Geospatial Technology Meets Library Science – Online Course Gets Librarians Up to Speed

By Directions Staff

Directions Magazine (DM): What is the impetus for creating this course? Has it been offered before, or is this the first time?

Eva Dodsworth (ED): For the last several years my research has focused on reviewing and selecting online GIS applications suitable for academics. With the ease of use of these applications increasing yearly, promoting GIS to my academic community has become much easier over time. I came to realize that GIS is being used by everyday members of society and mapping has become a popular method of communicating information. With their limitless cross-disciplinary uses, online mapping applications are being developed in an easily-accessible and fun way, tempting non-GIS users to dabble with map creation.  

With community users and scholars utilizing this technology so comfortably now, I realized the importance of encouraging library staff to become acquainted with the technology as well. As information providers, we need to be a step ahead of our users, trained not only to be able to respond to their needs, but to lead them in directions they themselves haven’t gone yet. As information providers, we must be able to recommend mapping resources and train users to use them. Simply put, online mapping resources have become a valuable resource for any project that has any relation to place or space. To properly embed these spatial resources into the library’s pool of information resources, however, some staff training is required.

One of the best ways to educate librarians and other library staff is through an online training program. All libraries have the opportunity to enroll in the fee-based courses, and they can work through the material as slowly or quickly as they comfortably like. This is the first time this course has been offered.

DM: How did you get involved in the course? What's your background in GIS?

ED: I have been developing teaching material for library students since 2008. I teach at several American Library Association (ALA)-accredited library school programs on a part-time basis, providing GIS training to future librarians. What was missing, however, was not being able to reach out to those already in library careers. I had to find a way to connect with librarians and other library staff working on the information/reference desk, and I felt ALA’s RUSA’s training program was an excellent way to do it.

I use GIS daily in my Geospatial Data Services Librarian role at the University of Waterloo. Although I provide technical GIS assistance to library users, I find that most of my efforts are spent on encouraging new users to try out the technology. A lot of my time is spent on library instruction, especially on spatial literacy and mapping applications. I routinely explore resources online to become familiar with alternative GIS products, tools and applications. I actually spend less time with people who know how to use the technology, and more with those who don’t.

I have been working with GIS in a library setting, providing front-line support for eight years now. I have a certificate in GIS from Mohawk College as well.

DM: How did you decide what to include in the course?

ED: The course is actually part one of two courses. The one currently being offered is an introduction to spatial literacy and online mapping. The second one will place the newly gained skills into practice, teaching users how they can apply GIS into library project work. I wanted part one to provide an introduction to the concept of GIS using popular online tools such as Google Earth and Google Maps. When students are introduced to new technology in a familiar and comfortable way, they are much more likely to delve into other related learning opportunities.

The course is very much hands-on, so I selected activities that my library school students have enjoyed and excelled in. The material included in the course closely parallels the first few weeks of material I offer my library school students. One of the goals of the course (part one) is to demonstrate to the librarian how map communication has evolved into an “essential life skill,” and therefore an imperative skill to have in the information-driven workplace. Librarians are also shown how libraries have already embedded GIS technology into their services, providing them with ideas to take back to the office.

DM: What kinds of librarians are attracted to the course offering? Who do you expect to have as your "typical" student?

ED: Because this is very much an introductory course, it provides librarians with zero or very little experience a place to begin. From my experience, most librarians have not worked with mapping applications. From my experience working with MLIS students, 80% have not even used Google Earth, so I’m confident that the material offered will be new to most users.

I think this course will attract librarians who don’t have a background in the concepts taught in the course, but do know enough about it to value the knowledge to be gained. Only those who have been working with their eyes closed wouldn’t be aware of the emerging mapping trends. Most are aware, but don’t know where to begin to learn more about it. These are the people taking the course.

DM: In your own work as a librarian, what kinds of applications have you helped build?

ED: I spend a lot of my time instructing library users and staff, and disseminating information. I do spend quite a bit of time developing written tutorials for online applications, step-by-step podcasts outlining features, and writing reviews for magazines and online resources. One project I developed using GIS was our library’s Digital Historical Air Photo Project. We have scanned over 1,500 historical air photos, georeferenced them and made them available for download from our website. One of the file formats available is KML for Google Earth viewing.

Published Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Written by Directions Staff

Published in


If you liked this article subscribe to our bimonthly newsletter...stay informed on the latest geospatial technology

Sign up

© 2017 Directions Media. All Rights Reserved.