Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Position: Maps/GIS Librarian (University of Hawaii)

Maps/Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Services, Government Documents & Maps (University of Hawaii, Manoa)

Hey, want to be a palapala'aina kahu puke??
(This is a map librarian, according to an online translation service.)

This tenure track faculty position has it all for the GIS/map enthusiast librarian. Responsibilities include public service responsiblities (assistance, promotion, instruction) and technical service (cataloging, collection development). The GIS components that are not listed here are server/database technologies and programming/scripting. However, if this position will be putting in substantial hours cataloging maps and GIS data (which I do not), there will not be sufficient time for server and desktop development.

And hey, it's in Hawaii... That's an exotic environment that would be difficult for many Americans in the continental U.S. to pass up.

Here are some snippets:
  • Duties:
    • "Manages and develops the map, aerial photograph, and geospatial data collections."
    • "Provides reference service for maps, aerial photographs, geospatial data, and government documents"
    • "Develops and delivers instruction programs related to maps and geospatial data."
    • "Develops and maintains Government Documents & Maps Department web pages."
    • "Performs cataloging of maps, aerial photographs, and geospatial data sets."

  • Qualifications:
    • "Demonstrated ability to manage and develop cartographic and geospatial data collections."
    • "Knowledge of geographic information systems (e.g., ArcGIS) and digital spatial data and their applications in libraries."
    • "Map cataloging experience."
    • "Knowledge of statistical sources and government information resources."
Salary range is $38,556-$57,078. Isn't it expensive to live in Hawaii?

For those applying, Pomaika`i!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rant: Can't IE & American Factfinder Get Along?

OK, I am sure I am not the only person frustrated by the Census American Factfinder website's use of the automatic download prompt. Ever since Windows XP SP2 was released in August 2004, the enhanced IE security makes it a bit cumbersome, especially for students, to download user-selected detailed tables.

I am sitting here drafting a help guide for students and faculty needing to access Census 2000 datasets, and I need to write about which browser to use? And how to recover your search if you accidentally use IE without the proper settings? It's ridiculous. Absolutely so.

I will do four things below. First, I will describe the problem in a bit more detail. Second, I will point out the two best solutions that I am aware of. (Please, please someone add a comment here if you know of another solution.) Third, I will point out what to do if you accidentally use IE without the proper settings. Fourth, I will tell you how I initially came across this problem.

What is the problem?

I assume most of us working with U.S. demographic data are familiar with American Factfinder. This is the official portal to access most (but not all) available datasets from the 1990 and 2000 decennial Census counts, economic Census, and oodles more goodies.

Now, GIS users predominantly need to access the summary files to extract detailed tables. I am often helping students to access variables for all the 1033 block groups in Tarrant County, TX. After building a query and attempting to download the database compatible results, the browser should immediately prompt users to download the compiled zip file. However, by default Internet Explorer throws its Information Bar at the top of the browser. No problem one would think. Click the Information Bar and select Download File. However, doing so refreshes the entire page, which removes from the query all geographies but the first 10. What?! This is what consistently happens. When users then restart the download (still using IE), only the first 10 geographies from their query are downloaded. I get numerous emails and phone calls from faculty and students who are working outside the library or at home.

Two best solutions

First, use a Mozilla-based browser, such as Firefox, Netscape, or even K-Meleon. Or use Opera. Or Mac users can use Safari. At the time of this writing, I am aware of no browser other than IE that has troubles with Factfinder downloads.

Second, add Factfinder as a trusted site in the IE security settings. This clears the problem right up.

Now, most libraries and labs offer multiple browsers (if not, get on that immediately) so non-IE users need never be aware of this problem. For IE users, Factfinder should be added as a trusted site. So, while in the library or lab, IE users need not be aware of this problem either. But then folks go back to their offices. They go to other labs on campus. They go home. Should they use IE to access Factfinder they will get the Information Bar and be limited to download their first 10 geographies. That's when I get a phone call or an email. (I can't seem to get students or faculty to IM me.)

What to do if you accidentally use IE without proper settings?

If you see the IE Information Bar, do not click it! Once you click the Information Bar to allow the download, all geographies beyond the first 10 are lost. Period. You will need to go back to the Geographies section and reselect your geographies. The good thing is that IE normally will now allow you to directly download the file without the Information Bar popping up because you already gave it permissions.

If you see the Information Bar and realize that you are about to wreck your query, you can do either of the two options listed above. I recommend saving your query as an xql file and loading the query using an alternative browser. Then just remember to avoid IE, especially when using Factfinder. Another option is to immediately go into the IE browser security settings and add Factfinder as a trusted site. This will work immediately as IE does not need to be restarted for changes to take affect.

