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Online in September: The Harvard Geospatial Library

The Office for Information Systems of the Harvard University Library has announced that the Harvard Geospatial Library, an innovative combination of library and analytical laboratory services, is now online. The goal of the Harvard Geospatial Library (HGL), formerly known as "Geodesy," is to enable students, faculty, and other members of the Harvard community to perform meaningful geospatial analyses within the strict time requirements of a problem set, a term paper, or a real-world issue. Once the province of astronomers, land-use planners, and geoscientists, geospatial analysis is an increasingly valued tool in many disciplines, including, but not limited to, economics, the social sciences in general, business and marketing, and engineering. In any discipline concerned with geospatial analysis, the challenges of finding relevant and interesting data, obtaining it in a useable form, using analysis tools, and accessing appropriate computing platforms have all been addressed in the Harvard Geospatial Library.

Improved Access to Geospatial Materials
To improve access to geospatial data, the Harvard Geospatial Library provides a catalog of geospatial materials available to the Harvard community. Though HOLLIS is an excellent starting point for intellectual access to geospatial metadata, HOLLIS cannot provide sufficient data or functionality for GIS—or Geographic Information Systems—analysis. Therefore, the Harvard Geospatial Library provides enhanced metadata and database functions specifically designed for geographic information. Using HGL, researchers can search by geography, metadata terms, or coordinates. Results can be sorted by a variety of options.

Facilitated Access to GIS Datasets
The Harvard Geospatial Library facilitates access to maps and GIS data. Researchers need to see, touch, and use the materials. When objects do exist in electronic format, data will live in the Harvard Geospatial Library repository. Researchers can select the relevant data, create subsets of data, view in dynamically, refine their subsets, and, if authorized, download the data for further analysis. In some cases, objects described in the Harvard Geospatial Library may not be in electronic format. In such cases, users will be directed to the holding library and the call number.

GIS Analysis and Cartography
The Harvard Geospatial Library allows researchers to create meaningful maps. HGL provides a cartography and analysis tool. Using this tool, researchers can render maps with one or more data attributes, modify symbology, and alter color schemes-all functions previously available only with expensive and hard-to-use desktop GIS tools.

Geospatial Data Sets in the HGL
Making interesting, relevant, and useful data available to researchers is one of the primary goals of HGL. The Harvard Map Collection (Harvard College Library) and the Frances Loeb Library (Harvard Design School) determined the most frequently requested geospatial data sets. Staff from both libraries have worked tirelessly to create the metadata and to load the data into the Harvard Geospatial Library. The list of data available at the HGL launch includes:

    ESRI Data & Maps — A global data set that includes geographic features, political boundaries, and demographic data from a number of fully documented sources. Data is more detailed for Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the US. Restricted to use by members of the Harvard community.

    Digital Chart of the World — A set of 1:1,000,000 scale data for the world, including major road and rail networks, hydrologic drainage systems, utility networks, all major airports, elevation contours, coastlines, international boundaries, and populated places.

    Census TIGER 2000 — The current release of the TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system) data from the Census Bureau. TIGER is a digital database of geographic features, political boundaries, and census boundaries covering the entire United States. It was developed to support the mapping and related geographic activities required by the decennial census and sample survey programs.

    Boston Water and Sewer Commission Database — This data set includes detailed street and building footprint data for Boston. Restricted to use by members of the Harvard community.

    City of Cambridge Data — Data from the City of Cambridge GIS division. The data set includes building footprints, road edges and centerlines, railroads and hydrography, as well as two-foot contour lines. This data can be used for detailed cartography or analysis of sites within the city. Restricted to use by members of the Harvard community.

    MassGIS — Through MassGIS, the Commonwealth has created a comprehensive, statewide database of spatial information for environmental planning and management. MassGIS is the Commonwealth's office of geographic and environmental information, within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Coming Next
The Harvard Geospatial Library is a two-year project funded by the Library Digital Initiative (LDI). The next phase of the HGL, expected to be completed in late 2001, will include a geospatial cataloger's workstation to facilitate metadata creation and data loading. Improvements and additional functionality will be added to the public catalog-projection manipulation, extended cartography features, additional subset manipulation. HGL's functionality will be extended into the future thanks to support from the Rasmussen Fund, which will enable the Harvard Geospatial Library to store, search, display, and manipulate raster data.

In HGL's second year, it is anticipated that nine additional GIS datasets will be available on the HGL. These include: the India Pollmap, providing detailed census information for India; planning data from the City of Brookline, Massachusetts; North Korea base data; additional TIGER and census files; and Digital Map database of China.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.