Library-Based GIS Initiative
Libraries have always served the public by providing access to information. The mission of libraries and librarians to protect, organize, catalog, and make accessible information has remained steadfast throughout their history. However, the type and format of this information is constantly changing. The Illinois State Library and its parent funding agencies believe it is necessary to keep libraries at the forefront of these new information technologies, as evidenced in the goals delineated by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants. Goal number two specifically addresses the State Library's dedication to, "ensur[ing] that Illinois libraries have access to all sources and formats of information."
Digital Information and Geospatial Data
Over the last two decades, and in concert with the computer revolution, libraries have seen the nature of information change. Information, records, and date now exist in digital formats, which can be read, analyzed, queried, and displayed by computers. The availability of these new information sources and formats has changed the way libraries operate and the kinds of services they provide. Online catalogs, electronic databases, and Internet workstations are services patrons have begun to expect from their libraries.
As the nature of information changes, new technological resources appear. One of the most important developments in information technology has been the introduction of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS are database management systems that store, retrieve, analyze, and display geospatial data. "Geospatial date" encompass many different types of information resources, but, in general, are data that can be associated with a given location, such as a street address. Various examples of geospatial data include: aerial photographs, satellite images, street maps, census statistics, and land use diagrams.
Why is GIS important to libraries?
GIS and geospatial data are growing in importance for libraries and educational institutions because they allow users to examine new types of information in new ways. GIS technology has existed for several decades, but decreasing in computing costs and enhancement to software interfaces have only recently launched GIS as a research and analysis tool for a wide audience.
GIS sales have skyrocketed during the past decade. In 1995 alone, GIS software sales reached $862 million.1 As GIS becomes a pervasive technology in a variety of professions and academics disciplines, more and more employers expect new job applicants to be trained in GIS resources. However, the tools necessary for learning and using GIS (hardware, software, and geospatial data) are expensive and require a significant amount of training. Libraries who invest in GIS resources for public use are doing a great service to their patrons.
As more information is produced in digital format, libraries have begun to provide resources that allow users to display, manipulate, and analyze digital data. Libraries now provide public access to computer terminals from which users may view the online catalog or browse Internet sites. The next step is to ensure users have the resources necessary to display and analyze geospatial information. GIS resources are powerful not only as display tools, but because they allow users to perform spatial analyses, to examine trends over time to model future scenarios.
The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory and Resource Center at the Galvin Library was developed with the intent of meeting several goals. By creating a lab open to any interested user, the
* Alison Atkins, Electronic Resources Librarian, Paul V. Galvin Library, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Ms. Atkins serves as the Project Team Leader for the GIS Laboratory and Resource Center.
project team hoped to promote public access to and awareness of GIS technology. In doing so, this project would support the LSTA's second long-range goal, of "ensur[ing] all libraries have access to information regardless of format."
Currently, users interested in GIS have very limited resources with which they can experiment. For the general public, access to GIS software, data, and technical support is very difficult. GIS resources are typically found in the workplace or at universities, where potential users unaffiliated with these entities are often unwelcome. Some libraries, such as the St. Louis Public Library, make GIS resources available to their patrons. However, at the time of this grant proposal, none of the 12 Illinois Library Systems offered GIS resources to the public.
The Galvin Library at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) received a Library Services and Technology Act amount of $113,700 from the Illinois State Library to develop a GIS Laboratory and Resource Center within the library. The mission of the lab is to provide GIS resources and training to both the IIT community and the general public, thereby filling the need for public access to GIS technology.
In developing a GIS Lab and Resource Center, the project team also hoped to realize the following secondary goals:
1. Promote the library as a center for emerging technologies, specifically in the area of GIS.
2. Introduce the local and statewide library communities to GIS resources.
3. Provide a centralized coordinated effort for sharing GIS data and expertise among IIT departments and the local GIS community.
4. Provide a model for a library-based GIS initiative in a university setting.
A University Library Setting
With an enrollment of nearly 6,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students, the project team believed IIT would provide a strong initial user base for the new GIS lab. IIT is a research-oriented institution that places high value on applied learning and would benefit immensely from these new technological resources. The project team was confident that the GIS lab and Resource Center at the Galvin Library would be successful for two main reasons. First, as an institution, IIT has a history of supporting research projects and new technologies. Second, the Galvin Library administration is committed to serving its patrons by promoting access to new information technologies.
