Digital Learning Center

What is a GIS Lab and Why is it in My Library?

By Guest Blogger Danielle Trierweiler

Sometime between the Spring Semester and Fall, a new space worked its way into the Hilltop’s beloved Schewe Library: enter the Geospatial Information Systems or GIS Lab.

The GIS Lab arrives at the library in pursuit of the same mission that the Digital Learning Center or DLC initiated roughly a year ago: get students and faculty access to the digital tools and software they need to explore, interrogate, and produce digital projects. As the Digital Services Librarian, I am biased, but these 4 seats to Esri ArcGIS Desktop 10.3 , an industrial-strength mapping tool, are pretty exciting. Here’s why:

Newly finished GIS Lab April 2015

Newly finished GIS Lab @ Illinois College Schewe Library April,  2015

  • Visualizing and sharing data such as population distribution or regional income
  • Mapping definitive routes (such as a river or highway) or more rapidly changing phenomena (like cloud cover or water toxicity)
  • Collaborating with other GIS data producers, analysts, and curators to reveal findings otherwise impossible to view
  • Data management is a large part of GIS, since the attractive map visualizations are comprised of an aggregation of one or more data sources.
  • Using GIS will boost your vocabulary (raster data anyone?) and technical awareness (I get .PDF, but what exactly is a .shp- shapefile?!)

Understanding what GIS is broadly and being able using it the way you want to use it does take some time. Like any skill or sport, it is what you put into it- practice (and time) makes perfect. I can verify that in only a few months of viewing online videos and using textbooks and courses that provide dummy-data to complete basic exercises, I am fascinated by GIS and enjoy looking for new open data sources to map.

About a year ago, Outreach Librarian, Luke Beatty mused on the then-prospect GIS in Schewe back when it was only a sparkle in the Library Director’s eye: “Personally, I’d like to see a GIS-lite tool with a focus on demographic, business, or social data.” he wrote. Sorry Luke! ArcGIS can handle spatial analysis for all of these, but it is strictly BYOD (Bring [downloand] Your Own Data!) Not necessarily a bad thing, but ArcGIS users, especially ArcGIS desktop users should be up for the management challenges that comes with freedom to structure and customize your data.

To help get you started understanding and using the GIS Resources available to the IC campus, check out the *NEW* GIS page on the Schewe Library website or visit the lab next time you’re in the library to see for yourself.

I’d like to close this entry with one of my personal favorite video Overviews of GIS  *not* found on the library website: a rather long but solid overview published, created, and produced by Mr. Jere Folgert, owner and trainer of an online professional GIS training firm, http://www.KnowGIS.com: here is his Introduction to Cartography and Making Maps with ArcGIS Desktop 10X

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Welcome Schewe’s Newest Librarian: Danielle Trierweiler

Hello!

My name is Danielle Trierweiler and I am the new Digital Services Librarian at IC’s Schewe Library. In January 2015, I moved cross-country from Seattle, Washington, the land of coffee and moisture where I graduated from the Masters of Library and Information Science program at the University of Washington. I have a 7-month old miniature dachshund puppy, Monty, and when I’m not playing with him I enjoy running, cooking, listening to music, and reading.

I am still pretty new to the IC campus and the greater Jacksonville area- so far I am digging the newly re-opened Soap Co. Coffeehouse and its adjoining Our Town Bookstore! Seeing the sun during winter, somewhat of a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, is nice too 😉

What does a digital services librarian do?

To the untrained eye, I sit at a desk with headphones, staring at my computer while I chug coffee. True.

 I also:

  • Offer information management consultation and project management as needed to students, faculty, and staff
  • Keep current on emerging trends in information and digital technology especially regarding libraries, higher education, and scholarly communications
  • Manage electronic databases, journals, and media (electronic/e-resources) to sustain digital access: this includes any digital scholarly content that might help you conduct research for classes
  • Assess how new e-resources, technologies, and digital content might best meet IC’s scholarly needs and advise in selection
  • Ensure the continuous development of the library’s digital initiatives by seeking grant funding sources
  • Participate in live, or view recorded instructional webinars on a variety of library tech and information literacy topics and attend relevant professional conferences
  • Collaborate with fellow library staff to prepare instructional materials and deliver the best possible library user experience…

and these are just a few aspects of my job! I am thrilled to be at Schewe.

Next time you are in at the library, take a moment to stop my first floor desk (behind the display case), and say hello 🙂 I look forward to seeing what kind of digital scholarship you are interested in, helping you troubleshoot, and most of all, meeting you!

