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Digital Mapping Tools and Resources: Geographic Information and Technologies

Geographic Information Systems

What are the building blocks of a Geographic Information System?

Numerical Algorithms - enable you to assign data to a geographic reference.
Statistics - Data sets are visualized with layers and oriented geographically.

Optimization - The ability to select, filter and orient the GIS to a particular area of research. 

We can help you:

  • Locate, interpret, and visualize GIS maps and data.
  • Incorporate GIS into your project presentations.
  • Develop Community Research.

Adapted from Boland, Maeve A. "Geographic Information Systems." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics, edited by Carl Mitcham, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 856-857. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 26 Sept. 2017

About Geographic Information and Technologies

Identify Geospatial Data Sources

Narrate with Geospatial Visualizations

Explore Historical Maps Sources

Geospatial Training and Careers

Learn More about Geospatial 

Social Explorer

  • Register an Individual Account to save and publish maps.
  • Customize thematic and interactive maps; Navigate current and historical demographic data and surveys;
  • Compose data reports based on historical and modern US census data at all geographic levels 
  • Upload your own data and layer it with demographics.

Get Started with Social Explorer

  1. Click on Maps 
  2. Select Start Now.  You'll see a default map of the United States
  3. Enter a location into the search box.
  4. Pull down Show Data By and change it to your geography (county, place, census tract, etc.). Place refers to both cities and unincorporated areas.
  5. Select the Change Data button
  6. Browse by Category or Survey
    1. Browse by Category (tutorial): Use the slider bar to select a Census year and category.  Not all categories are available for each census year as some questions are added or dropped from survey to survey
    2. Browse by Survey (tutorial): Shows a list of all available data variables by Census year  
  7. Enhance a presentation or "story" by adding multimedia elements.  Click "Tell a Story" in lower right corner.  See the Creating a Project Tab for more information.
  8. Invite Group Members to Collaborate by Share > Email Collaborators.


What is OpenStreetMap?

"OpenStreetMap is built by a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafés, railway stations, and much more, all over the world." 

Get Started with OpenStreetMap

  1. Register to become an editor
  2. Complete editor training
  3. Choose a location and start improving the world's geolocation. 

StoryMaps by ArcGIS

What is ArcGIS StoryMaps?

Get Started with ArcGIS StoryMaps

  1. Visit ArcGIS Story Maps (
  2. Sign Up for an Individual Account using your Gmail.
  3. There are multiple ways to begin your story. Start with an Express Map to build a place-based presentation. Layer in text and images.

TIP: Compile your story content in a simple spreadsheet before building out the StoryMap.

Historical Maps

Typically large-scale maps, dating back to the 1500s, historical maps serve as primary research artifacts.
Fire Insurance Maps cover the United States, Canada, and Mexico from 1800s to the present and About the Sanborn Maps at the Library of Congress


Locating Spatial Data

Locating Spatial Data & Information


• Look in general GIS data repositories
• Search the internet – Include “gis”, or “data” in the search terms AND Search by location and/or topic
• Search for governmental (see below) statistical agencies or open data sites from local to global perspective.
• Contact GIS departments, universities, or researchers in your area of interest.
• Search for articles on your topic and look for the sources of the data.

Global Dataset Search Engines



County and City Data Portals

  • Locate County and Municipal Data on the Web, use search terms, "geospatial" "Open Data" "GIS" plus the municipality name (County, State, or Province) to locate these data repositories.
  • Use translation to navigate pages from local governments often written in different languages.
  • Know that topics including Environment, Business and Economy, Food and Housing, GIS, Infrastructure, Health, Boundaries, Culture and Education are often similar but not standardized. 

Example Collections:

Open Municipal Government Data

Open Government Data initiatives promote "transparency, accountability, and value creation by making government data available to all" ( Evaluate datasets found through open data portals as you would information sources. Máchová, Hub, Lnenicka recommend searchers consider the following criteria when selecting and searching government data:

- Are data sets organized in understandable categories?
- A complete list of datasets.
- Is there someone to contact to request a specific data set.
- Can you search according to category, publisher, format?
- Can you filter data sets in order to limit what you need to extract?
- Can you process data sets in a common structure such as CSV, JSON, or RDF?
- Do you need to register an account in order to access datasets?

Máchová, R., Hub, M., & Lnenicka, M. (2018). Usability evaluation of open data portals: Evaluating data discoverability, accessibility, and reusability from a stakeholders’ perspective. Aslib Journal of Information Management, 70(3), 252-268.

Thematic GIS & Maps

Maps Collections with GIS visual analysis tools

United States



Geospatial Organizations and Standards

Geospatial Professions

Journals on GIS and Geospatial Technology

See Also, related guides...

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