The university describes itself in the following terms:
The philosophy of supporting innovative research and applied learning as described above is shared not only among the faculty and students but also throughout the institution's most essential departments, including the main campus' Galvin Library.
The Galvin Library sees itself as a visionary institution committed to promoting access to information through new technologies. In the early 1990s, the library's technological resources were meager. The library network consisted of a small cluster of public workstations offering access to a few DOS-based CD-ROMs and the state online catalog. Few staff members had their own computers. In 1995, the Galvin Library established a Network Services department to implement the technological changes necessary to prepare the library for the 21st century and to support the library's strategic plan.
Since that time, the library network infrastructure has grown to include more than 100 nodes. Several servers have been added to support in-house and remote services. Full Internet access is provided to all library workstations, including those in the public area.
As the network infrastructure has grown, so has the Galvin Library's commitment to delivering state-of-the-art digital services to its users. Over the past two years, the library has built a strong Internet presence and implemented a new online public access system, making its complete catalog and digital document libraries available through the Web. Several other document imaging programs have been introduced, including an electronic reserves system and numerous network-based document delivery services. The library offers several other innovative electronic services and is considered and information technology leader among its peers. The project team saw this commitment to electronic access to information resources as an indication that the Galvin Library would welcome the challenges of developing a large-scale GIS lab.
Review of Activities
Once the GIS Laboratory and Resource grant proposal had been approved, the project team immediately began to finalize details of purchasing and designing the lab. The project team leader spent many hours consulting with other GIS lab directors, investigating the benefits and disadvantages of the hardware and software being considered for purchase. During the course of these discussions, she became aware of differences in purchasing philosophies that had developed from unique use needs at the various GIS labs.
The Galvin Library GIS lab, developed as part of the main library's services, has a mission that sets it apart from GIS labs, which are supported by and reside in a particular department, whether academic, corporate, or government. The differences between a library-based and a department-based GIS lab are in the types and scopes of geospatial datasets collected, the brand of software purchased, and the hardware needs of the organization. A department-based GIS lab is, by definition, focused on using GIS resources for particular applications. Therefore, a department of environmental engineering, a consulting firm, and a government agency might all use the same GIS software, but it is highly unlikely that they will be analyzing the same types of datasets or have the same hardware needs.
Conversely, a library-based GIS lab must try to provide as much information and as many different equipment resources as possible in order to support a variety of users and projects. Constrained, as always, by a limited budget, the project team leader opted to purchase GIS resources that could be used by patrons with a variety of different needs and tasks in mind.
In keeping with the philosophy outlined above, the geospatial datasets purchased for the Lab provide basic coverage for the Chicago and Illinois area in the form of aerial photographs, online topographic maps, street network databases, census demographic information, and Illinois land use data.
Dataset acquisitions for the GIS lab include:
There are many types of GIS software developed and sold by a variety of vendors. The project team leader chose to purchase two software packages called Arc View and ARC/INFO from a GIS software industry leader, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI). The two software packages differ in scope, complexity, and price and serve complementary purposes. Based on her GIS knowledge and experience, the project team leader believes ESRI software to be the most widely recognized and used GIS applications in the industry.
ESRI sponsors an annual software user conferences to which more than 8,000 people now attend. ESRI is also very generous to libraries and universities, offering software, datasets, books, and training sessions at a very reduced rate (about 40 percent of the retail cost). As many users of the lab are new to the GIS community, the project team leader believed it to be important to train them on software packages they are likely to encounter in other GIS environments. For all these reasons, the project team leader believed ESRI software should be acquired for the GIS lab and Resource Center.
During the course of grant writing, the project team leader spent many hours in discussions with other GIS lab managers, reading reviews, and following list serve discussions on equipment to help her determine which products to purchase. While making hardware deci-
sions, the project team had to keep in mind the mission of the lab: to provide a research and training facility to users from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of experience in using GIS resources. The equipment purchased for the lab was intended to provide users with a broad spectrum of GIS tools and GPS (global positioning system) receivers.
Equipment purchases include:
Lab construction began immediately after the LSTA funds were granted. The project team had hoped to house the GIS lab in a large Bibliographic Instruction/Computer Lab. However, as funds for this larger project have not yet been secured, it was decided to create a temporary lab in one of the Galvin Library rooms, which was then housing an archives exhibit. The Galvin Library is an open-air building with very few enclosed rooms outside of the staff office area. It was necessary to house the lab in a room with a door that could be locked in order to protect the equipment inside. Some of the equipment purchased for the lab is worth more than $10,000. The project team decided that these resources could better serve the public if they were secured nightly.
