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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > May 2004
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Vol. 23 No. 5 — May 2004
Promoting Geographic Information System Usage Across Campus
by Shaun Spiegel & JaNae Kinikin

This article focuses on our efforts to implement and promote Geographic Information System (GIS) applications at Weber State University. WSU is a 4-year public institution with two campuses. The main campus is located in the foothills of Ogden, Utah (about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City), and the secondary campus, which opened in fall 2003, is located in neighboring Davis County. The total student enrollment that semester was approximately 18,000. WSU is primarily an undergraduate institution and offers certificate and degree programs in many fields, as well as master's degrees in accounting, business administration, criminal justice, and education. WSU's Stewart Library serves the population at both campuses.

Exactly What Is GIS?

GIS is a type of computer system made of hardware, software, and data that allows the mapping of spatially related layers that have a common geographic component (Badurak, 110). This layering capability allows data to be displayed and analyzed in a graphical form, typically on a map. Data in graphical form often reveals information that is difficult to perceive in a more traditional computer output format, such as charts, tables, or lists. For example, layering demographic data, such as age and income distribution, with the locations of store competitors on a base map, can be used to determine potential sites for new stores.

GIS is an interdisciplinary tool that can be used in all university departments (Johnson and Phoenix, 160). Libraries at smaller colleges and universities tend to be a focal point for students, faculty, and the community, making them appropriate places to conduct GIS research. A small academic library with a simple GIS setup can serve a variety of departments. Some of its applications include criminal justice (crime analysis), marketing (new business site analysis), biology (wildlife population projections), and transportation planning (efficient bus routing). GIS is ideal for managing the large quantities of data available in these and other fields.

Exposing WSU to GIS

I, Shaun Spiegel, am the business and economics librarian at WSU, and was introduced to GIS by my colleague, JaNae Kinikin. Since 2001, JaNae has been actively pursuing a certificate in Geomatics, which is offered through the Department of Geosciences at WSU. Her interest in the topic led me to consider how GIS might be applied in the business disciplines, and how we, as librarians, might promote GIS to the campus community. At present, GIS access is only available to the WSU students who are taking specified geography and geosciences courses. Since the applications of GIS extend far beyond these two disciplines, we felt the library would be an appropriate place to house a GIS lab. Establishing GIS in the library would provide access for everyone, and libraries, particularly those that are government repositories, house a variety of data that can be used in a GIS. An added benefit would be its potential to increase library usage and to raise the library's importance on campus.

To promote the usage of GIS at WSU, the two of us began working with individual departments and faculty members to incorporate GIS into their curricula. We accomplished this using a variety of methods, including workshops, e-mail, newsletters, individual and departmental meetings, and tours of the geosciences department's GIS lab. This process is ongoing, but we have made progress in the nursing, business, criminal justice, and geosciences departments.

In the fall of 2003, the reference department purchased and loaded GIS software on a computer located in the reference area of the Stewart Library. Unfortunately, little effort to promote its usage was undertaken and very few individuals knew about or took advantage of the GIS station's availability. We believed that a dedicated GIS lab, as opposed to a single station loaded with GIS software and other applications, would result in greater exposure and utilization of GIS by the faculty, staff, students, and community. Because many potential users are deterred by the complexity and steep learning curve of GIS software, we also wanted to offer a service to train and assist users with GIS. Ultimately, we hoped to augment awareness of this powerful tool, increase the use of underutilized library resources (e.g., government information), and provide a unique service to our users.

We began by surveying libraries that offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs and some master's degrees (Carnegie Classification, Master's Colleges and Universities I & II) across the U.S. as to their interest, implementation, and utilization of GIS. The results showed that very few (only 22 out of 168) smaller institutions provided GIS services. Even fewer provided instruction on the software. Undaunted by this low number, we pursued additional funding to make utilization of GIS in our library a reality.

We started the funding process by applying for and receiving a Higher Educational Technology Initiative (HETI) grant sponsored by WSU. This grant allowed us to purchase a powerful computer with a lot of memory (necessary for GIS projects), a large-screen monitor (to more easily see detailed maps), and a large-format printer to output the maps. We also purchased census data on CD-ROM that was designed to be used with a GIS system. In addition, the grant money enabled us to enroll in a spring 2002 online course that was offered through the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) titled "Introduction to Successful Marketing Using ArcView 3.x." This course allowed us to improve our skills in using GIS and to gain familiarity with marketing applications.

The primary outcome of the HETI grant was our developing and presenting a workshop designed to introduce business faculty to GIS. Ultimately, we hoped that this knowledge would motivate them to introduce their students to the practical applications of GIS in marketing research.

