“Your Job Sounds Interesting”

Filed under: GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 12:21 pm

Alright, alright. It’s been a while, of course, so let me get some stuff down on paper. I just returned from the Spring 2007 CNI Task Force Meeting in Phoenix, Az (more on that later) to find an email from someone who happened to be nearby when I presented at the 2007 Indiana GIS Conference and who now wanted to know my background, since my job sounded interesting. I’m posting my response here, because I suspect it’s something I’ll want to return to and read again in two years, then again five years after that, etc.

This is pretty fascinating work, I think. You know, being in GIS, how rapidly its technologies are changing. This makes GIS in and of itself pretty wild these days, but it’s particularly interesting (let “interesting” be a euphemism for “challenging”) to be in the niche that a GIS librarian occupies, since the problem that is staring us in the face is largely unfixed: how to intelligently store, and more importantly, provide intuitive-but-structured, easy-but-full access to those datasets. Oh, and at the same time try to offer support, advice, and infrastructure to pretty much anybody on campus who wants to do GIS but doesn’t already have the training, data, software, or hardware. “And can we get that into Google Earth?”

I don’t mean to sound flip or disgruntled, though. There are fascinating and tough GIS and GIS-related projects going on everywhere and I’m very glad to be a part of it. There are some really good ideas, and you know the technology is opening up so that it’s no longer a matter of “well, has ESRI enabled that?”

You would have a particular advantage, in many ways, since you come from the GIS side of things. I’m a humanist, really, and came to graduate school (in Library Science) following a Bachelor’s in English, where the texts I ended up wanting to write about had a lot to do with maps if they weren’t maps themselves. The tech. and science parts I’ve sort of had to teach myself and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a GIS tech. Don’t have much interest in being one, really. The information and data and access side is what’s interesting to me (not to mention the opening up of GIS to user populations who are suddenly emboldened [and overwhelmed] by their newfound civic, political, and of course academic power).

Anyway, that’s a long-winded of way of introducing the notion that if you want to be a GIS Librarian proper, odds are that you’ll need a Master’s in Library Science, yes. I’m hedging that, because many libraries are hiring in people who aren’t librarians (in more like staff positions), but then allowing them to get their Master’s slowly, while on the job. That just happened to a talented systems guy here .

At the same time, some libraries are now in discussions on the way of becoming one, are hiring in non-Library Science graduates as library faculty. These people would be coming in from anywhere, really, as long as they could contribute to some part of what the libraries is trying to solve for the univesity. The old guard is a little upset about it, but the younger among us (generally, of course) don’t see a problem with it. The thinking goes “library science needs talented, technologically-minded people if we’re going to compete with the rest of the world that’s now run by computer scientists, and we don’t care where they come from.” My impression is that it’s increasingly possible to get into the GIS-as-information-mechanism (that’s opposed to the GIS-as-analysis-mechanism world that makes up most of the GIS work you hear about) without being a library scientist (a term which is loosely defined to begin with).

Anyway, I’d be happy to discuss it with you more, if you like. The short answer, since I haven’t given that yet, is that I’m an English B.A. (History minor) with a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Iowa, and by and large I taught myself all of the GIS I know.


GIS Issue of Library Trends

Filed under: GIS in Libraries, GIS Literature — geoLibro @ 1:02 pm

Guess what: Library Trends v.55 no.2 is devoted to Geographic Information Systems and Libraries. Yep, the entire issue. Articles I am most eager to read:


Libraries as Distributors of Geospatial Data: Data Management Policies as Tools for Managing Partnerships
G. Steinhart
Library Trends 

Libraries can bring substantial expertise to bear on the collection, curation, and distribution of digital geospatial information, making them trusted and competent partners for organizations that wish to distribute geospatial data. By developing a well-thought-out data management and distribution policy, libraries can define the parameters of a data distribution partnership and reinforce a data provider’s confidence in the library’s role as a data custodian and distributor. In developing a policy, data distributors are advised to consider such issues as intellectual property rights, liability issues, distribution methods and services, data and metadata management practices, security risks posed by geospatial data, and user limitations. This article describes the most common elements of data sharing and distribution agreements and describes the development of a data management policy for the Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository (CUGIR).