If you are in a lab or library with only IE and you do not have sufficient permissions to install another browser or to tamper with IE security settings, you are plain out of luck. Sorry.

Why I now use Firefox as my browser

Isn't it always the case that when something breaks it happens in front of a class??

In the Fall 2004 semester, soon after installing SP2 on my laptop, I was invited to give a GIS presentation to an undergraduate advertising class. I was leading them through an exercise similar to the one I discuss here, when that Information Bar popped up in Factfinder. No worries, I tell the class. We click the Information Bar and give permission to download the file. The file downloads. We open the Excel sheet and of course we see just 10 block groups. I tinkered around with IE for a few long, stressful, minutes unsure what had happened. I could not figure out how to resolve it. The students begin to giggle and chatter among themselves as I struggle. As I begin to perspire. My mind is racing. Do I have the students start on another project? I would hate for them to have to immediately break from using Factfinder as it is the main source of official demographics in the U.S. I am trying everything that I can think of and finally I try Netscape Navigator 6, which was on the computer but I doubt it was ever used. It worked. It worked!

I then discovered Firefox and have loved it ever since. For sites that require the IE browser, the IE Tab extension does the trick for me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

GIS Instruction & Learning Outcomes

So, our university is due for a reassessment of our accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). This is a very big deal and we are all investing a lot of time and effort to ensure that we comply with all of the SACS accrediting standards.

The most direct way that this affects me, a bottom feeder in the university's social strata, is a strong push towards measurable student-outcome based learning. (See section 3.4, Educational Programs, of the SACS Accrediting Standards.)

For the quickly approaching Fall 2006 semester, I need to identify and draft learning outcome statements for both my library instruction sessions (GIS workshops and customized class instruction) and the 6 credits I am teaching (Spatial Data Analysis and Advanced Real State Analysis).

What are Learning Outcomes?

Learning outcomes are the expectations of what students will learn/know/accomplish after the class/course. This helps the instructor tell the students exactly what is expected of them. Many instructors focus simply on what they need to cover and do not give enough attention to what the students need to be able to accomplish after the class/course.

The format that I am using is as follows:

  • Context of the lesson
  • Instructor expectations
  • Student learning outcomes tied to expectations
Here is a link to my first attempt at writing a learning outcome. More information about this can be read below.

What do I think about this?

First let's consider time. On the one hand, there is no doubt that this increases the bureaucratic paperwork that I must complete. To do this properly, each library instruction session that I teach will need 1 to 2 hours extra time to complete my preparations. (Let'’s forget about my adjunct courses right now.) Last Spring 2006 semester, I held 20 library GIS instruction sessions and 3 workshops. Most of these are unique and customized for each class/workshop, so let's call it 15 unique classes plus 3 workshops. This comes to an estimated 27 extra hours of work if I spend an extra 1.5 hours on each class. Something has to be cut in order for me to accommodate this extra time. On the other hand, I am told it will get easier as I become more accustomed to writing these up. If I can cut increased development time to 0.5 hours, then there will only be an increase of 9 hours.

Second let's consider the long term benefits. I see this as the most advantageous benefit. It would be great to have a historical archive of these organized learning outcome statements to explore the progression/change of my expectations of student learning over time.

Third, let's consider the measuring/evaluation of these outcomes. No doubt that it is easier to create tests to measure the success of student learning if there is a collection of outcome statements to work from.

Fourth, let'’s consider the effect of writing these outcomes on the effectiveness of the teaching and student learning itself. I intentionally left this last, even though I think many folks would include it first. This is because I firmly believe that I have always taught with a strong focus on student learning. Perhaps this is my own personal hubris, you might suggest. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I think not in this case. This is why the first thing that enters my mind, in the short term, is the time it will take.

Therefore I decide to embrace this style of drafting learning outcomes for the benefit of long-term analysis and to help with measuring the success of actual learning. The short term? Well, I always need something to grumble about, eh?

Enough Talk

Here is the first learning outcomes statement that I drafted. (Actually drafted it this morning.) I used Bloom's Taxonomy to organize my thoughts and to supply the action verbs to correspond to the level of student learning. Be easy on me as this is the first one of these puppies that I drafted.