Market Share, Business, and GIS

GIS applications in the business disciplines are well-known, and we felt that integrating GIS into business coursework would be a logical starting place; therefore, our initial focus was on the business faculty and students. We sent newsletters and e-mails announcing the GIS "lunch and workshop" that JaNae and I offered in October 2003. In this hands-on workshop, we began by providing an introduction to GIS and outlining its characteristics. We then presented examples of how GIS is used in business, with an emphasis on marketing. After lunch, faculty were taken on a tour of the new GIS lab in the library. We spent the second half of the day working with ArcView software, giving attendees a hands-on project to complete during class (Figure 1). We provided handouts that described our service, and allowed time for questions at the end.

The five faculty members who attended were positive in their evaluations of the workshop, and surprised by the detail involved in a GIS project. However, they were somewhat reluctant to include it in their class assignments right away because of the complexity of the software. As a result of this feedback, we decided to introduce the software to students on an individual basis. The first group of students we worked with were those taking an international marketing course. In that class, students are required to complete a marketing plan to promote a product in another country, which requires extensive demographic research. I already meet with many students from this course on an individual basis every semester to help them find this information. Students who made appointments with me during the spring 2004 semester were introduced to GIS and shown how it could enhance their marketing plan presentations. Many of these students were interested in using these maps in their plans, and we are currently working on these projects.

Even though business faculty were, at first, reluctant to formally incorporate GIS into their curriculum, they had no objections to their students using it to enhance their assignments, and were quite impressed with its capabilities. To assess the success of our efforts this semester, I will contact the professor of the international marketing class to get feedback on his students' presentations at the end of this semester.

So far, we have also contacted and met with faculty in nursing, geosciences, and criminal justice, and plan to present similar GIS workshops that would be pertinent to their specific disciplines.

Needles, Nursing, and GIS

Outside the library field, health professionals have been using GIS increasingly to track the status and distribution of health indicators, such as mortality and pregnancy rates. A working knowledge and understanding of GIS is extremely valuable for students in this field. JaNae contacted faculty in the nursing department at WSU to ascertain their interest in GIS and found that the department chair was willing to write a letter of support for a Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA) grant to purchase 2 additional computers and software for the library's GIS lab.

After being notified that the grant was funded, JaNae contacted the nursing department again to find out which faculty members might be interested in using GIS. She was directed to one particular person who was interested in investigating the need for new health clinics in the Ogden area. They talked via phone and met in the library's GIS lab several times to discuss what the faculty member wanted to have mapped. Ogden has higher poverty levels in its city region, and this person was particularly interested in utilizing GIS to map health clinics in the Ogden area. This map would provide her with the necessary information to demonstrate the need for new health clinics in specific locations in Ogden that are presently being underserved. She is also interested in mapping crime, income, single mothers, and their locations to demonstrate where additional nurses will be required in the K-12 educational system.

Catch That Criminal with GIS!

The use of GIS in the criminal justice field is vast. GIS allows the criminal justice and law enforcement workforce to plan for emergency response and to map crime patterns. It helps correctional facilities personnel to determine potential sites, and map inmate populations and equipment to provide safer facilities. It is a critical tool in providing information to emergency response teams while en route to incidents. We have just begun to contact criminal justice faculty members, and this department will be one that we focus heavily on in the near future.

Networking with Geosciences Faculty

Being a student in the geosciences has helped JaNae get to know all of the faculty members in that department. These courses have provided her the additional opportunity of becoming more familiar with GIS and remote sensing applications. She has spoken with a faculty member in that department about creating a GIS teaching laboratory in the library. This laboratory would have several more computers than the library's current lab and would be used to teach GIS to all interested campus departments. The lab that's currently located in the geosciences department would remain, although it would be updated with newer computers.

As stated previously, locating the teaching lab in the library will increase usage and provide more convenient hours of access than would be available in the geosciences department. The current geosciences lab is restricted to those students enrolled in GIS and remote sensing courses, and has very limited hours of operation.

Additional GIS Benefits

In our efforts to promote GIS to various departments on campus, we found that we could also use the software to benefit the library. We are currently working on a "Friends of the Library" project using GIS to create a marketing plan to recruit new members. This project involves mapping where current Friends live and adding census data to determine their general demographic makeup. With this information we can then target potential Friends through mailings.

Challenges and Plans

We have received support from the library administration in our efforts to introduce GIS to the various departments on campus. However, due to a limited budget, we must continue to obtain outside funding to keep implementing and marketing GIS services.