Therefore, the lab is currently housed in a 10' x 14' room, easily accessible to the public. One wall is made of glass, allowing passers-by to look in at the researchers and students doing their work. This promotes interest in the lab from library patrons who might not be aware these resources exist at IIT.
The room intended to house the lab was renovated in order to make it usable. The Galvin Library paid for new carpeting, painting, electrical work, and the installation of computer workspaces, chairs, bulletin boards, and bookshelves. The lab now houses the majority of the GIS equipment in a comfortable atmosphere. Two large pieces of equipment, the 3' x 4' digitizing board and the large-format color plotter, are too big to be housed in the current lab. The digitizing board is currently located in the Network Services work area, available to patron use by appointment. The color plotter resides in the references area, which serves two purposes. First, it promotes exposure of GIS resources to
patrons who might frequent the reference area but not the area in the library where the GIS lab is located. Second, locating the plotter next to the reference desk ensures that there will always be staff supervision of this resource.
The GIS lab opened for public use in August 1998. Currently, two student assistants staff the lab and assist patrons when necessary. It is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 6-9 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weekend hours are 1-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2-6 p.m. on Sundays
GIS are complex systems that frequently change through software and hardware upgrades. To stay current with the technology, it is important that library professionals directly involved with the public are given continued professional development in this area.
Staff training has taken place on several levels. The project team leader has received the majority of the training, as she is the most frequent point of contact between the GIS lab, its resources, and the public. By the culmination of the grant, the project team leader will have attended the following workshops, sponsored by the GIS software vendor, ESRI:
The Galvin Library is committed to professional development and the philosophy of cross-training its staff to ensure that no service be dependent on one individual. To fulfill this goal and to develop further GIS experience among Galvin Library staff, three reference librarians have also received additional GIS training at outside teaching facilities (including Introduction to Arc View and Advanced Arc View).
All reference librarians and professional Access Services staff have also attended introductory GIS and GPS (global positioning systems) workshops taught by the project team leader.
The GIS lab currently employs two student lab assistants, who have attended the in-house workshops and independently worked through GIS tutorials.
The project team realizes the necessity of having professional and permanent staff trained in using GIS resources. Through cross-training and continued professional development in the area of GIS, the Galvin Library hopes to prepare librarians and lab assistants to assist GIS users whenever possible. Although it is unlikely that everyone who is trained will actually assist users of GIS resources, it is important that all staff members who have contact with the public be informed regarding the uses of GIS technology to be able to refer patrons to the lab when appropriate.
The Galvin Library is an academic library, whose most frequent patrons are students, faculty, and staff from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Because this community is extremely high-tech and applications-oriented, the project team decided this would be a good community to initially target. E-mail and flyers were sent to all graduate students and faculty member of the departments thought to be most likely to use GIS resources: Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Civil and Architectural Engineering.
Publicity efforts to target the rest of the IIT community were made by including a news brief in the university's weekly bulletin, Contact. The project team leader is currently in process of contacting department chairmen and scheduling GIS presentations at upcoming faculty meetings. It is important that the whole of the university community, including staff and administration, be aware of the new resources available at the GIS lab. Personal recommendations of the lab continue to be the best advertising. The more people who know about the lab and understand how GIS analysis works, the greater the chance that they will spread their knowledge to others.
Reaching outside the IIT university community, the project team targeted librarians from the 12 regional Illinois library systems. Faxes were sent to all library system directors asking them to include a description of the new lab and its resources in upcoming newsletters. Over the course of the next year, the project team intends to sponsor training workshops for librarians at statewide association meetings.
One discovery made during the first few months of publicizing the lab is that advertising GIS resources and services is only effective for patrons who have some knowledge of how GIS can be used. It is unlikely that students, professors, or librarians who are unaware of the power of GIS technologies would ever think to recommend a patron to visit our lab. The project team plans to spend a significant amount of time over the next year developing training opportunities for
librarians in the local and state communities. By educating other colleagues, the project team leader hopes to encourage use of these new resources.
Workshops and Presentations
One of the most effective ways to encouraging use of the lab has been to offer workshops in GIS and GPS. These workshops bring interested parties into the library and the lab who then gain experience in using the GIS resources. Often, the attendees of these workshops have no prior experience with GIS, but once educated in the various applications of GIS, find a use for the resources in their classwork or research projects.
