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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2005

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[Board accepted]

Follow-up Survey of GIS at Smaller Academic Libraries

JaNae Kinikin
Science Librarian
Weber State University
Ogden, UT

Keith Hench, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Department Chair, Science
Kirkwood Community College
Iowa City, IA

The initial survey of GIS appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of ISTL. -- Editor


A follow-up survey on the implementation and use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in smaller academic libraries (Carnegie Classification Master's Colleges and Universities I & II) (Carnegie Foundation 1997-2003) was distributed to twenty-one libraries identified in a previous survey as using GIS. Eleven of the surveys were returned. Nine libraries have continued offering GIS services and the remaining two have discontinued the service due to lack of use. The majority of respondents stated that GIS is still underutilized and underfunded at their institution.


In Fall 2002 a survey of smaller academic libraries (Carnegie Classification Master's Colleges and Universities I & II) (Carnegie Foundation 1997-2003) was conducted to determine their use and implementation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Due to some concern about the actual success of GIS implementation, a follow-up survey of those libraries which had adopted GIS was conducted Fall 2004. Twenty-one libraries were re-surveyed and of those, eleven surveys were returned (52% return rate).

Discontinuation of GIS Services

Of the eleven libraries which returned the survey, two have discontinued offering GIS services in their libraries. Both libraries that discontinued these services said this was due to lack of use; one library also mentioned that GIS services were offered in two other departments on their campus, so there was no reason to duplicate the effort. The service was staffed by support staff in one of the institutions and by librarians in the other. Neither of these two institutions felt GIS services should still be offered in the library.

Table 1: Length of Time GIS has been Offered
Still Utilizing How long has your library been offering GIS services?
  < 3 years 3-4 years 5-6 years 6+ years
Yes-9 0 1 2 6

GIS Utilization

Of the libraries continuing with GIS services, the majority (8 out of 9) felt that GIS services should still be offered in the library. Only one library felt that the time and expense required was not justified. The majority of the libraries had been offering GIS for more than five years; however, only half reported an increase in use of these services. Those institutions that have not seen an increase reported lack of funding, knowledge, and trained personnel as the most common reasons. The weekly use of GIS was low for most of the libraries with eight reporting fewer than two users per week. Only one library had more than five users per week.

Table 2: GIS Utilization
What is the weekly use of GIS services at your library?
< 1 user 1-2 users 3-4 users 5+ users
4 4   1

Four libraries reported no increase in GIS use for a variety of different reasons including lack of funding (2), lack of knowledge of the availability of GIS services (2), lack of trained personnel (2), and lack of knowledge of the numerous applications of GIS (2). One library reported that GIS is offered through the geography department at their institution which may have affected GIS use at the library.

Levels of Service

On the survey, three levels of service were outlined:

These service levels were described in a paper by Kowal (2002). She noted that high-level service requires that users have a complete understanding of their specific needs. These users must also be computer literate and able to identify the information that they are seeking. A mid-level user must be familiar with the Internet to use the dynamically available GIS resources on the web to pull information to answer specific questions. In this setting the layers available in a GIS project can be turned on and off by the user depending on the information sought. An example of this level of service is the California Digital Atlas (California Department of Fish and Game 2004). Low-level service users are satisfied with static maps that can be accessed via the web using an Internet browser.

The level of GIS service among the libraries varied. Two libraries offered all three levels; however, one of those libraries reported the primary level of service was the use of static maps, while the other stated that their primary level of service was a full GIS setup. Two libraries reported offering static maps with their primary emphasis being web-based GIS applications. One library reported offering both low- and mid-level GIS services. All of the remaining libraries marked only one level of service. Of these, two reported offering static maps via the web, one, web-based applications, and the other a full GIS setup. No correlation was seen between the level of service provided and an increase in utilization. There was a weak correlation between the amount of service provided and the length of time GIS has been offered at the institution, with an increase in service level based on the length of time GIS services have been offered.

Table 3: GIS Level of Service
What level of service is provided to GIS users?*
Static Maps Web-Based GIS Applications1 Full GIS Setup2
7 6 3
*not mutually exclusive, respondents could choose more than one answer
1 GIS applications which require user input available via the web
2Users either with or without assistance from the library staff produced projects using GIS software

GIS Users

Faculty and students are the two primary groups that utilize GIS services. None of the survey respondents reported either staff or community users as a primary user group. GIS is mainly used by faculty for research followed closely by teaching and then for presentations. Staff members are infrequent users of GIS; however, it is sometimes used for admissions marketing and grant writing. Student use of GIS is mainly for class projects. It was noted by the majority of libraries that GIS is not used by community members.

Table 4: Users of GIS Services
Users of GIS Services in the Library
Faculty Research (5)
Teaching (4)
Staff Admissions marketing (1)
Grant writing (1)
Personal research/interest (1)
Continuing education (1)
Students Personal research/interest (1)
Class projects (1)
Theses (1)
Community Users Personal research/interest (2)

All libraries responded that the geography department at their institution uses GIS in the library. Other departments that use GIS include geology, business, natural resources, political science, sociology, engineering, history, agriculture, library science, city & regional planning, and landscape architecture. Geography was the department that the majority of respondents stated as the heaviest user of GIS followed by geology.