The scenario for the learning outcomes is a graduate course wanting to know how to integrate Census 2000 data within a GIS project. Students have limited or no experience with GIS. Class held in a GIS lab. Duration is 2 hours. This is a common instruction session that I hold for various social science graduate courses each semester. It was quite difficult to pull together and took me approximately 3 hours. I am still a bit uncertain about the next to last outcome, and perhaps there are too many outcomes, but what the heck, right? Can't spend all day on it.

Also check out the NCGIA GISCC Learning Outcomes Tutorial.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Position: Social Science Data Librarian (University of Southern California)

Social Science Data Librarian, University of Southern California
(Microsoft Word // Zoho Writer)

Sunny, sunny California. Why are there just so many jobs to be had in California? California sure is the place where things happen first. Ideas, culture, bad weather... When we see something happening in California, the rest of the country says oh my goodness...look what's coming our way.

Anyway, this interesting position's main focus is on social science datasets, and a smaller focus on GIS. I believe this is more common than the reverse, which is my situation.

Here are some snippets:
  • "The University of Southern California (USC) is seeking an energetic, creative, and knowledgeable librarian to select, acquire, manage, and deliver statistical data in the social sciences."
  • "The data librarian also will serve as the libraries'’ liaison to USCA's Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Research Laboratory, based in the Department of Geography."
  • Preferred Qualifications: "Experience working in a statistical data lab; familiarity with codebooks; experience with analyzing and interpreting statistical data in the social sciences; knowledge of GIS"
Hiring range $50,000 to $75,000.

Properly Cite GIS & Tabular Datasets

The Statistics Canada: How to Cite Statistics Canada Products is truly a remarkable resource. Do not let the title fool you, however, as this citation wizard will help to create a citation using virtually any GIS or tabular dataset.
This Resource Can Help Cite any GIS or Tabular Dataset
As more and more faculty across campus begin to use and encourage their students to use GIS in their analyses, this question pops up more and more: So, how do I cite this in my paper?...in my thesis?

No sweat, right? Crack open those highly unpleasant MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE style manuals to no avail. In their own convoluted way, these manuals provide bibliographic citation assistance for some materials (for example, books, articles, film, audio, even print maps) but little or no attention is devoted to GIS or tabular datasets. As the Statistics Canada site states, "Citing statistics and data has been a neglected grey area in academic publishing."

As mentioned on the Data Library News Blog at the University of Saskatchewan Library, Statistics Canada recently added this revised How to Cite Statistics Canada Products resource on their website.

Other resources out there to help you to cite GIS & tabular datasets include:
The University of Saskatchewan Library, has a webpage entitled How to Cite Data Files which provides links to the most useful resources.

Monday, July 17, 2006

2005 Second Edition TIGER/Line Files Available

2005 Second Edition TIGER/Line Files:
[ Download ] [ Purchase ]

Contains realigned street feature coordinates

These files are in TIGER/Line format. For those using ESRI software, these can be converted easily into shapefile or feature class format by using the Tiger to Coverage geoprocessing tool.

In June 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau negotiated an 8-year, 200 million+ dollar contract with the Harris Coporation as part of the MAF/TIGER Accuracy Improvement Project to improve the accuracy of the Master Address File of the TIGER/Line street files. (The Harris Corporation is "an international communications and information technology company serving government and commercial markets in more than 150 countries.")

To see a list of the county streetfiles that have been realigned in this 2005 second edition, click here. To see a cumulative list of all county streetfiles that have been realigned since the start of the MAF/TIGER Accuracy Improvement Project, click here.

I have found that the realignment greatly improves geocoding accuracy and match rate.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

GIS/Geography Dissertations: Education & Women

Hoo-boy there are some fantastic PhD dissertations and Master theses written lately. I have been marking so many of them lately that I am starting to organize them into categories. The first two categories that I will list in this post are (1) Education and (2) Women.

These two topics seem to be popular these days among dissertation and theses-writing students. Why education? I think this is a great sign that future secondary and academic teachers are already thinking about GIS education during their studies. Why women and geography? Why not? Gender analysis has always been interesting, but I sure see fewer analysis on men than on women. Anyway, for those interested in women and GIS, see the GIS Lounge.

Previous lists include 11/05, 01/06, 01/06, 04/06


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Geographic Coordinates in MARC Authority Files

According to a message posted on June 30 to the Maps-L list, MARC Proposal 2006-06 was passed to include geographic coordinates within MARC authority records.
This has the potential to be a really big deal.

This proposal was passed by the Machine-Readable Bibliographic Information (MARBI) Committee, the body within the American Library Association who is responsible for developing official ALA positions on MARC (define MARC) record standards.

