2013 liasa poster putting gis librarianship on the south african map_online
Putting GIS Librarianship on the South African map
by Linda Kelly, UCT Libraries – Linda.Kelly@uct.ac.za
for LIASA Conference 2013
Weimer and Reehling (2006) state that libraries are information centers that can no
longer afford to solely exist as map repositories where librarians organize, store, and
provide services associated with printed maps and associated cartographic materials.
2. What is GIS Librarianship?
“My role as a GIS/data librarian
geographic information systems (GIS)
and is central to
collecting, managing, disseminating, and teaching about
It is unfortunate that the GIS Librarian has not gained traction in South Africa while
the profession has existed and steadily evolved in the USA and other European
We are living in an information age where data is increasingly abundant and it is now
possible to give almost any data a geographical location making it mapable. Maps are
both an art form and a research tool because they can visualise and analyse large
amounts of data to communicate patterns and trends that would otherwise be limited
to conventional data visualisations, namely tables and graphs. This in turn makes maps
and GIS a tool for all disciplines.
To create awareness amongst library colleagues about the profession of a GIS
Librarian, its importance for all research disciplines and to showcase what has been
happening at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to advocate this profession.
The following text, tables and diagrams attempt to answer the following questions:
What is GIS?
What is GIS Librarianship?
How are GIS library services developing overseas?
What is happening at UCT Libraries?
1. What is GIS?
The table below provides GIS definitions and the figure graphically shows how tabular
data is used to create data layers that can be combined and depicted cartographically,
i.e. in the form of a map.
Systems (GIS) combine
maps with tables of
information – words,
numbers, or images – can
be linked to locations on
Weimer and Reehling (2006) broadly define Geographic Information Librarianship
(GIL) as “the profession of providing geographic information resources and services in
a library setting. This … definition of GIL is intentionally broad and has three areas of
a) cataloging of cartographic materials
b) traditional print map librarianship
c) GIS librarianship”
"Geographic Information Librarianship supports all media (paper to digital) that
contain geographic information” (Weimer and Reeling 2006).
3. How are GIS library services developing overseas?
A unit or dept. within the library provides the following services
related to GIS:
Geospatial portals enable the discovery of geospatial data – similar
to discovery platforms for finding books or journal articles
Collection development for geospatial data
Training workshops about GIS & geospatial data
Cartographic Referencing Guides for maps (print, digital, online, GIS
software) & geospatial data
List of common requests at the University of Kansas
finding specific datasets;
generating a map or image from spatial data;
converting data among various formats, such as open
source or proprietary;
subsetting data or clipping data layers;
creating data, such as point, line, or polygon features
and editing associated (attribute) information;
Example of Query
“I want to make a map of outdoor
camping facilities in Minnesota by
country using this table of data I
full GIS set-up
mapping tabular data using geographic coordinates
for point locations, or collected with a global
positioning system (GPS);
“I’m researching the
socioeconomic makeup of a region
across the country and would like
to look at a map showing
demographic features of an area.”
available via the
require user input
mapping tabular data by linking (joining) to a GIS
layer with the same geographic variables;
“I need maps of China, both
current and from other points in
the twentieth century.”
The GIS (Geographic Information
System) is a tool for
computational treatment of
geographical data and their
associated data banks. It can be
seen as a support system for
decisions that unite spatially
referenced data in a problem
response environment. GIS
groups, bring together and unite
information. Through this,
available information becomes
more accessible, and old
information is put into a new
A GIS can be represented as
several different layers where each
layer holds data about a particular
kind of feature. By layering
information such as wells,
industries, and population, spatial
relationships among the objects
being mapped can be emphasized.
Someone might see that the highly
contaminated wells are located
next to a particular industry. Or,
they could see how many families
are potentially at risk if their
drinking water comes from a
contaminated well. See Figure 1.
GIS can show many different
kinds of data on one map.
This enables people to more
easily see, analyze, and
understand patterns and
Tiba et al. (2010)
U.S. Environmental Protection
National Geographic Society
integrating an image, such as a scanned map, into a
GIS using geographic coordinates (geo-referencing);
spatial data analysis.
Source: Adapted from Kowal (2002, cited in Kelly 2013)
Source: adapted from Houser (2006).
4. What is happening at UCT Libraries?
GIS Librarians in Training Group
Group of librarians meet once a month to do online introduction GIS courses
• 20 November is an international day for hosting GIS activities to show case how GIS
can help to solve real world problems
• A 2013 GIS Day workshop was run for UCT Libraries staff to create awareness about
the GIS Librarian profession and to show case how GIS and maps can help to solve
real world problems
• The aim is to run an annual GIS Day workshop for UCT academics and students
Library Workshop about map collections &
Figure 1. What is GIS?
Sinton and Lund (2007)
First workshop on maps and geospatial data that included all UCT librarians who deal
with maps in various ways (i.e. government, Special Collections, etc.) as well as the UCT
• A reference guide for maps and geospatial data was created in collaboration with
Cartographic reference guide for maps (print
Brock University Library, UCT GIS Lab, UCT LISC and Subject Librarians at UCT
& digital) and geospatial data
• Available online on the UCT Environmental & Geographical Science LibGuide
Visit GIS Librarians at MIT (USA), Harvard
(USA) and Oxford (UK)
The author met with GIS Librarians in order to gain a better understanding of the
profession and services associated the profession.
Environmental Protection Agency. 2012. What is GIS (Geography Information Systems)? Available: http://www.epa.gov/region5fields/gis.html [2013, September 20].
ESRI. 2013. What is GIS? Available: http://www.esri.com/what-is-gis/overview#overview_panel [2013, September 20].
Houser, R. 2006. Building a library GIS service from the ground up. Library Hi Tech, 28(1): 131-151.
Kelly, L. 2013. Maps, libraries and the “GIS Librarian”: an informal review of cartographic libraries. South Africa Journal of Geomatics, 2(2): 163-174. Available:
http://www.sajg.org.za/index.php/sajg/article/view/77 [2013, September 20].
A Geographic Information System…
• integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced
• allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the
form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.
• helps you answer questions and solve problems by looking at your data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared.
• GIS technology can be integrated into any enterprise information system framework.
Source: ESRI (2013)
National Geographic Society. 2013: GIS (geographic information system). Available: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/geographic-information-system-gis/?ar_a=1
[2013, September 20].
Ricker, K. 2007. GIS/Data Librarian. In A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science. P. K. Shontz and A. Murray, Eds. Westport, USA: Libraries Unlimited.
Sinton and Lund. 2007. Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping Across the Curriculum. ESRI Press: California.
Tiba, C.; Candeias, A.L.B.; Fraidenraich, N; de S. Barbosa, E.M.; de Carvalho Neto, P.B.; de Melo Filho, J.B. 2010: A GIS-based decision support tool for renewable energy management and planning in
semi-arid rural environments of northeast of Brazil. Renewable Energy, 35(12): 2921.
Weimer, K. and Reehling, P. 2006. New Model of Geographic Information Librarianship: Description, Curriculum and Program Proposal. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 47(4):
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