Anyone who has used Google Earth or Google Maps has used a GIS. GIS (Geographic Information Systems) allow users to manipulate and visualize spatial data in endless ways, by combining the power of maps, databases, and statistics.
At the most basic level, GIS can be used to make custom maps (cartography), with data points such as customers or sales revenue symbolized in a variety of manners. Beyond making maps, GIS also allow users to conduct spatial analysis and geoprocessing. Simply put, spatial analysis means visualizing datasets geographically to solve problems or identify patterns that aren’t apparent in the raw data; geoprocessing techniques allow users to manipulate and combine existing datasets in order to create new ones.
You can see several interesting applications online, such as a map of access to healthcare in the United States, the demographics of Crimea, or GIS in business. Several archives are integrating GIS into their digital libraries to help users explore their collections spatially. Archivists at the Center for Jewish History and the University of Pennsylvania used Flickr and Viewshare to link archival photos of books stolen by the Nazis to their original libraries (see Society of American Archivists Archival Outlook, Jan/Feb 2014, p.4-5,27). Several archives have mapped photos on HistoryPin, using the service as a pre-fabricated digital library with greater visibility. Traditional libraries have also begun using GIS to map items in their physical libraries to assist patrons with retrieval.
Google Maps is the easiest way for you to get started using GIS. Simple points can be added to a regular Google Maps layer. Charity Water’s embedded Google Map shows water project locations; although the finished product has a professional appearance, it consists of a relatively simple collection of GPS coordinates, photos of project sights, and project metadata. Extremely sophisticated maps can be made with Google Maps Engine and Google Maps APIs. For local projects, over 270 San Diego datasets can be downloaded for free from SANDAG’s Regional GIS Data Warehouse.
San Diego librarians have access to several training opportunities in GIS that can help us enhance our technology skillsets. Mesa College, Southwestern College, and UCSD Extension all offer a certificate in GIS. Members of the UCSD community have access to multiple resources and tutorials, as well as the Data & GIS Lab in the Geisel Library. SDSU boasts one of the leading GIS programs in the nation, offering certificates to PhDs.
Knowledge of GIS is particularly valuable for strategic librarians working in data mining, competitive intelligence, and market research. Academic librarians working in the earth sciences, government documents, data curation, digital humanities, and digital libraries should also be literate in GIS.
Explore these resources to learn more:
- Geospatial section of the Library of Congress Digital Preservation website
- Special Libraries Association Geography & Map Section
- American Library Association Map & Geospatial Information Round Table
- GeoMAPP state government archives grant project from 2011 (or summary here)
- NARA guidance on geospatial records management and file formats
- Open Geospatial Consortium
- GIS in Libraries and Museums
- MIT Libguide on GIS
-Tim Gladson, SLA San Diego Communications Committee