Staff Spotlight: Mapping the good life
The road to happiness isn’t always found in the figurative map of sound decision-making, good people and helpfulness. Sometimes happiness is found on an actual map, or in the case of Bonnie Gallinger, amidst half a million maps.
Gallinger, who received a University of Alberta’s 2009 Annual Support Staff Recognition Award in an award ceremony Nov. 24, has charted her dream job as a map assistant/public service associate with the William C. Wonders Map Collection in the Cameron Library.
After graduating from the U of A with a master’s degree in geography in 1991, where she researched the impact human disturbances such as pipelines and seismic lines have on permafrost, Gallinger began her career working as a sessional instructor teaching geography wherever she could get a gig, whether at a college in Edmonton or back home in British Columbia.
“I decided I wanted to work at the university because of my interest in academics,” said Gallinger. “I like what goes on at this university— I like the school’s collegial nature.”
Having poured over many a map when the collection was part of the geography department, Gallinger says when the map job came up in 2000 it was serendipity at work. When the powers-that-be split her time between cataloging and working the reference desk, it was true love.
“I didn’t know I would have so much time with the reference desk, and that was just a bonus to me,” said Gallinger. “I love the interaction with the students and the researchers, and I am extremely curious about everything. When people come up, I like helping them find the information they need.
“It’s kind of like teaching, but one on one.”
Currently, Gallinger, a self-proclaimed Scotophile (she is fanatical about Scotland) and map collector in her own right, is processing tens of thousands of maps donated by Ron Whistance-Smith, the map collection’s former curator. Whistance-Smith was instrumental in the building the university’s collection, which already claims the largest academic map collection in Canada—more than 500,000 maps and another 800,000 air photos.
Having a map for any occasion—from topographic and geographic maps of Alberta to a human history map of Budapest, Hungry, pulled out of the Nuremberg Chronicle that dates back to 1493—means Gallinger has had a request for every possible map use and then some.
“I was helping someone for at least an hour trying to find a specific map that they had described, but they wouldn’t tell me what it was for,” remembered Gallinger. “Eventually it turned out she was looking for potential landing sites for the mother ship. She was totally serious about it. I tried to maintain my composure because we get people who are looking for absolutely everything.”
Whether it’s her unending patience or insatiable curiosity, Gallinger says she doesn’t know why she won the award, only that no matter whom she is dealing with and what their query is, they get her full effort.
“I remember being on the other side,” she said. “Anything I can do to assist them and make it easier I will do, which sometimes means taking the time to teach people to do it themselves.”