There’s nothing like a good Iggy and the Stooges reference to get you pumped about geographic information systems (or GIS) in libraries. According to the clever folks at Wikipedia, GIS “is a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data.” Intimidating, right? Not so, says Anne Morrow, the Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Marriott Library; instead, she describes it as “easy.”
Anne partners with Justin Sorensen, a GIS Specialist, to develop projects like the Historical GIS of Salt Lake City, which takes diverse sources of data, such as base maps, photographs, census data, chemical data, and survey data about surface water in the Salt Lake Valley and inserts that information into Google Earth in order to allow users to explore and evaluate (among other things) the historical, environmental, and health impacts of, say, chemical exposure to specific locations around SLC.
Homeowners, according to the group’s Salt Lake City Geoportal site, “can also view demographics for their neighborhood to learn more about the history of the community they live in. For some homeowners, there will be much interest in examining EPA graphics for chemical contamination. Learning the nature and proximity of the chemical contamination, what it means to them and their community.” And that’s just one of the many potential uses for these data sets and primary source materials in a GIS environment.
Justin is also in the process of developing an interactive 3D reconstruction of Salt Lake City, referring to a collection of 1950s Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for information on building names, addresses, composition, and height.
The good news, you guys, is that this is only a tiny preview. You can expect to hear more about these and other GIS projects that are in the works at the Marriott Library in the very near future. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming interview with Anne for the Evil Librarians Podcast. Not only will she reassure you about the ease of use of GIS technologies, she’ll also tell you some great stories. Because, really, that’s what GIS is all about–taking data and turning it into narrative.