Geographic Information Systems (Gis) in Public Library Assessment

Article excerpt


This paper details three projects utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) in the assessment of public libraries. The benefits of GIS include the abilities to generate maps to convey more information than through other means and to allow for spatial analysis of library services. This paper includes specific examples of uses implemented by the authors. GIS allowed the authors to display data related to library service and identify various disparities across service areas. In addition, this paper discusses practical issues of GIS for library researchers and practitioners based upon the knowledge gained through the development of the three GIS projects discussed here.

Keywords: Geographic information systems, Public libraries, Evaluation, Library services, Information policy


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are "computer-based tool[s] for the input, storage, management, retrieval, update, analysis and output of information" (United Nations, 2000, p. 121). For public libraries, GIS have been used to analyze and display data in predominantly two different ways (1) analyzing service area populations and (2) managing facilities and collections (Bishop & Mandel, 2010). For example, to analyze service area populations, user demographics may be entered into GIS and projected over street maps. Then, a public library can see where its service population lives in relation to library branches. Similar analyses may be conducted for managing facilities and collections, albeit at different granularity than viewing a countywide spread of user populations. Instead of mapping user demographics at a countywide, street, or other level outside the library, GIS can be used to analyze in-library use data and occupancy of library study space by mapping locations of users and materials within the facility at samples times in order to assess those library services.

A literature review performed in 2010 of library research that uses GIS as a tool to assess and analyze library services discusses 34 articles indexed in the Library Literature and Information Full Text and LISTA Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts databases (Bishop & Mandel, 2010). One of the limitations of that literature review was the unknown numbers of library consultation projects that do not disseminate knowledge gained through the use of GIS via academic publications. Perhaps consultation projects do not publish because they might lack rigorous methodology required for peer-reviewed publications or, simply, their clients do not wish to make findings public for privacy purposes and competitive advantage. In an effort to fill this void, this paper shares knowledge gained from three previously unpublished projects utilizing GIS, in hopes of adding to the foundation of library research in the GIS area.

The majority of research articles found in the literature review provided only the end result of analysis and the end products (i.e., maps) of their projects with little discussion of methods and strategies to assist future projects or duplicate studies (Bishop & Mandel, 2010). A potential reason that prior GIS research in library and information science (LIS) lacks discussion of specific methodological issues and strategies within may be due to the difficulty of explaining cartographic and geographic principles to non-GIS expert readers. This paper presents a more lengthy discussion on methodological, cost, educational, and political issues for the use of GIS in LIS as well as introducing next steps, such as education and training of LIS researchers, educators, and stakeholder groups.

GIS applications in LIS research are slowly developing, but as the literature review indicates (Bishop & Mandel, 2010 ), they are expanding. This paper is intended to contribute to the literature on uses of GIS in LIS research by providing overviews of three research projects in which the Information Use Management and Policy Institute (Information Institute (www. …