Geospatial Web Services and Geoarchiving: New Opportunities and Challenges in Geographic Information Service
S. P. Morris
Library Trends 

Over the course of the past fifteen years the role of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has changed significantly. Initially the role of the map library was confined to that of building and providing access to collections of hard copy maps and imagery. Later, digital data, whether on CD-ROMs or network based, was added as a new type of resource within that collection and service model. By the late 1990s some academic libraries began to take on a Web map server role, providing interactive Web mapping access to collections of digital geospatial data. In the new era of distributed, interoperable map services, libraries will have an opportunity to explore new roles as portals to streaming content available in the form of geospatial Web services. At the same time, the increasingly ephemeral nature of digital geospatial content will make even more critical the need to address the long-term digital preservation challenges that are facing geospatial content.

Digital Preservation of Geospatial Data
M. L. E. T. Sweetkind, Julie; Larsgaard
Library Trends 

The selection, acquisition, and management of digital data are now part and parcel of the work librarians handle on a day-to-day basis. While much thought goes into this work, little consideration may be given to the long-term preservation of the collected data. Digital data cannot be retained for the future in the same way paper-based materials have traditionally been handled. Specific issues arise when archiving digital data and especially geospatial data. This article will discuss some of those issues, including data versioning, file size, proprietary data formats, copyright, and the complexity of file formats. Collection development topics, including what to collect and why, will also be explored. The work underlying this article is being done as part of an award from the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP).

Building a Library GIS Service from the Ground Up
R. Houser
Library Trends 

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) services in academic libraries tend to differ, based on availability of GIS data, software, hardware, and staff expertise. GIS services at the University of Kansas are closely aligned with support for government information, data, maps, and statistics. Thus, our responses to users’ needs are often naturally collaborative, optimizing the expertise of multiple staff members and various types of resources. The GIS and Data Specialist assists campus researchers with spatial data and software, as well as facilitating access to GIS data. Lab space for research and coursework involving spatial data is a core component of GIS services. In addition, various levels and types of GIS workshops are offered each semester, and custom training sessions are also available. “Word of mouth” and hands-on workshops are some of the most effective methods of outreach.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Systems: Academic Library Models for GIS and Remote Sensing Activities on Campus
J. Aufmuth
Library Trends 

Academic libraries are a prime example of an enterprise whose mission is to support the information needs of its institution. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) are popular topics for academic research and are used globally. Two major enterprise information service and data delivery models, centralized and distributed, describe how enterprises approach information sharing. Simply stated, centralized systems provide services and data through a single individual or departmental unit. Distributed systems rely on many interconnected individuals or units to supply services and data. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, which may lead to a hybrid model of combined elements or a movement away from one and toward the other. This article discusses centralized and distributed enterprise information service and data delivery models and how two Florida university libraries deploy these models to deliver enterprise GIS services and data to their institutions’ user communities.

Turns out that’s just about all of them, but it’s not often entire editions of a journal — a library journal, no less — is devoted to my specific job. The toc and article URLs can be found here.


Worse Again, but ArcGIS Explorer is Out

Filed under: Apple Computer, GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 12:49 pm

Eeeegh [pulls on collar]. It got pretty bad again…
Anyway, 9.2 arrives and my IT guys suddenly can’t find server space for us to mount .iso images of the discs I want to put up for authenticated download. I think they’re all busy with a little thing called MetaLib that they’re trying to get up before mid-December or something wild like that. So I’ve been duplicating discs and making my own .iso files and none of it is fun or efficient or novel like it was supposed to be.

I’m otherwise knee-deep in data preparation and grant preparation and a number of other project-planning activities and this blog gets bumped every time. But there is news to report:

ArcGIS Explorer is out. Download link is here.

I got a MacBook Pro from the North Michigan Av. Apple Store and it kicks. Very fast, remarkably smooth display. I’ll be attempting the Parallells/ArcGIS combination sometime this week if I can crawl out from the hole I’m in.

And finally: 9.2’s Batch… does work, but it takes about a day to run a very simple process on ~250 files. Not. Cool. I have a ticket in for ESRI about it, but I think the problem is that when you give the input table your list of files to be processed and corresponding list of output paths, it runs a very, very, very, very long check on whether those inputs are valid. I’d rather they be invalid and the process to choke than sit around waiting for this verification. It’s grueling. If anybody knows more about this, I would love to know.


Map Your Thanksgiving Thanks to IU-Bloomington

Filed under: GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 4:01 am

The good folks at Indiana University’s Geology Library have posted a series of maps that depict a number of Thanksgiving-related ag production variables, including cranberry, onion, pumpkin, and turkey production. Bring them to Thanksgiving dinner with you and it can go something like this:

Relative: So are you still doing GPS?

You: GIS

Relative: Oh that’s not the satellite…thing?

You: No, that’s Global Positioning. G.P. I do GIS, Geographic Information Systems.