Since the beginning of September, the project team leader has held six GIS and three GPS workshops for approximately 50 attendees.
Introduction to Geographic Information Systems and CIS Resources at the Galvin Library
The majority of workshops attendees have been students at IIT, although numerous faculty have also attended as well as a few persons not affiliated with the university.
The project team leader has also given presentations for a class on Environmental Management at the Stuart School of Business and at a local Sigma Xi conference hosted at IIT and attended by more than 50 participants. This type of publicity effort is very effective in promoting the GIS lab to members of the community outside the university.
Geographic Information Systems and their Applications to Environmental Decision-Making; Sigma Xi Sustainable Development Forum: "The Ganges River and the Pollution Problem," Nov. 7, 1998.
The project team is currently developing relationships with outside partners that will provide IIT students with the opportunity to gain GIS experience in corporations and government agencies. Currently, one student is gaining academic credit for the GIS work he is doing in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The U.S. EPA is also providing data for case studies to be used in upcoming classes at IIT. The project team leader is working with faculty to involve the GIS lab as a key component in classes in civil and environmental engineering. The team leader will also be used in a special projects class that will help institute a GIS in a Chicago suburb.
The project team leader has attended three conferences over the course of the grant period. The conferences provide extensive training in GIS and GPS tools and applications, as well as an opportunity to network with other members of the GIS community, and to advertise the new GIS lab at the Galvin Library.
Illinois GIS Association (ILGISA) Meeting;
Champaign, IL. April, 1998.
Strengths of the Project
The implementation of the GIS Laboratory and Resource Center has had a profound effect on how the Galvin Library sees itself and the services it provides to the IIT community and the public. The GIS lab has had many positive effects on the Galvin Library, IIT, and its relations with the local community. The project team feels they have successfully fulfilled many of the goals set forth in the grant proposal. First, housing the GIS lab at the Galvin Library promoted the library as a center for emerging technologies at a high-tech university. Many students and faculty members have benefited from the workshops held at the lab and have found ways in which to use GIS technology to enhance their research. The presence of the GIS lab within the library has also encouraged students and faculty who normally do not make use of library resources, to at least enter the library and see what new resources are now available.
The presence of the lab and its resources is also having an impact on the courses being taught at IIT. Many professors and students who realize the importance of GIS resources have asked to use the lab as a resource for upcoming classes. The project team leader will be working with three professors over the next year to
incorporate GIS resources into classes in chemistry, environmental engineering, and civil engineering.
Implementing this LSTA grant has been very educational, not only for the students and faculty who are making use of these resources for the first time, but for the project team as well. To our surprise, one of the most enthusiastic GIS users at IIT has been the university administration. This group of users plan to use GIS to help determine distance learning sites for IIT students who live in the Chicago suburbs.
The project team leader feels that the numerous presentations and workshops she has given had helped promote the GIS lab and its resources. By attending GIS conferences at the state and national levels, she has made numerous contacts in the field. These contacts have been used as invaluable resources when purchasing equipment, software, and datasets and have, in some cases, provided more substantial contributions in the form of work opportunities for IIT students.
Creating a library-based GIS lab has been an educational experience in itself. The project team feels they have been successful in cultivating relationships with faculty from various departments who support the work being accomplished by the lab. The Galvin Library sees itself as a model for other university libraries that are considering an investment into GIS resources. One of the lessons learned in this process, is that the creation of the lab is only the first step providing GIS access. One of the crucial tasks is developing positive relationships with potential patrons, and outside partners. Libraries should embrace GIS resources, but realize their implementation requires a significant investment in staff time and financial resources.
While building the GIS lab and its resources, the project team became aware of the various areas in which project development could improve. These realizations are not viewed as shortcomings, but as challenges yet to be fulfilled. Those areas needing further attention are described below.
The GIS Laboratory and Resource Center has been steadily growing in use. However, the vast majority of users of the lab are IIT students. There may be several possible reasons for this situation. First, GIS tools are not simple to grasp, and are mainly used for projects that involve a significant investment in time either in procuring data, determining a procedure for analysis, or creating a final map product. There may not be such a thing as a typical GIS project, but many projects involve at least several hours of work on the part of the user. It is, therefore, less likely that library patrons will make use of GIS tools on an impulsive basis. Most users of these resources have a particular outcome in mind when they come into the lab.
