I first learned about geographic information system (GIS) mapping on the Community Health Maps blog from the National Library of Medicine, which offers training materials to teach community organizations how to create low-cost maps related to public health. GIS mapping is used in many creative ways for public health purposes (such as identifying health disparities or visualizing the locations of dangerous environmental hazards). GIS seems like an incredibly useful method for displaying and exploring data on local, national, and international levels, so I wanted look into how academic and public libraries are involved with teaching and using GIS.
Libraries Teaching GIS
Many academic libraries offer GIS mapping services, such as GIS software access, in-person training for students and faculty, and LibGuides that explain the basics about GIS. For example:
- At Duke University, the Brandaleone lab for Data and Visualization Services offers access to mapping software (like ArcGIS, QGIS, Google Earth Pro, and more). Their GIS in the Library webpage offers tips about library workshops and academic courses on GIS and where students can find additional help related to data visualization and GIS.
- John Hopkins University offers a LibGuide on GIS and Maps, access to ArcGIS software for students/staff, and their GIS and Data Services staff also offer training and consultation on GIS.
The only public library online resource I was able to find related to GIS was the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Online Resources page from New York Public Library. This online guide provides links to data sources, free software, lectures on GIS, and even NYC online maps.
Public Libraries using GIS for Assessment
While academic libraries seem to focus more on teaching GIS mapping to students and faculty, public libraries often use GIS mapping for assessment of services, facility use, and collection development. The article Using GIS to Assess Public Libraries by Dilnavaz Mirza Sharma at Public Libraries Online discusses how public libraries “have embraced GIS as a tool for evaluating usage, collection development, and community impact by capturing GIS data to provide evidence of the library’s function in the community serviced.” The article describes a case study “of how GIS maps were used to identify public library locations in Chicago that would be ideal for providing consumer health information materials to underserved populations.”
Interactive Maps as Exhibits
Some academic and public libraries also use GIS mapping to create interactive maps shared on their websites as digital exhibits or tools to explore useful data sets, such as:
- The University of South Carolina library website offers a searchable map of locations from the 1956 Negro Travelers’ Green Book.
- The College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland has created an interactive mapping tool that allows users to search for and view all libraries within a selected neighborhood, along with related local data on demographics, economics, education, health, and responses from local libraries from the 2013 and 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey.
- Brooklyn Public Library offers a literary map on its website, exploring local landmarks and locations related to children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction.
There are so many potential applications for GIS mapping in both academic and public libraries, from workshops to teach students how to use GIS to interactive digital exhibits that allow users to explore data sets at a local level. I hope in the coming year to learn more about use of GIS software, maybe using the Community Health Maps training materials.