Promoting Geographic Information System Usage across Campus

By Spiegel, Shaun; Kinikin, Janae | Computers in Libraries, May 2004 | Go to article overview
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Promoting Geographic Information System Usage across Campus

Spiegel, Shaun, Kinikin, Janae, Computers in Libraries

Via workshops, e-mail, newsletters, meetings, and tours of the GIS lab, we're urging individual departments and professors to incorporate GIS into their curricula.

This article focuses on our efforts to implement and promote Geographic Information System (GIS) applications at Weber State University. WSU is a 4-year public institution with two campuses. The main campus is located in the foothills of Ogden, Utah (about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City), and the secondary campus, which opened in fall 2003, is located in neighboring Davis County. The total student enrollment that semester was approximately 18,000. WSU is primarily an undergraduate institution and offers certificate and degree programs in many fields, as well as master's degrees in accounting, business administration, criminal justice, and education. WSU's Stewart Library serves the population at both campuses.

Exactly What Is GIS?

GIS is a type of computer system made of hardware, software, and data that allows the mapping of spatially related layers that have a common geographic component (Badurak, 110). This layering capability allows data to be displayed and analyzed in a graphical form, typically on a map. Data in graphical form often reveals information that is difficult to perceive in a more traditional computer output format, such as charts, tables, or lists. For example, layering demographic data, such as age and income distribution, with the locations of store competitors on a base map, can be used to determine potential sites for new stores.

GIS is an interdisciplinary tool that can be used in all university departments (Johnson and Phoenix, 160). Libraries at smaller colleges and universities tend to be a focal point for students, faculty, and the community, making them appropriate places to conduct GIS research. A small academic library with a simple GIS setup can serve a variety of departments. Some of its applications include criminal justice (crime analysis), marketing (new business site analysis), biology (wildlife population projections), and transportation planning (efficient bus routing). GIS is ideal for managing the large quantities of data available in these and other fields.

Exposing WSU to GIS

I, Shaun Spiegel, am the business and economics librarian at WSU, and was introduced to GIS by my colleague, JaNae Kinikin. Since 2001, JaNae has been actively pursuing a certificate in Geomatics, which is offered through the Department of Geosciences at WSU. Her interest in the topic led me to consider how GIS might be applied in the business disciplines, and how we, as librarians, might promote GIS to the campus community. At present, GIS access is only available to the WSU students who are taking specified geography and geosciences courses. Since the applications of GIS extend far beyond these two disciplines, we felt the library would be an appropriate place to house a GIS lab. Establishing GIS in the library would provide access for everyone, and libraries, particularly those that are government repositories, house a variety of data that can be used in a GIS. An added benefit would be its potential to increase library usage and to raise the library's importance on campus.

To promote the usage of GIS at WSU, the two of us began working with individual departments and faculty members to incorporate GIS into their curricula. We accomplished this using a variety of methods, including workshops, e-mail, newsletters, individual and departmental meetings, and tours of the geosciences department's GIS lab. This process is ongoing, but we have made progress in the nursing, business, criminal justice, and geosciences departments.

In the fall of 2003, the reference department purchased and loaded GIS software on a computer located in the reference area of the Stewart Library. Unfortunately, little effort to promote its usage was undertaken and very few individuals knew about or took advantage of the GIS station's availability.

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