Friday, November 03, 2006

Should Academic Libraries Spend Money on GIS Datasets?

Like most questions in life, the answer is 'it depends'. It depends on the strength of the numerical datasets the library maintains.

Let me explain

Primary Expense is Time (& Expertise)

There are oodles of public data scattered throughout the net. Tracking these data sources down can be challenging and fun, but it requires no funds other than library salaries consumed in their hunt. For example, it took me almost a week to track down, organize, and annotate the numeric and geospatial resources offered by the Dept. Of Housing & Urban Development (see here).

Many locally produced datasets are not publicly accessible, but most local government agencies that create non-public data are very generous when it comes to sharing with academic staff and student researchers. The library expense here is the forging of relationships with these organizations. Again, the only expense is time.

Numerical Datasets

My generous, wonderful library allocates app. $5,000 each year for the acquisition of GIS datasets for purchase.

What the heck do I spend it on? Primarily on numerical (tabular) datasets. Historic Census datasets, business data, crime data, environmental data, economic data, political data, marketing/demographic data...if there is a worthwhile numeric dataset out there, we either have it, I have my eye on it, or I want to hear about it. Now, are these datasets designed with GIS in mind? No, but the real answer is it does not matter.

Which academic departments use these datasets? Business, urban planning, communications, nursing, social work, history, criminal justice, and even the environmental science folks when they want to include population criteria in their research.

I attribute much of the successful outreach of our GIS program to the acquisition of these numeric datasets. GIS is worthless without adequate data sources and the value of the data sources expand exponentially when used within a GIS.

Do All Libraries Need to Purchase This Type of Data for GIS?


Libraries with strong data collections, especially those that have a Data Librarian or perhaps even an entire department devoted to numeric datasets (my mouth waters at the thought) will already have most of the sources I mentioned. If GIS users required additional datasets, these datasets can be purchased without a special line in the budget specifically for GIS materials. At my library, we offer very limited data services beyond myself and our two business librarians, so the GIS dataset budget is extremely vital for acquiring numeric datasets.

A library's target level of GIS services can also influence the decision to purchase these types of datasets. If the primary users are disinterested in quantitative analysis and are focused primarily on geographic features, it might not be necessary to acquire these datasets. (However, I am confident that if these libraries acquired and marketed these datasets for GIS use, a plethora of new users would crop up all over the place.) If the library serves a predominantly undergraduate student body and has a limited budget, then publicly accessible datasets might just have to be sufficient. This was the case in my previous position.

Startup Collection Costs the Most

As with most collections, the initial (startup) expense is the most expensive, especially if the library is starting out from scratch. This was the case when I arrived here a 3.5 years ago. There was a special one-time allotment of app. $10,000 put aside for the acquisition of GIS datasets.

Our startup collection consisted of acquiring data mostly from the following vendors (These are the ones I recollect):
We do not update the numeric datasets annually. Most are updated every 2 to 3 years, so the $5,000 annual budget for datasets is sufficient to both maintain and grow the collection. Although, I am aware that after a couple of years these funds will only be sufficient to maintain. At which time I will ask for an increase...right, right? ;)

So, How Much Money is Needed?

Same as the answer to the first question above. It depends. But the feeling of receiving new data is very much wonderful. Very much.

How much can I spend? As much as you give to me.


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