Visualizing Data: GIS Systems & Libraries

Visualizing Data: GIS Systems & Libraries
Jenny James Lee
October 2, 2013

Wondering which Philadelphia zip code has the lowest number of residents with smartphones? Or, what the personal savings rate is among households in Pennsylvania by census tract? Perhaps you’d like to know the penetration of farmers markets in urban areas in the northeast?

Geographic [or Geospatial] Information Systems – GIS – offer increasingly popular and powerful ways to answer these questions and to conduct research based on evidence available from a wide variety of statistical sources. These tools allow users to visualize data through maps to show relationships and trends.

GIS is one of the newer types of information systems where Drexel librarians have expertise. This expertise is gained through investigating various systems & tools, exploring problems and data sets, advising faculty, students and staff on which resource best suits their needs and then working with them to utilize those tools. Currently, the Libraries licenses and provides expertise for a number of tools, including:

SimplyMap, a web-based GIS tool (licensed by the Libraries) for the Drexel community
ESRI Community Analyst/Business Analyst Online, a web-based GIS tool that is part of the ArcGIS suite (licensed by the University for educational use by the Drexel community)
Google Earth, a free suite from Google

While desktop GIS packages have steep learning curves and tend to be used by GIS specialists, web-based GIS products provide software and data together in user-friendly tools. This allows the casual user a one-stop shop to conduct basic analysis without facing the steeper learning curve of a desktop package. There are several web-based products, each targeting a different disciplinary niche within the academic and professional community.

We find that more and more members of the Drexel community need access to and understanding of these tools and how they work as GIS is used in nearly every academic discipline at Drexel and is becoming commonplace in the workplace.

It can be challenging for librarians to identify faculty who are using or could benefit from introducing their students to user-friendly, template-driven, web-based GIS tools. Drexel Liaison Librarians are eager to work with faculty to introduce students to GIS concepts and tools through classwork, research projects and other curriculum-based activities.

Do you have a compelling “use-case” in your discipline that would benefit from demographic or marketing data? Please contact your liaison librarian for a demo or to explore how real-word GIS-based data might work in the context of an assignment for your class. See some of the starting point links here for a better idea of what this might pose for your research or classes.