Mapping Community Information Agencies

LIS 810


Summer 2006
4191F H.C. White

June 19 - August 13
Tue & Thu 3:00pm-5:30pm

Why should information studies professionals care about maps? Maps are everywhere in the media. From weather maps to voting maps to maps of toxic waste dumps and terrorist attacks, the way we understand and represent our community, our region, and our nation is tied to the way we draw maps. But more than that, information agencies of all types and sizes depend on maps for their functioning: demographic maps of their service areas and audiences, infrastructure maps of their facilities and technologies, and political-economic maps of the complex regulatory and funding world they operate in.

In this course we'll explore ways of effectively finding, analyzing, and producing maps, with an eye to their uses in community information agencies new and old. Students will gain hands-on experience with a computer mapping program called a "Geographical Information System" (GIS), and will learn why geography matters in a globalizing world.

In particular, during Summer 2006 students will take this software into their communities, in order to think through just where (and why) libraries and other information agencies need to exist in order to help create and sustain an informed and active citizenry.

[icon]Assignments and grading

Attendance and participation are crucial.  Class will meet for two sessions each week over eight weeks, involving lecture, discussion, and hands-on training.  Students are expected not only to attend class but also to participate in class discussion.  While a small number of class absences are inevitable, you can't get a top grade in this class if you don't attend and speak up regularly.

We do a lot of reading in this class, and we discuss what we read.  Students will read many articles at a pace of about 60 pages per week (except for the first and last weeks of reading, which are about half that much).  Discussion and participation will be graded A-F.

You will have weekly GIS exercises.  These come directly out of your GIS tutorial textbook.  Written portions of these exercises should be handed in over email, and the instructor may view your completed GIS maps in your network folder. GIS exercises will be graded pass/fail.

You will have a weekly written assignment.  The length of these written assignments will vary but they are all important and students are expected to take them seriously.  You must post your written assignment to the class weblog and come prepared to discuss it in class. Written assignments will be graded pass/fail.

There will be a final project. You will be expected to use the class training in GIS software, Web search skills, and spatial analysis in creating your own mapping project for your community organization, including a formal class presentation and write-up.  You may complete your final projects individually or in groups; group projects will be expected to be more extensive than individual projects. The final project presentation and write-up will be graded A-F.

Grading breakdown.  Students will be graded on overall class participation including attendance, tardiness, and contribution to discussion (25%), on their weekly GIS exercises (25%), weekly written assignments (25%), and on the final project (25%). 

Late paper policy: You may receive a short extension on written assignments, at the discretion of the instructor, but please request the extension before the moment the assignment is due!  Papers which receive extensions will be graded more critically, since students have longer to work on them.  Papers over a week late are generally not accepted.

Rewrite policy: You may rewrite or revise any paper graded a "C" or lower, for a possible regrade (up to a "B" maximum).  Rewrites must be turned in no later than one week after the paper was handed back.

[icon]Texts to purchase



I understand that textbooks are expensive these days, but they are still important to serious study, even of "new media" topics. My policy is to try to pick class texts that are recent, readable, and useful to students even after class is over.  These texts will be worth your money to buy, and worth your time to read.  

NB: All other required article/chapter xeroxes will beavailable in a bound, xeroxed reader at ASM StudentPrint in the basement of Memorial Union (non-profit).


Wilpen L. Gorr and Kristen S. Kurland, GIS Tutorial: Workbook for ArcView 9.0 (ESRI Press, 2005, spiral bound including 2 CD-ROMs). We will be using this text for our basic introduction to ArcGIS; you will want to purchase it as a reference and for the included CD-ROM of demo software and data which you can load on your own computer at home (Windows-only, unfortunately).

Wisconsin Cartographer's Guild, Wisconsin's Past and Present: A Historical Atlas by the Wisconsin Cartographers' Guild (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998). "Despite Wisconsin's rich history, no historical atlas has been produced in the state since 1878. Wisconsin's Past and Present: A Historical Atlas, created by the Wisconsin Cartographers' Guild, has filled this void with a fascinating and colorful portrait of the state's complex development. This guide, produced to mark 150 years of statehood, provides a lasting resource for map lovers and history buffs, and for everyone interested in Wisconsin's heritage. The atlas features historical and geographical data, including full-color maps, descriptive text, photos, and illustrations. " [from the publisher]

[icon]Students with special needs

Persons with disabilities are to be fully included in this course. Please let me know if you need any special accommodations to enable you to fully participate. I will try to maintain confidentiality of the information you share with me. To request academic accomodations, please register with the McBurney Disability Resource Center.

