Geographic Information Systems (GIS): About

GIS and Geospatial Data

GIS at Vanderbilt

Geospatial assistance at Vanderbilt University Library is focused on providing the data, tools, and training necessary to understand, analyze, and present geographic information. The service is designed to help Vanderbilt Students, Faculty, and staff as well as the community.

As the Geospatial Librarian, I am here to assist you with your spatial research.  This includes, but not limited to:

  • Accessing Software
  • Training and instruction
  • Embedding in courses 
  • Student research support, methodology, data, etc.
  • Faculty research 
  • Spatial analysis and map creation
  • Find geospatial data
  • Help with automating GIS workflows with python and mapping in R

The Vanderbilt Library was chosen by the US Census Bureau as a designated Census Information Center (CIC) to assist the federal government in the dissemination of Census data to under-served communities, and to serve in partnerships with the international community, media, and nonprofit service providers in order to accomplish the goals set forth by the Census Bureau.


GIS Terminology

The terms GIS (which most commonly is an acronym for Geographic Information Systems) and geospatial are often used interchangeably.  There are differences in what the terms GIS and geospatial mean.


Geographic Information Systems 

  • The computer hardware and software that enable users to manage, visualize, and analyze spatial data through the power of maps. It has become an essential tool in the geographer's tool kit for understanding spatial relationships about places and features on the Earth’s surface. 

Geographic Information Science 

  • The academic field, typically a subfield of geography, that establishes the theoretical basis for, conducts research on, and utilizes GIS.   There are two types of GIScience:
    • Research about GIS that leads to improvements in the technology
    • Research that uses GIS as a technology tool for the advancement of science


The term geospatial is used to define the collective data and  associated technology has a geographic or locational component. 

  • Geospatial Data

    • Data contains locational information in the form of coordinates, address, city, or ZIP code. GIS data is a form of geospatial data.  Other geospatial data can originate from GPS datasatellite imagery, and geotagging.
  • Geospatial Technology

    • Refers to all of the technology used to acquire, manipulate, and store geographic information.  GIS is one form of geospatial technology.  GPS, remote sensing, and  georeferencing are other examples of geospatial technology.