Saturday, February 04, 2006

GIS4LIB: Supporting Those Who Barely Need GIS

There is a great thread going on over at the GIS4LIB Listserv focusing on what GIS services are offered to support those who barely need GIS.

While this is not the purpose of this thread, the numerous replies from a variety of libraries shine light on this oft-asked question: So what does a GIS Librarian actually do? For example, see the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Geoblog. While metadata, cataloging, and selection are also a major component of many GIS Librarian's responsibilities, this thread does give some insight into the public services aspect.

OK, let's suppose that a 17 year old freshman comes to the library GIS lab needing to create a map showing median household income in their particular county. Let's also suppose that this student knows nothing about GIS beyond Google Earth. This is something that would take me no more than 15 minutes to do for the student. Or, do I require that the student learn the skills and resources necessary to create the map on his own. Not every library has someone on staff who can help with GIS. Would this student then be referred to a professor?

The answers are varied, depending on the resources of the particular library. As one reply within this thread noted,
Some libraries are more in the teaching mode, offering GIS workshops, one-one instruction, and in depth project assistance. I would guess that these libraries have librarians that are actually on par with GIS Technicians and are extremely savvy, devoting the bulk of their day primarily to GIS and/or maps.

But for those libraries that do not have titled 'GIS' librarians, but librarians with many other subject specialties/liaison duties of which GIS is just one very small part, teaching newbies or doing projects for those that just don't want to take the time to learn for themselves is just not practical or feasible.
We definitely aim for the first scenario above here at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.

Here is the original question that prompted this thread and after that I will post my reply (which I just shipped off to the list).
Hello,
I'm curious to hear feedback from the members of this list on how you handle the following situations. We encounter these sort of patrons several times a quarter, so we're interested in finding a better way to meet their needs.

Situation A - A faculty member understands conceptually that GIS can solve many of his needs for a current research project, but he doesn't have the time to learn and operate the software, so he wants to hire someone on campus to do the work for him. Where do you send him?

Situation B - Patron *just* needs to get her study area/sample points on a map for her paper/thesis/etc. She has the lat/lon coordinates of her area (or points). The patron heard that GIS might help her, but is in a hurry and doesn't want to spend extra time learning the GIS software. Do you still direct her to use GIS or are there other, simpler software that might give her the desired results faster and easier?

Situation C - A grad student has a table of addresses he needs to geocode for his professor. He says he doesn't need GIS for anything else. The professor is pressuring him to get it done yesterday because he heard that the GIS software can do it automatically. Do you sit down with him and show him how to geocode in ArcMap? Other ideas?

I look forward to reading your responses. Hopefully we can use this list to help each other provide better services.
Here was my response:
Here is how we would handle the three scenarios.

A.
First, we would discuss the needs of the faculty member to see whether we can handle the request in-house. On a few occasions, this scenario occurred and we found that what the faculty member really needed was within our resources (usually time) to complete. This has helped us to forge extremely strong ties with the faculty. If the project seems interesting, then we always find ways to make time. (Yes, this has gotten me into a lot of trouble, but I learn more from these side projects than in doing anything else. Everything always seems to get done...So far.)

Second, if we cannot handle the request in-house, we would help the faculty member draft a job description and post them around the GIS labs on campus as well as to the university GIS listserv.

B.
If the patron was indeed in a hurry, we would do it for them, but would try to reach for those teachable moments. We would do it for the student, but with them watching and explaining to them the logic of each step of the procedure. We try hard not to do any studentÂ’s work for them without at least them being present and learning at least a tad-bit about GIS. I know that GIS is a lot of fun and I always try to allow students to share my enthusiasm. Often times, there are portions of what they need that can become repetitive enough that we show them once and they are able to complete that portion before asking for our help again. If the patron was a faculty member, then we would be more likely to do it for them. Strong ties with faculty members are essential, while finding those teachable moments with students are essential.

C.
As others have said, the first thing that we would do is to contact the professor so that we can verify exactly what the professor needs (reference interview) so that we can make the professor aware of the many things that GIS and library GIS services can do for them. If the GRA was indeed correct and geocoding is all they need, then we will just run it for them.

3 comments:

GISuser said...

hi... I enjoy your blog.. kudos! FYI, I've added a link back from the GISuser blog see http://gisuser.blogspot.com - I encourage you to look at my blog and please be sure to check out www.GISuser.com for some resources that would be very useful for you and your readers including news, articles, data leads, RFPs and a huge career center (free job posting).. cheers
Glenn

mapz said...

Thanks GISuser!
Of course I subscribe to the RSS feeds for both the GISuser main site and your personal blog as well, as you can see in my blogroll to the right.

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