Second, the location of GIS lab in a university setting may be too intimidating for users from the general public. The project team is considering holding GIS workshops in other settings, perhaps through public libraries to educate users outside of the university setting and encourage their use of the resources available at IIT.
Third, the lack of use by members of the outside community may be a reflection on the time constraints of the project team leader. The project team realizes there is a need to intensify efforts to publicize our resources to the general public. Acquiring an additional staff member dedicated to developing GIS programs at IIT and in the community would certainly increase the time the project team leader could spend on outreach and publicity.
The project team has also realized there is a lack of means to provide access to non-local users. In dealing with information resources, librarians know that speed of information delivery is key to user satisfaction. The GIS lab staff would like to increase outreach to the community of potential GIS users by implementing GIS applications over the Web through an Internet Map Server. Through this kind of technology, the lab could directly share its resources, datasets, and tutorials with interested users both state and nationwide.
Another remaining challenge is the development of the GIS Coordinating Committee. The delay in the organization of this committee is due, in part, to time limitations on the part of the project team leader and the delay in hardware deliveries causing the postponed opening of the lab.
We are very proud of our efforts thus far and are excited by the prospect of what lies ahead. Our greatest remaining challenge is the development of a statewide community of users for our resources. This goal will be fulfilled through intensifying publicity efforts and continuing to offer GIS training. The workshops now offered at the Galvin Library continue to increase the growing patron base of GIS users. As most current users of GIS technology probably learned about GIS resources through school or work, it is highly likely that GIS resources already exist in those
workplaces or institutions to serve those users' needs. Therefore, our primary target audience are those patrons with potential uses for GIS technology who have little or no experience using the resources.
To encourage these patrons into the Galvin Library, the project team must also educate librarians in the 12 regional Illinois library systems. If librarians around the state are unfamiliar with GIS technology and its applications, it is unlikely that they would remember, much less promote, the GIS lab to their patrons. To further this effort, the project team leader intends to develop training workshops for librarians as well as the general public and offer those workshops at statewide library association meetings. The tutorials will also be available in digital format through the Galvin Library GIS Web page at http://www.gl.iit.edu/GIS/.
In the grant proposal, the project team leader indicated an intention to increase data sharing on the state and national levels by putting datasets on a Web server to be downloaded by interested users. During the grant duration, we have discovered that users want more than the datasets online. Interested GIS users desire the ability to use GIS applications over the Web, to take data that we provide and be able to change its look or display new variables. The technology to develop online GIS applications currently exists. One of our goals for continued development of the lab is to provide remote access to GIS applications through an Internet Map Server. Implementing this technology would allow any user with an Internet connection access to GIS resources and datasets available in our lab.
There are at least a few public libraries that are providing GIS resources to their patrons, such as the St. Louis Public Library. It would be beneficial to meet with the coordinators of this effort to discuss the similarities and differences between providing access to GIS resources in two different library environments. It is also important to discuss with other GIS lab directors in university settings, the corporate world, federal, state and municipal offices, under what timeline their resources developed and what obstacles they faced along the way.
The project team feels that the GIS Laboratory and Resource Center has been a great success in the few months since its opening. There are many goals yet left to achieve, and the creation of the lab is only the beginning of the services to be offered over the next several years.
In developing the GIS lab, several things have been realized along the way. Primarily, the project team has realized that the process of implementing a new service, such as GIS involved much more than constructing the physical lab and equipping it with the latest in hardware and software. There is much to be done in the way of educating patrons about GIS, both what it is and how it may be useful from any walk of life. A second realization is that there may exist users in the public sphere who are aware of GIS technology but unaware that it exists in a public forum such as the Galvin Library. GIS resources can only be useful if patrons are aware they exist. Therefore, in order to reach out to the local community, the project team must also educate librarians in the public sector, as well as civil servants who deal with public information needs on a daily basis.
GIS technology is a valuable tool for displaying and analyzing information. As more and more teachers, librarians, and other promoters of information access and retrieval become aware of these resources, we will see still another change in how information in our society is used to educate and inform us.
For more GIS information, access the library's Web site at http ://www.gl.iit.edu/GIS/.
The project team at the Galvin Library would like to thank the Illinois State Library for its generosity in supporting our proposal to develop the GIS Laboratory and Resource Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology. We would also like to thank the staff of the Galvin Library (especially the Network Services Department) and the Illinois Institute of Technology who have supported our efforts.
1 "On the Map," Telephony, v.232, no.22, p.200.