3 Things You Didn't Know About the Geographic Information System Librarian

3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Geographic Information System Librarian

As libraries evolve from traditional collections and archives to digital information centers, the role of librarians also evolves to accommodate the changing research needs of patrons. One area experiencing explosive growth is geographic information systems, or GIS. A recent survey by the American Library Association stated that among the nation’s largest map libraries, nearly 80 percent are now offering GIS services.

Among community and academic libraries, the trend is the same. A brief foray into job openings in librarianship shows a sharp increase in positions for GIS librarians and GIS specialists. If you are considering a career in Library Science, here are three things you might not know about the role of the GIS Librarian.

GIS Databases Are Not Text-Based

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Unlike Lexis-Nexis, chemical abstracts, and other databases most librarians currently use, GIS databases are not text-based. GIS databases are organized by data structure, i.e. vector, raster, and GPS numerical data. Understanding GIS databases requires a specific skill set that combines statistical analysis, cartography, and database management.

Those seeking a degree in Library Science who want to explore the unique career opportunities available to GIS librarians need to take the appropriate coursework, either within the framework of the Library Science curriculum or with a secondary concentration in GIS.

GIS Library Services Are Tech-Based

A library claiming to offer GIS services cannot simply provide access to GIS databases. GIS library services also include providing the software necessary to view GIS data, evaluating the accuracy of source data, and assisting users in interpreting the data. GIS library services also include providing the tools and applications necessary for GIS mapping.

The Environmental Systems Research Institute, an international supplier of GIS software and database management tools, offers a good working definition of what constitutes a GIS library: “An organized collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data, and personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.”

GIS Librarians Are Teachers

GIS is a specialized discipline, and many library visitors lack the knowledge necessary to use GIS data. Therefore, a major role of the GIS librarian is instructing and consulting. They must understand which data collections best answer a library user’s information needs and demonstrate how to use GIS tools and software to retrieve and view it.

In addition, acquiring, cataloging, and developing GIS services present unique challenges to the GIS librarian. Verifying data sources, especially in light of increasing open-source movements, is especially important. Implementation of the Federal Geographic Data Committee standard for metadata is also one of the responsibilities of the GIS librarian.

The GIS librarian also acts as a bridge to the Map Library. For example, they work to convert static analog maps into geographically referenced digital maps. The trajectory from paper maps to digital collections is inevitable. Most map publishers are already moving to digital formats; patrons prefer them because they are more powerful and flexible.

GIS is becoming an essential component in academic research. Those considering a career in Library Science with an eye on the future might want to consider specializing in GIS.