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Geotrip: A Guide for People Doing Field Work in the Geosciences: Digital Maps 101

Field guides, maps, and GIS data for researchers, students, and interested academics who do geologic field work.

Table of Contents

> Introduction

Field Guides
> Major Collections of Electronic Field Guides
> Field Guide Search Tips: Dissertations, the Library Catalog, Special Collections
> New Field Guides from Springer

Map Holdings FAQ
> Finding Maps in Orbis
> Geospatial Data
> Extent of Holdings

Digital Maps 101
> Q&A
> GIS Data: New England
> National & International Resources

Printing and Other Services
> Interactive Technologies
> Printing

Dive Into GIS

Colonialism and the Geosciences
> Resources for Inclusive and Just Geosciences
> Books in the Catalog
> How to Search Articles+ for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Content
> How to Search the ProQuest Natural Sciences Collection for EDI Content

An Overview of Using Digital Maps

Why should I use digital map data?

Digital map data, commonly available in ArcGIS-compatible shape files, can be a good tool for exploring your data. With GIS software, you can:

  • Locate commonly-available data sets from different states and countries, including up-to-date elevation contours, bathymetry, terrain, flooding, natural resource management, glacial sediment thickness, soil information, and other geologic data sets.
  • Customize a map using ArcGIS software to meet the unique needs of your course, research group, or personal investigations.
  • Rest assured that maps you use in the field are inexpensively replaceable. Once you save your map in ArcGIS, you can print your customized map to any size you want. Because the data is stored digitally (... unless you've added value to it through marking it up with pen or pencil ...), replacing a damaged map takes as much time as printing any large document.
  • Digitize any hand-drawn notations using a tablet PC or your mouse and the editing tools in ArcGIS.

What is the difference between digital map data and print maps in coverage?

Over the past decade, many countries have shifted from providing print maps to providing GIS data. This means that digital data sources can be more up-to-date than the print maps you currently use.

Historical maps are also part of many digitization programs.

Can digital mapping software replace all print maps?

No. Depending on how you use maps, you may need to reference older print maps to assess areas of rapid change. Some parts of the world do not have robust digital data programs, and it can be more reliable in these cases to use print maps. Additionally, some people prefer the aesthetics or ease of working with print maps. While that can be approximated by printing a map from digital GIS data, becoming comfortable and fluent in GIS software can take time.

What resources can I consult if I want more information on the history of geographic information systems?

Most of our information at the library is focused on helping users with their GIS needs today, including the guide you can reach by clicking on the "Dive Into GIS" tab above. For a historical overview of how GIS systems started displacing maps, here are a few resources.

  • History of Geographic Information Systems (Library of Congress)
  • Data Analysis and GIS Mapping (Butler University)
  • Geospatial Revolution (WPSU Penn State Public Broadcasting and PBS)
  • Cartography: The Ideal and Its History. Matthew H. Edney, 2019, University of Chicago Press.
  • After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century. William Rankin, 2017, University of Chicago Press.
  • GIS: Research Methods. Nick Bearman, 2021, Bloomsbury Academic.

Where can I learn how to use ArcGIS? 

Click on our tab that says "Dive Into GIS." It will redirect you to Miriam Olivares' GIS guide, which includes a calendar. She has created a program of workshops (repeated multiple times each semester) that teach the basics of ArcGIS and geospatial software. While many people can learn ArcGIS on their own, others prefer the workshops because it shows you the capabilities of the software up front.

Science Research Support Librarian

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Kayleigh Bohemier
Please email me or use the Schedule Appointment button. In-person and virtual (Zoom) appointments are both possible. Please note that Science Hill is a 15-minute walk from central campus, and there is a temporary entrance due to construction.

My default ONSITE days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. During the semester (not during breaks!), I am onsite on Thursdays. I am OFFSITE most Mondays.


Marx Science and Social Science Library (formerly called CSSSI)
Office C41
219 Prospect Street
Concourse Level
Kline Biology Tower