Maps and charts hold immense historical and research value, helping to visualise an area’s development over time. When placed in their proper historical context, maps and charts reveal much about the mind-sets and preoccupations of their creators, thus providing a glimpse into how they understood the world around them.
The National Library and the National Archives of Singapore have an extensive collection of current and historical maps. The National Library’s physical map collection is accessible from Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. Some of our older maps, such as those of the David Parry Southeast Asian Map Collection, have been digitised and can be accessed for free through our BookSG online platform. Most maps from the National Archives’ Collection are also digitised and are available for viewing through the Archives Online and Spatial Discovery websites. This guide will explain how to access the Library and Archives’ map collections.
Locating physical map collections using the NLB Catalogue
The physical maps in the National Library’s collection can only accessed through the NLB Catalogue. While many older maps can be found on BookSG, most of the physical maps in our collection have not been digitised. To locate maps on the NLB Catalogue, simply follow the steps below.
Step 1: Click on the Advanced Search on the NLB Catalogue homepage. This is found on the bottom right corner of the search bar.
Step 2: Using the Anywhere filter, type in ‘Singapore’ to limit your search to materials from Singapore. Under Material Type, scroll down and select Map Collection.
At this stage, you can click Search to browse all available maps on the NLB Catalogue. However, if you have a specific subject in mind, you can narrow down your search using the Title and Author filter. You may also narrow your search by year or by language.
Step 3: If there are records matching your keywords in our collection, you will then be directed to this search results page.
Otherwise, consider using different keywords and simplifying your search terms. Once you have located your record of choice entry of choice, click on any item to be directed to the item description page.
Step 4: On the item description page, click on View Availability. Note down the Title and Call Number. Physical maps must be requested over at the Reference Counter at Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. If the map is from the Rare Materials Collection, written permission is required to access the physical copy. If you require access, please fill up a Request for Rare Materials form. Once the form has been submitted, do note that approval process will require a few days. More information can be found here.
Should you run into any issues, please approach our library staff for further assistance.
Most of the physical maps are not digitised. However, older, pre-colonial maps have been digitised and made accessible digitally via BookSG.
BookSG is an online collection of digitised books and printed materials, including rare and historical imprints related to Singapore and Southeast Asia from the National Library and our partner institutions. Our BookSG e-resource has over 10,000 titles that will offer you a glimpse into the past, including digitised Maps and Charts from the British Library’s collection.
Several digitised maps from the National Library’s Rare Map Collection can be found on the BookSG platform, comprising of topographic maps and navigational charts that cover Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia, as well as town plans and street maps of Singapore and Malaya. The oldest map in our collection is the Vndecima Asiae Tabvla, which dates back to 1478.
Finding Maps on BookSG
If you have the map’s title in mind, simply conduct a keyword search on the BookSG search bar. The search bar can be toggled using the magnifying glass at the top right of your browser.
For a more general search, you can select the ‘Geography and Travels’ category on the BookSG homepage. Doing so will display a search results page, as indicated below.
On the item details page, you can choose to download a copy of the map (if the option is available), or view it from your browser. You can also check the map’s availability, which will direct you to the NLB Catalogue. This is useful if you need to access the item’s physical copy. The process retrieving an item’s physical copy will be covered in the ‘NLB Catalogue’ section of this guide.
If the map is located in the Rare Materials Collection, written permission is required to access the physical copy. To gain permission, please fill up a Request for Rare Materials form. More information can be found here.
The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) is the keeper of records of national or significance. The records acquired by NAS come from both public agencies and private sources. Its collection ranges from government files, private memoirs, historical maps and photographs to oral history interviews and audio-visual materials.
Archives Online allows users to seamlessly search information across NAS’ various independent databases and view selected photographs, maps and plans, listen to oral history interview samplers and watch snippets of audio-visual recordings.
Navigating Archives Online
Using the searchbar at the centre of the Archives Online homepage, you can perform a simple keyword search to locate archival maps. To only search for maps, click on the Maps and Building Plans category below.
Doing so will direct you the Maps and Building Plans search engine. An advantage of using this specialised search engine is the item filter, where users can choose to display only maps or only building plans in their search results.