That sure was a marbled mouthful of words. What does this mean, you ask?? Libraries use a standard format called MARC (Machine Readable Catalog Record) to store bibliographic information (metadata). Authority records are used within the MARC system to provide standardized forms and cross-references for names, subjects, and sometimes titles. When you go to your local public or university library, and hop on a computer to search for a book or article (or map) you are searching the public interface (OPAC) of the library's MARC records.

So what has this to do with you? Why should anyone care whether geographic coordinates can be included within library MARC records?

Well, libraries catalog, index, and organize most of the world's books, journal titles, various special collections and archives, multimedia, artwork, and yes of course maps. Geographic coordinates will embed a geographic tag in all of these items. This will give us three major breakthroughs (as I see it):
  1. Cross-References
    • Cross-references are used to generate see-also references. Imagine the power of a library catalog that can refer users to similar resources based solely on the record's geographic coordinates.
    • This is much more powerful and precise than relying on a controlled vocabulary set, such as the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

  2. Integration With Existing GIS Tools & Geospatial Catalogs
    • This is the most intriguing possibility that set the fire in my belly to write this blog post. Existing geospatial catalogs (such as FGDC metadata catalogs) use decimal degrees as geographic coordinates. If library records also contain geographic coordinates in decimal degrees then these two disparate databases can point to eachother's records (using a see-also) and perhaps even integrating into some sort of single search interface that can search both MARC and GIS metadata simultaneously!

  3. Additional Geographic Access Point
    • Online catalogs may add a new geographic access point (way to search). Imagine being able to search your favorite library's catalog and search for materials by entering a lat/long coordinate? Similar to FGDC metadata catalogs. That's pretty powerful!
    • The MARC Discussion Paper No. 2006-DP01 points out that coordinates are indeed present in note fields (field 670), but that "it would be difficult to utilize the information for a coordinates-based search in the context of the note." Of course, appropriate connections between the bigliographic record and the authority file will have to be made.
Now, I think this is some pretty hot stuff here and am extremely impressed and happy with the work the MARBI folks have accomplished thus far. The message I picked up via the Maps-L list pointed out one major challenge that is still being tackled: What format should the coordinates be stored in the authority records? Here are the pros and cons regarding DDs and DMS as copy/pasted from the message.
Degrees, minutes, seconds format
-Format most often printed on maps
-Familiar to most people
-Easy to quality review
-Format most often used in bib records

-Not format used by GIS search engines

Decimal Degrees
-Format used by GIS search engines
-Can harvest data from GIS tools

-Not as easy to quality review
-Not as familiar a format to the average person
My opinion? Decimal degrees. As is evident from my enthusiasm in breakthrough #2 above, the ability to integrate GIS resources with MARC authority files are very exciting and outweigh any of these cons as listed.

Now, I want to state here that I am not a cataloger and so my understanding of these matters might not be as sophisticated or accurate as professional map catalogers.

Position: Reference/Government Documents Librarian (Laredo, TX)

Reference/Government Documents Librarian - Texas A&M International University

Hey, lookie lookie at this. This is my old job back on the market. Yes, it was in this very position that I was first exposed and learned the basic fundamentals of GIS. After I left Texas A&M International to work exclusively with GIS here at UT Arlington, this guy picked up where I left off, and he's now headed for Purdue.

Let me tell you a little bit about the university and city. Small, new campus, snuggly fit right up on the U.S.-Mexico border. The city and the university are predominantly Hispanic. Find a streetmap...Put your finger on route I-35...Run your finger down to exit 1. This is Laredo, TX. If you miss the exit...well, then make sure you have some pesos on hand.

Because this is a smaller liberal arts campus, the level of GIS assistance required is lower than campuses with strong graduate science programs or extensive GIS or geography programs. That means this position is a fantastic place for a librarian with minimal GIS experience to get that needed experience. It's also a great place to pick up Spanish. For you Labatt-loving Canadians out there, there is even an exciting hockey team in Laredo, the Laredo Bucks. Running across the border is always interesting, but just prepare yourself for the horrific poverty in Nuevo Laredo. It's a few hour trip to Monterrey, however, and that's a fun trip.

OK, enough reminiscing. Here are some snippets:
  • Responsibilities: "Manages federal (32%) and Texas state documents depositories and geographic information systems (GIS) services"
  • Qualifications: "Experience with government documents and/or government information sources. Familiarity with GIS systems."
This is a good entry-level position. The salary is also entry-level, but the extremely low cost of living helps to compensate for that.