Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Geospatial Data Resources

GIS and Geospatial Data

Finding and Using GIS Data

All GIS work depends on data. You can collect data in the field, or you can use existing data from other sources. Free geographic data is available online from many sources, and data is also available via ESRI and other subscription services.

Census Information Center at Vanderbilt
The U.S. Census Bureau designates the Vanderbilt Library as a Census Information Center (CIC) to assist the federal government in sharing Census data with underserved communities, including establishing partnerships with the international community, media, and nonprofit service providers.

Vanderbilt Data Server
Vanderbilt GIS users can connect to the library's data server to use several data files:

  • ESRI Data and Maps 10
  • ESRI Global Imagery and Shaded Relief -- North and South America
  • Metro Nashville/Davidson County Base Layer Data

You can use these data sets and maps over the network or by copying the data to your own computer.

Connect to the Vanderbilt GIS Data Server.

Collecting Your Own Data
Many people working with GIS collect their own data in the field. Vanderbilt can help facilitate this -- you can check out GPS units from the library and use them to collect your data. Learn more about the units, and instructions on using them.

Finding Data Online
Many local, state and national governments offer data sets that may be useful to you. In addition, other organizations may offer data online for use by the public. Consider adding "GIS," "Shapefile," ".shp," or "geodatabase," to your web search terms to aid you in finding data sets.

Vanderbilt and Other University Websites
We have curated a number of GIS data sources here on this site. Many other universities also offer links to GIS data. While many universities link to the same major sources that we do, if a university has a specialty in a particular academic area, it may list related GIS resources.

Evaluating Data Sources
Whether you find data linked from our website, another reputable source, or from an unfamiliar location, you need to evaluate it for accuracy, suitability to your project, and whether it is current. You should also ensure that you understand any copyright restrictions on data you find online. If copyright information is not listed, do not assume the data is available -- always locate the author/source and get permission in writing. This is particularly important if you intend to publish your work in the future.

Stanford University offers a quick set of guidelines to help you evaluate GIS data.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design offers detailed information about understanding GIS data and evaluating it.