Interview with Eva Dodsworth

Eva Dodsworth is the Geospatial Data Services Librarian at the University of Waterloo Library, where she works with geospatial data services. Eva is also a part-time instructor at a number of Library and Information Science schools where she teaches users GIS and how to apply GIS technology in library services. We are happy to say that she will be teaching a course on GIS and GeoWeb Technologies for Library Juice Academy next month. Eva agreed to be interviewed here, to give people a better idea of what they will learn in her course, and a bit about her background.

Eva, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking, for those who may only have a vague understanding, what GIS and GeoWeb technologies are?

GIS, or Geographic Information System is the technology that fuels mapping applications, like the GPS in your car, the maps on your phone, and Google Earth for example. GIS technology communicates textual information in a map format, allowing users to easily comprehend, digest and analyze the visual information. GIS technology is available in a wide variety of applications and tools. Traditionally GIS was only available offline, on Windows-based desktop applications, but today, the technology is embedded in online products, applications, webpages, games, catalogs and more. These ‘geoweb’ resources have created a different world for searching, communicating, and information sharing as many Internet users are seeing the benefits of including place names and coordinates in their online explorations.

Ok, very interesting. So what is the role or potential role for librarians with respect to GIS and GeoWeb? And how do you work with in your job?

GIS technology is currently being used by numerous libraries in many different ways. Because library collections all have a geographic location associated with it, library staff are finding innovative ways to use map interfaces to help library users search and access the material. Take special collections, like diaries, postcards, and photographs for example. They are about a place, and can be conveniently discovered using the geographic location as a search term. HistoryPin (www.historypin.com), is an example of this. More and more book publishers are also offering Google Earth files with the texts, to offer virtual tours of the locations discussed in the book. This is very cutting edge!

But besides collection discovery and access, library staff are combining GIS technology with their subject expertise. Fields like anthropology, sociology, history, languages, planning, and geography routinely enjoy visualizing historical landmarks, demographical information, aerial photography and basemaps. There are mapping applications out there for specific subjects and librarians especially in academia can use these in their classroom instruction.

But besides information literacy, many librarians, whether in the public or academic library system, need to have spatial literacy skills to answer some of the questions that are coming in from library clients. How do I find my coordinates? How can I map my next trip? How do I use this mapping application? How do I find historical maps of my ancestor’s town? What did my house use to look like, and what was the street name called back then? Excellent questions, and they can all be answered using a map!

In my current position, I collect GIS files and distribute them to others so they can create custom maps. Many libraries have a mapping unit or geospatial centre where students can go to for assistance with their mapping projects. I use GIS and maps every day, and it gives me great pleasure teaching novice users how to explore and learn with maps.

So it sounds like librarians can benefit from competency in GIS in a number of ways. Would you like to summarize the class? What will it cover and what will librarians be able to do at the end of it?

The class will provide librarians a foundation in spatial literacy and online mapping, with an introduction to a number of GIS-related tools and applications that can be used in research, for projects, webpages, events, assist in library instruction and help answer patron queries. Librarians will learn how Google Earth can be used in research, how ArcGIS Online can create and store maps and data, how to turn a simple table into a map, and as I like to call it, the GIS kit – everything you need to know to get started with GIS mapping. The class is composed of pre-recorded lectures, go-on-your-own tutorials, and virtual classroom discussions. I’d recommend picking up my book, Getting Started with GIS: a LITA Guide, which accompanies the lectures, and can be used as a training manual for when graduates are ready to transfer their knowledge to their colleagues!

Nice way to plug your book! I want to make sure it is clear that it is an optional and not a required text.

I would like to close by asking you a harder question. What do you find especially interesting about GIS and GeoWeb? What drew you to it as a specialization and what about it keeps you going?

The part about GIS and GeoWeb technology that appeals to me is that it’s designed for everybody to use. It’s a communication mode that allows us to visualize information clearly – relationships, and patterns, and it organizes resources in an easy to use interactive way. What I’m most excited about is where this technology is taking us. It has already brought our communities of interest closer together. We have crowd sourcing (or citizen mapping) online projects like bird watching and tracking, public fruit tree identifications, street repair alerts, and so much more that allows citizens to permanently record and share their surroundings.

I was drawn into this mapping world quite by accident. Never being a mapper myself, nor knowing my east from my west, I accepted a position in a Map Library. I had to quickly learn how to read maps, how to use GIS and all the fundamental theories behind both. Infatuated by being able to create a customized map, on any topic I wanted, I thought about how to incorporate this technology across different faculties and subjects. Essentially, I became a GIS spokesperson, trying to convince our library users how maps would benefit their projects and reports. Novelty and passion were clearly driving me to share what I knew. The breakthrough finally came when the web exploded with easier to access and easier-to-use tools. Then my passion was fueled by being able to share these wonderful tools with not only library users, but librarians! Shouldn’t we all have the opportunity to find uses for maps? I regularly keep in touch with students who take my courses and what really keeps me going is seeing the results – the projects they created or even the career change they made! We all want to make a difference.

That’s pretty inspiring! Thanks for the interview. I look forward to your class.

Thank you very much for your time, Rory. I’m really looking forward to this class as well.

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