Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Geographic Information and Technologies in Academic Libraries: An ARL Survey of Services and Support

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Geographic Information and Technologies in Academic Libraries: An ARL Survey of Services and Support

Article excerpt


In June 1992, the ARL in partnership with Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) launched the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Literacy Project. This project sought to "introduce, educate, and equip librarians with the skills necessary" to become effective GIS users and to learn how to provide patrons with "access to spatially referenced data in all formats." [1] Through the implementation of a GIS program, libraries can provide "a means to have the increasing amount of digital geographic data become a more useful product for the typical patron." [2]

In 1997, five years after the GIS Literacy Project began, a survey was conducted to elucidate how ARL libraries support patron GIS needs. The survey was distributed to 121 ARL members for the purpose of gathering information about GIS services, staffing, equipment, software, data, and support these libraries offered to their patrons. Seventy-two institutions returned the survey, a 60% response rate. At that time, nearly three-quarters (74%) of the respondents affirmed that their library administered some level of GIS services. [3] This indicates that the GIS Literacy Project had an evident positive impact on the establishment of GIS services in ARL member libraries.

Since then, it has been recognized that the rapid growth of digital technologies has had a tremendous effect on GIS services in libraries. [4] We acknowledge the importance of assessing how geographic services in academic research libraries have further evolved over the past 17 years in response to these advancing technologies as well as the increasingly demanding geographic information needs of their user communities.


For this study, 115 academic libraries, all current members of ARL as of January 2014, were invited to participate in an online survey in an effort to better understand campus usage of geographic data and geospatial technologies and how libraries support these uses. Similar in nature to the 1997 ARL survey, the 2014 survey was designed to capture information regarding geographic needs of their respective campuses, the array of services, software. and support the academic libraries offer, and the education and training of geographic information services department staff members. Our aim was to be able to determine the range of support patrons can anticipate at these libraries and ascertain changes in GIS library services since the 1997 survey.

A cross-sectional survey was designed and administered using Qualtrics, an online survey tool. It was distributed in January 2014 via email to the person identified as the subject specialist for mapping and/or geographic information at each ARL member academic library. When the survey closed after two weeks, 54 institutions had responded to the survey. This accounts for 47% participation. Responding institutions are listed in the appendix.


Software and Technologies

We were interested in learning about what types of geographic information software and technologies are currently being offered at academic research libraries. Results show that 100% of survey respondents offer GIS software/mapping technologies at their libraries, 36% offer remote sensing software (to process and analyze remotely sensed data such as aerial photography and satellite imagery), and 36% offer Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and/or software. Nearly all (98%) said that their libraries provide Esri ArcGIS software, with 83% also providing access to Google Maps and Google Earth, and 35% providing QGIS (previously known as Quantum GIS). Smatterings of other GIS, remote-sensing, and GPS products are also offered by some of the libraries, although not in large numbers (see table 1 for full listing).

The fact that nearly all survey respondents offer ArcGIS software at their libraries comes as no surprise. ArcGIS is the most commonly provided mapping software available in academic libraries, and in 2011, it was determined that 2,500 academic libraries were using Esri products. …

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