For the above example, let’s look for the 1828 Raffles Town Plan, also known as the Jackson Plan, with the keyword ‘jackson’ and adjusting our date range to 1828. Click on Search to continue.
Our search has returned 3 results, all of which are digitised maps. Clicking on either the image preview or record title will direct you to the item description page.
Information on the map record can be found here, such as covering date, digital preview (if applicable) and accession number. Related results from the Archives Online and the National Library collection will also be displayed on the right hand corner of the page.
Spatial Discovery is a one-stop digital platform for users to explore, find and interact with maps related information across the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) collections. Here, users may retrieve over 4,000 geo-referenced maps of various types, both current and historical, from any internet-enabled devices.
A handy feature of the geo-referenced maps on this platform is the overlay feature, which allows users to layer historical maps over existing street or satellite maps. This makes it an invaluable resource to visualise and understand Singapore’s rapidly changing urban landscape.
Navigating Spatial Discovery
While on the Spatial Discovery homepage, select View More
This should redirect you to the map viewing page, where you can both view and add map overlays. Let’s take a closer look.
The search bar is located on the top of the webpage. Here, input keywords to locate the map of your choice.
In the following example, let’s look for a wartime map of Singapore with the keyword ‘Syonan’. Our results will be displayed on the left side of the browser.
On the right hand side of the browser, you can choose to further refine my search by collection type and date.
Using Spatial Discovery, you can add maps as an overlay atop one another. As the maps are geo-referenced, they should correspond to the coordinates on all other maps found on this platform.
Here’s how we use them.
Click on the [+] icon to add a map layer. You can find this beside the map previews on the search results tab.
Now that our map layer is added, use the magnifying tool to zoom in. If you have an optical/ laser mouse, you can simply scroll up/down to adjust the map magnification.
You can adjust the opacity of the layer by using the slider on the layer tab, located just above the map of your choice. Next to the slider is the visibility icon, which you can use to toggle the layered map on or off.
Using the overlays, we compare the Singapore coastline of 1943 to the Singapore of today. It becomes quite evident how much of the modern coastline has been reclaimed from the sea.
At this point, you can continue to add additional maps as layers. Click the X icon in the layer tab to remove a map layer.
RAF Photomap Collection
To access the Royal Air Force (RAF) photomap collection, use the keyword ‘photomap’. You can narrow down your search using place names (e.g. ‘Kallang’, Bukit Timah’).
As the place names are quite specific, use the photomap index overlay (keyword ‘index’) to coordinate your search. The photomap index shows all the areas surveyed by the RAF, with a place name assigned to each grid (Race Course, Thomson Village, Braddell Road, et cetera). In the example below, the Farrer Road (Grid 8) and Kallang (Grid 11) photomaps have been laid over the index.
Alternatively, users may choose to search for maps from Singapore via the NLB OneSearch website. This method will retrieve records from NLB’s collection, including digitised maps from the National Archives of Singapore, where digital previews are available and can be accessed anywhere from any internet-enabled devices.
Step 1: On the OneSearch homepage, click on Advanced Search. This is found at the bottom right corner of the search bar.
Step 2: From here, conduct a keyword search and filter by ‘images’. This method is best if you know the exact title or content of the map you are searching for.
For this example, we search for maps of Jurong using the keyword ‘Jurong’. Once done, click Search. This will return the following search results.
Step 3: Look to the left side of the screen to the refine search tab. Select ‘Map’ under the Type tab to narrow down our search results to maps of Jurong.
Let’s take a closer look at some of our search results.
The above result directs us to BookSG, an online collection of digitised books and printed materials, including rare and historical imprints related to Singapore and Southeast Asia from the National Library and our partner institutions.
It turns out our map is extracted from a book, The Jurong Story. By clicking on the title, users will to be directed to the NLB Catalogue where the book’s Call Number will be available. Users can consult the actual book at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.
Let’s take another example. The map result below belongs to the National Archives of Singapore Collection. Clicking on the record title will direct you to item description page on Archives Online.
On the other hand, clicking on View Geo-referenced Map will direct you to Spatial Discovery, a one-stop digital platform for users to explore, find and interact with maps related information across the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) collections.
For more information on how to locate maps on these platforms, please consult the Spatial Discovery and Archives Online section of this guide.