Table 5: Academic Department Utilization of GIS
Which of the following academic departments
use GIS services in the library?
Business 3
Engineering 2
Geography 9
Geology 5
Natural Resources 4
Political Science 3
Sociology 2
    Library Science
    City & Regional Planning
    Landscape Architecture


Four libraries reported that they have offered workshops or seminars to inform people outside the library about GIS and its applications. One library reported talking at departmental meetings to generate interest. Another offered a workshop/seminar called "What's Toxic in Your Neighborhood" using Landview software. Another mentioned the formation of a GIS Interest Group which holds irregular meetings and workshops and has a discussion list. A fourth library reported offering a workshop for land records people in county agencies, as well as lunchtime seminars for faculty to introduce them to GIS. There was some correlation between an increase in use of GIS services and the number of seminars/workshops offered. Of the four libraries that have experienced an increase in the use of GIS services, three said they have offered workshops/seminars. There was no correlation between the number of weekly users and workshop/seminar offerings.

Joint Efforts

Five respondents reported about joint efforts between the library and other departments on campus regarding the use of GIS. One stated that they cooperate with others on campus by sharing datasets and accessing data on a central server. Another assists a regional development agency by offering GIS services to county government agencies and the university's administration. Three libraries mentioned working with the geography department in varying ways (i.e., planning/brainstorming sessions, in the purchase of software, coordinating class assignments and datasets). Four libraries reported no cooperation with other departments is occurring.


The majority (7) of libraries reported no increase in funding for GIS services at their institution. If an increase in funding was noted, it was low or sporadic. The primary person in charge of GIS reported by the libraries was the government documents librarian followed by the map librarian. Other individuals listed included reference librarian, data services, collection development coordinator, and architecture & environmental design librarian.

Table 6: GIS Personnel
Primary person specialty
Government documents librarian 4
Map Librarian 2
Reference Librarian 1
Data Services 1
Collection Development Coordinator 1
Architecture & Environmental Design Librarian 1

The majority of libraries (7) also noted no increase in training for GIS personnel. Just two libraries mentioned seminars/workshops and online tutorials available to GIS personnel to assist in learning more about GIS. This lack of training is especially detrimental in the use of GIS, as the software is continually being upgraded.


The hardware provided for GIS services among the libraries varied. The number of computers ranged from just one to fifty. Only one library offered a digitizer, two offered plotters, and two offered scanners. The majority offered just one printer, only one library had two. All libraries, except one which offered only software, had at least one computer and one printer.

Table 7: GIS Hardware
Hardware being used to support GIS services*
  # Units # Libraries # Units # Libraries # Units # Libraries # Units # Libraries # Units # Libraries
Computers 4 1 3 2 4 1 8 1 50 1
Digitizer 1 1
Plotter 1 2
Printer 1 7 2 1
Scanner 1 1 2 1
Server 1 1
Note: One library supplied only the software, no hardware


Weber State University is in its third year of offering GIS services. Over the past semester, we have noticed a considerable increase in the use of the GIS lab, primarily from students from the Geography Department. Additionally, faculty in the Geosciences Department have been proactive in obtaining a campus site license for ArcGIS 9, the newest GIS software available from ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute). This license will allow GIS to be used campus-wide. Funding for this site license came from the College of Science, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Library, Facilities Management, and the Geosciences Department. It is hoped that in the future other departments will discover the many applications of GIS and will contribute to maintain this license.

GIS is an important service that academic libraries can provide to students, staff, and faculty for both research and teaching. However, a successful GIS implementation requires the institution provide sufficient funding for both equipment and software and continual training for personnel. Lack of funding, low utilization, and duplication are the main reasons libraries have closed their GIS labs. Libraries contemplating offering GIS services need to consider the location of the lab and potential sources of funding. It is also important to have a person who will take the responsibility to maintain the GIS laboratory by being accessible when hardware problems occur and to answer questions or offer assistance when GIS users have problems.

The majority of institutions reported that GIS was underutilized at their institution noting that most GIS use was by faculty in either geography or geology for research or teaching. Both the institution and library should encourage the use of GIS across campus. Any discipline that encompasses a spatial dimension can reap the benefits of GIS. Additionally, most institutions reported that they had little or no use by community users. Although it is important to consider the internal use of GIS, the institution and library should find ways to increase GIS use by individuals and businesses in the surrounding communities. GIS is a powerful tool of analysis and more people should be made aware of its capabilities. To spread the word, institutions looking at implementing GIS should consider offering workshops and seminars to educate the community about the many applications of GIS.


California Department of Fish and Game. 2004. California Digital Atlas. [Online]. Available: {} [April 28, 2005].

Carnegie Classification. 1997-2003. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. [Online] Available: {} [Accessed November 2002]

Kowal, K. C. 2002. Tapping the Web for GIS and Mapping Technologies: For All Levels of Libraries and Users. Information Technology and Libraries 21(3): 109-114.

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