Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a virtual explosion of geospatial software, services, and tools—that is, software and tools that enable us to easily map people, places, things, and data. Libraries are uniquely poised to take advantage of these new tools to improve operations and decision-making and to engage their patron communities. These software tools are frequently referred to as geographic information systems, or “GIS.”
GIS can be (incredibly) oversimplified to the concept of “digital maps.” Humans have been using maps for thousands of years—we’re “location-aware,” to borrow a phrase from the software industry. Maps are a way to visualize data, much like pie charts or bar graphs—but in the case of maps, we’re visualizing the physical world around us. And even as libraries deliver more services virtually, they remain physical centers of the neighborhoods and cities they serve. And spatial data can help us learn more about the neighborhoods and cities where our libraries are anchored.