Maps are everywhere. People use them on a daily basis whether it is to see where traffic has stopped on major highways or using Google Earth to visit some far off country in the comfort of their own home. What most people don’t know is that they are using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, a mapping tool. GIS is taking textual information and displaying it in a visual format. Eva Dodsworth, the geospatial data services librarian at the University of Waterloo has written a new book entitled “Getting Started with GIS: a LITA Guide” that describes the technology behind mapping applications such as the Region of Waterloo Locator, and Google Maps, Google Earth, and many others.
“Twenty-five years ago you could have a mapping software program on your computer and it would have been a hardcore GIS program that only computer programmers were capable of using,” explained the St. Clements woman. “The problem is people assume that still to be the case today, believing GIS is about complex maps and analysis but it has changed and people are using Google Earth and Google Maps and are inputting their own local knowledge onto public map databases without realizing they are using GIS.”
Dodsworth’s book provides the basics of what GIS is and is comprised of hands-on guides providing readers with the tools of how to learn and map online to the point where you can get your own application and put it online and use GIS for analysis.
“We are using maps in every single thing we do; children, students and adults are using it, and the book is filled with examples of how society is using it in great numbers. There are 600 million users on Google Earth – there are fewer Facebook users.”
The book was written for library use, public, academic and special-interest. Many public libraries have fun events like geocaching that allow the public to get familiar with their community, but they’re also using geographic technologies like GPS units that tie into GIS, said Dodsworth.
She began teaching a few courses at library schools and wanted to get all librarians familiar with GIS. There was no textbook available so she wrote her own and began to train other librarians at the University of Waterloo.
“I tried to teach the concept that GIS is not difficult; we are already using it with out us even knowing we are using it.”
Dodsworth said people are becoming more interested in geography and learning about places. They’re now using geography for the basis of searching on Google.
“It is very interesting: we can use Google Earth and zoom into an area and add a little pushpin and link in a resource either from the library or your own images or videos of that place,” said Dodsworth. “With maps, you have the aspect of finding information that you can’t see in a text format – it allows you to see information visually.”
There are numerous business programs that run using GIS technology, including Simply Map, a database that shows census information, which is easier to analyze if there is a visual component. It shows where employment is and the distribution of income.
“It is great for anyone interested in creating a new retail location and they are interested in finding all the retail locations of a certain area, not by going through the Yellow Pages, which would take too long, but to visualize where they are by looking at a map and seeing where all the retail locations are, including any competition.”
Using a mapping system gives the user a sense of scale to an area or neighbourhoods, how many people live there and the demographic distribution of the neighbourhoods. It can give someone who may be thinking of starting a new retail venture information about their business and how successful it will or will not be.
“People feel that you need to be specialized to do GIS and it does help to have some skills or experience but my feeling is with all these online tools, these are resources for community users. GIS can be found everywhere, including social technology with maps and GIS interwoven into most social media.”
The official book launch is open to the public will be held at the University of Waterloo on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. in the Laurel Room, South Campus Hall. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 10 if you’re interested in attending