Relative: [head tilts slightly to the side, eyes go glossy]

You: [unfurling IU’s Thanksgiving poster with stony, blank face] Uh, I make maps.


Revisited: Introduction to GIS for Librarians workshop

Filed under: GIS in Libraries, Open Source GIS — geoLibro @ 4:07 am

Roughly two weeks ago, I mentioned a workshop on GIS for librarians. Well, I went after all, with the slightly hidden agenda of seeing who in the state was interested in GIS for a library, why they were interested, and possibly hearing about ongoing or planned projects. First of all, it wasn’t taught by an architect after all. The instructor had almost 30 years of GIS under his belt and who happened to work for a firm whose several services include architecture.

Anyway, what was most useful was hearing the questions existing librarians had about why GIS should even be in a library, what would it cost, etc. Also interesting was witnessing confusion about that murky place between these datasets everybody talks about and the map products themselves. In other words, for most attendees it was easy to see conceptually how geographic information can be useful and how it might even belong in a library, but very difficult for them to imagine how that information gets put onto a computer screen in any useful, intuitive format.

Our instructor didn’t help out much in that respect, as his was pretty clearly a general “What-is-GIS?” presentation he just happened to be showing to a roomful of librarians. In other words, very little was said about how librarians might play a part in metadata creation, storage, or development and very little was said about how a library might go about employing and applying GIS for themselves or for patrons. And almost nothing was done to illustrate the real, physical connection between something called “data” and that rich, graphical, colorful visualized version thereof.

And one more thing. If you were talking up GIS to a bunch of nonprofit types and they almost literally gasped at the price of the ESRI products, wouldn’t you also mention that there are several easy to use, free (open source, most likely) software titles that might do what they  need? Not everybody would.


MetaCarta’s GTS

We first saw MetaCarta’s Geographic Text Search back in 2005. There must be some new functionality or something (document density map, maybe?), because the All Points Blog and others are covering it again. I’m jealous of MetaCarta’s effort more than its existence. It’s the sort of business that a library-based GIS might attend to (especially as more and more library faculty are ushered toward doing interdisciplinary research [with, say, computer scientists]) and it is the sort of project I would really like to develop as a module or other functional component of Purdue’s Institutional Repository project, wherein GIS isn’t analytical but rather an information application almost in and of itself. MetaCarta is using a map interface for non-map, non-GIS document clusters and we should all be interested (but librarians especially) in how these documents are ingested and indexed. If they can do automated geographic indexing of 10,000 documents per day, why don’t more libraries have map interfaces or at least some other geographic utility for locating materials?


Introduction to GIS for Librarians workshop

Filed under: GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 3:27 pm

A colleague at Purdue’s  M.G. Mellon Library of Chemistry alerted me to a workshop hosted by the Indiana State Library called "Introduction to GIS for Librarians," August 17 from 1:30 to 4:00 pm in the History Reference Room (State Library of Indiana, downtown Indianapolis). From a forwarded email announcement:

"Geographic Information Systems is a powerfull tool that can be used by anyone. But what exactly is it, and what advantages can it provide librarians?…Jim Sparks of Paul I. Cripe, the Indianapolis architecture and engineering firm, will guide participants through the basics. Tailored for librarians, this seminar can open up a world of possibilities for anyone working with maps or spatial data."

How about that? It’s a little odd that it’s being taught by an architect, but perhaps in the future there will be similar sessions taught by a GIS Librarian. Indiana is swell.


Cartographica.Com: Museums move ahead in internet mapping

Filed under: GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 3:43 pm alerts us to a May 24, 2006 Christian Science Monitor article that reviews a pair of geo-savvy museum publications. The second of these, Folk Songs from the Five Points, is exactly the kind of thing libraries might do with their placeable collections. Perhaps more than anything I’m interested in atypical applications of GIS and mapping, and geographic access to library collections may or may not be considered an example thereof. Either way, Folk Songs… (as well as Curating The City, for that matter) is a great example of how content tied to place can be placed. Make sense? Good, because libraries are full, full of placeable material.

These are the kinds of projects for which a library-centric GIS might be especially-suited. A publication like Folk Songs… isn’t exactly hard science, and some might argue that it’s not GIS at all. My point is that while this kind of geospatial application becomes more and more commonplace and more and more desirable, students and faculty are going to be more and more curious about it for their own work and are going to need some place to which they can turn and get support for it. Hard science or even just department-specific labs are typically not interested in providing this kind of support, especially for extra-disciplinary folk. That’s all I’m saying.

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