and the war in the Middle East kept the map industry humming.

The last four months of the year represent the big season for atlases because of back-to-school and holiday sales, and every day a new edition is delayed is a day of lost sales.

But Rand McNally, the Chicago-based mapmaking giant, stopped its presses two weeks ago because of the Soviet upheaval.

"It caused us to ship 10 days late," said company spokesman Con Erickson, "but it also allowed us to be the first atlas on the market with those changes."

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