Digital Learning Center (DLC) First Projects

Though we haven’t officially opened our still-being-built Digital Learning Center, the equipment we have in place has allowed Schewe to help out a couple of “earlybird” classes with their projects.  The first of these classes — Political Science 375 — completed a “get out to vote” commercial today, and the results were fantastic!  With four groups in the class, each group produced a video using shot footage, Audacity, Camtasia, and a variety of other tools.  Over the course of four, thirty-minute sessions, the group was trained on how to record audio, cut footage, and add effects to a video.  Once those initial sessions were complete, additional help was provided by Schewe’s Outreach Librarian, Luke Beatty (me!).  For the inaugural DLC project, it was a remarkably smooth ride.  There were, however, a few issues.

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Audio looks like it will be a persistent issue with the DLC.  Switching the audio between microphones, headphones, and multiple screens has proven a challenge already.  Though consistent documentation will help, the process is unintuitive.  We’ve got IT working on a simplifying solution, but in the meantime, the students are left to navigate the issue on their own.  The recording of audio has also proved problematic, as we’ve had a lot of background noise in the recordings thus far.  This poor recording quality is resultant from the fact that we haven’t yet carved out a quiet space for recordings, and may also have something to do with the microphones we’re currently using (not fantastic, not poor — just a mid-line product).

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We have also had some issues arising from our use of a double-screen setup.  We currently have two multimedia production machines, each of which is using a double screen setup.  While this setup has a certain visual appeal, the double screen configuration has led to a variety of mouse problems and general settings malaise.  We are considering doing away with the double screen setup and instead purchasing two production-quality Macs, which would then leave us with four great computers and one screen for each computer.  Thoughts?

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GIS

If variety is the spice of life, it is no less the spice of working in a small, academic library.  Sure, you have your specialities, but by virtue of size, life in a small library obliges you to do a little of everything.  This is usually a good thing, but can occasionally cause problems.  Case in point: Schewe is looking to add geographic information systems (GIS) programming into our portfolio.  We’re hoping to tie a GIS software package into our new Digital Learning Center, and in addition to providing computers and software, we’d also like to offer some dedicated(ish) Librarian support for the venture.  Sounds good, right?

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Sure, save that GIS is a complicated business.  The learning curves are steep, the time commitment is sizeable, and the material under consideration can be a little esoteric.  This has lead to GIS getting a bit of a reputation in the library community — the whole enterprise is considered difficult, unwieldy, and usually requires its own dedicated position (GIS/Data/Map Librarian).  Furthermore, those dedicated positions are in high demand and low supply — even big salaries haven’t pushed new librarians down the GIS path.  So, even by the standards of specialized library services, GIS is a thorny business, and Schewe is by no means big enough to simply throw a new hire at the issue.

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How then will Schewe handle its GIS expansion.  Carefully, and most carefully when it comes to our initial software selection(s).  As an institution without a Geography program proper, we can hopefully avoid some of the more complex options on the market (i.e. those dealing with specialized geographic analysis or hardcore mapmaking).  Personally, I’d like to see a GIS-lite tool with a focus on demographic, business, or social data.  Those would seem to meet our needs most precisely, but we’ll see how things shake out.  Stay tuned…

Construction!

Though we’d sometimes have you think differently, libraries are very much the quiet and contemplative places you imagine them to be.  True, the past couple of decades have seen libraries getting louder, but for communal spaces, we’ve still got a remarkably quiet vibe around us.  Much in keeping with this, Schewe is typically quiet during the summer; our students are gone, the faculty are off on research forays, and the staff are busy maintaining campus.  This summer, however, Schewe is sporting two separate construction projects, both of which are adding some decibels to the otherwise somnolent air of the place.

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The first project involves a renovation and relocation of the Illinois College Archives and Iver F. Yeager Special Collections (soon to be re-named the Khalaf al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College, in honor of a generous donation from Emirati businessman Khalaf al Habtoor).  The Archives will soon live on Schewe’s first floor, and between the drilling, hammering, and sawing you can almost hear that beautiful, archival silence.  But not yet.  For those interested, you can follow the Archives’ reconstruction  at Assistant Professor of History Jenny Barker-Devine’s blog at IC Time Capsule.

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The second construction project underway at Schewe is our Digital Learning Center (DLC).  The DLC is a bold new venture for the Library, and straddles an interesting space between high-technology, production platform, and Library-supported instructional venture.  The DLC will, in the best of worlds, support forward-looking multimedia projects through a combination of state-of-the-art equipment, knowledgeable support workers, and faculty buy-in.  It touches on issues of pedagogy (allowing students to explore new technologies in an active, constructivist manner) and professional preparation (developing digital skills which will be marketable to employers, grad schools, etc.).

With a little luck, both projects should be complete by the Fall, 2014 term.  Fingers crossed!