For the last 6-8 months, JISC has been running a specific “geo” related project strand. This has just about finished and Dave Flanders of JISC decided to run a multi-day event to bring together all the project teams for a show and tell type event. This might sound odd, but the event was designed to allow project teams to demo the output from their projects and to encourage discussion on the importance of geo in the education sector. A hugely detailed summary of the event can be found on the GECO blog and i dont intend to recreate that here, rather provide a succinct summary of the first 2 days and add in a couple of my own thoughts.
The day started with a welcome from JISC Project Manager Dave Flanders welcoming the group and giving his thoughts on how the project had gone as a whole. Dave reported that he had been pleased that the projects had delivered so much in such a short period of time. Most projects had something tangible that could be used by others in the HEFE sector and he urged project teams to think about the sustainability of their output. Dave’s quote of the initial session was
“the aim of today is to figure out which products are going to help catalyse the spatial revolution in .ac.uk’s”
The keynote was delivered by Julie Sweetkind-Singer, Assistant Director of Geospatial, Cartographic and Scientific Data & Services, Stanford University. Julie outlines the structure of the library and its associated support services at Stanford. One of the support services was the Branner Earth Science Library GIS services. They have set up a geospatial lab which has 8 powerful computers with big monitors and a variety of specialist software such as ArcGIS, Google Earth Pro and ENVI installed. Users can book a machine and do their spatial analysis on these machines, or request a copy of the software for their own computer. The resource centre also has a geospatial programmer who helps with trickier requests and looks after the backend stuff such as the 4.6 terabyte spatial database. The resource centre aims to:
- support member of the university if they need to use spatial data
- run classes to teach users how to use GIS software and manipulate data
- to provide outreach beyond the university
Training materials are mad available for anyone through a Google Site and they focus mainly on ArcGIS and Google Earth. The support centre is trying to expand to support open source products such as QGIS and R, but resources are limited and the focus is to support members of the university, all of which have access to ArcGIS.
All this sounds pretty sensible, but why is the library involved. Stanford does not have a geography department which meant that there was no natural hub for GIS resources. Setting up the resource centre in the library centralised GIS services and made it visible to all departments across the campus. One of the results of creating this hub was that non-core geo departments saw the potential of spatial data. The Mellon Foundation funded Spatial History Project was set up to investigate historical datasets in a spatial context. The Spatial History Project has expanded its work well beyond historical data and is involved in a range of projects. Perhaps it is now considered the GIS hub of the University.
One of the key messages that Julie seemed to stress was that having dedicated support staff in areas such as training or technical support was very important. These positions needed to endure so that researchers knew that they could call on their knowledge as and when they needed it. One interesting post that Stanford had created was a Digital Humanities Specialist. They worked with researchers to help them create digital data and then supported or advised the research team throughout the project. This removed the barriers that perhaps prevented some researchers making full use of GIS in their research.
Julie finished her presentation by listing the challenges and suggesting the future direction for the GIS Resouce centre.
- demand was huge and increasing each term
- Computer processing and disc storage needed to meet the demand
- GIS was still quite complex and simplifiying it was tricky
- there was a lack of coherence in the teaching of spatial thinking and methodology
- Visulisation and textural analysis
- Expansion of centre to meet demand
- Library/Faculty collaboration to ensure data repositories existed
The Next post will concentrate on the JISC Geo projects and their deliverable.