A major potential shortfall of our plan is the lack of library staff who are familiar with GIS. At present, only JaNae has the full range of skills needed to design and complete a project from start to finish, and one librarian cannot handle all of the students working on GIS projects. GIS software is extremely difficult to learn without training. Each project involves a great amount of work that is very complex, time-consuming, and tedious. One example is the geocoding process that assigns a latitude-longitude coordinate to an address, so it can be plotted on a map. In a typical GIS project, you spend a majority of the time gathering and compiling the information for the various layers, and less time analyzing the data and producing the map.

Now that we have contacted these departments, we are currently in the beginning stages of our promotional efforts. To this point, we have focused most of our efforts on contacting individuals from various departments to introduce them to the Geographic Information System and to ascertain their interest. At present, we are seeking additional funding to expand the GIS laboratory located in the library and to improve library staff's skills through additional courses. We have submitted a grant to purchase two additional GIS-dedicated machines and software with the ability to perform more complex analyses. We have also requested a laptop to be used as a teaching tool to enable us to more actively market GIS to individuals outside the library.

Our immediate goal is to continue marketing GIS to the business, health sciences, and criminal justice departments. One of the first steps we'll take to promote the introduction of GIS into their courses will be presenting discipline-specific workshops (similar to the one we designed for the business faculty). These hands-on workshops will introduce faculty to the relevance and importance of GIS in their fields, and will illustrate practical uses in their disciplines. We'll show student projects as examples.

We hope that our professors will begin to more actively incorporate GIS into their curricula, and will begin to request course-integrated instruction sessions that focus on GIS. These sessions will concentrate on how students can work with us to use GIS to enhance their existing projects. Interested students can then set appointments with us to talk about their plans. In these meetings, we will show them what we can do with the software, discuss the image they would like to create, and determine what information they will need to prepare ahead of time.

Our immediate goal is to market GIS to the business, health sciences, and
criminal justice departments.

In the future, we hope that students will learn to work with GIS on their own through face-to-face classes and online tutorials. Students would then be able to apply their knowledge of subject theory (e.g., marketing theory) and principles, and use GIS software to construct a graphical layout as a part of their currently assigned projects (e.g., marketing plans).

We are very optimistic about the future of GIS at the Stewart Library. Having GIS in our building opens an information gateway to data that was previously underutilized including census data, satellite imagery, and local and state data. As our GIS skills improve and as time allows, we will offer additional workshops targeting specific audiences to demonstrate the usefulness of this tool. By the spring of 2005, we hope to reach these new audiences and to increase the use of GIS in our library and beyond.


Badurak, Christopher. "Managing GIS in Academic Libraries." WAML Information Bulletin 31.2 (2000): 110­114.

Johnson, Ann and Michael Phoenix. "GIS Across Campus." ArcUser April-June 2003: 16­17.

Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Further Reading

Audet, Richard H. GIS in Schools. Redlands, CA: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc., 2000.

Cromley, Ellen K. GIS and Public Health. New York: Guilford Press, 2002.

Easa, Said and Yupo Chan. Urban Planning and Development Applications of GIS. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2000.

Harder, Christian. ArcView GIS Means Business. Redlands, CA: Environmental Systems Research Institute, 1997.

Kidner, David B., Gary Higgs, and Sean White. Socio-Economic Applications of Geographic Information Science. London: Taylor & Francis, 2002.

Koontz, C. M. "Understand Census Data to Improve Your Library's Marketing." Marketing Library Services, January/
February 2003: 3­5.

Knowles, Ann Kelly. Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2002.

Landres, Peter B. GIS Applications to Wilderness Management: Potential Uses and Limitations. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2001.

Leipnik, Mark R. and Donald Patrick Albert. GIS in Law Enforcement: Implementation Issues and Case Studies. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2003.

Lyon, John Grimson. GIS for Water Resources and
Watershed Management
. London: Taylor & Francis, 2003.

Millington, A. C., S. J. Walsh, and P. E. Osborne. GIS and Remote Sensing Applications in Biogeography and Ecology. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.

Skidmore, Andrew. Environmental Modelling with GIS and Remote Sensing. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2002.

Wheatley, David. Spatial Technology and Archaeology: The Archaeological Applications of GIS. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2002.



Shaun Spiegel is the business and economics librarian at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She holds an M.L.S. from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. Her e-mail address is Kinikin is the science librarian at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She holds an M.A. in library and information science from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. She has a B.A. in geography and an interest in promoting the utilization of GIS in libraries. Her e-mail is

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