[icon]Academic honesty

Academic honesty requires that the course work (drafts, reports, examinations, papers) a student presents to an instructor honestly and accurately indicates the student's own academic efforts. If you are unsure about what qualifies as academic dishonesty, please consult the Academic Misconduct Guide for Students.  Two points in particular to keep in mind:

  • copying or paraphrasing material from web pages without proper quotation and citation is plagiarism (and it is very easy for us to catch this using simple Google searches)
  • copying or paraphrasing material from fellow students is plagiarism (and it is very easy for us to catch this, even across different sections, using simple text-matching software)

Please remember that any plagiarism may be sufficient grounds for failing a student in the entire course.

[icon]About the instructor

Greg Downey <gdowney @> is an associate professor with a 50 percent appointment in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a 50 percent appointment in the School of Library and Information Studies.  His teaching and research both center on the history and geography of information and communication technology and labor.

Downey joined the UW faculty in 2001. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, an M.A. In liberal studies from Northwestern University, and a joint Ph.D. in history of technology and human geography from the Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to Madison, Downey spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and the Humanities Institute at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

His industry experience as a computer analyst includes three years at the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago, and three years at Roger Schank’s Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. He has held short-term volunteer positions with both the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago and the Community Information Exchange in Washington D.C.

Book coverDowney’s dissertation research followed the story of a particular category of information workers, telegraph messenger boys, through a century of changes in the U.S. telegraph network from 1850 to 1950. His first book, Telegraph Messenger Boys: Labor, Technology, and Geography, 1850-1950, was published by Routledge in 2002.

He is currently working on a study of the discourse of  the "digital divide" in the US between 1984-2004, and a history and geography of audio/visual text captioning labor and technology worldwide over the 20th century.



[icon]Useful links

Needless to say, the claims and views of these organizations and publications are not necessarily our own.

Apologies for any outdated, stale, broken, or hijacked links.

Sample data: US & world

National and world basemaps and demographic data from ESRI
US states coverage
US counties coverage
Coterminous US states map and basic data
Coterminous US regions map and basic data
US states demographics
US counties demographics
World latitude/longitude
World nations and basic data
World demographic data
World political data
National examples of research-specific maps and data
Telegraph messenger employment data
1910 1920 1930 1940 1950
US coal production statistics by state
US coal consumption statistics by state
US coal fuel purchase price statistics by state
US coal mine sale price statistics by state
US water resource regions coverage
US water resource region names
US irrigation statistics by state
US irrigation statistics by water resource region

Case study data: WI libraries

WI public library systems home page
17 multi-county library systems across the state
WI library systems lookup table
WI library systems and counties lookup table
WI library stats by system, 2002
WI library stats by system and county, 2002
WI resource library stats, 2002
WI population projections by county and system, 2030
WI commuting patterns by county, 2000
WI public libraries home page
over 300 individual public libraries
WI public libraries lookup table
WI public library statistics, 2003
Madison public libraries home page
1 central library plus 8 branch libraries
Madison public libraries lookup table
Madison public libraries sample circulation stats from June 13 2005 and June 25 2005 (anonymous)
Madison public libraries bookmobile service towns

Madison public libraries central and branch data 1998-2004



Just for fun

Caught Mapping (1940)
High-bandwidth RealVideo streaming file

Producer: Handy (Jam) Organization
Sponsor: Chevrolet Division, General Motors Corporation
How road maps are drawn, field-checked and printed. Run time: 8:51   Color/B&W: B&W   Silent/Sound: Sd




[icon]Latest from our weblog

  • Thanks!
  • Color Printers
  • In Need of a Good Map
  • Istanbul was Constantinople...
  • Some Streets that do not work
  • A fun Friday art "map"
  • favorite map
  • To all well-wishers
  • Wisconsin Historical Atlas- County Boundaries
  • I went ahead...
  • educational system maps
  • WI Map
  • Time Magazine Map
  • WI Altas
  • Atlas Selection
  • WI Atlas selection
  • West Bank Map
  • Maps
  • BookMash Map
  • Wired map
  • Map Critique Summary
  • My Map
  • Map critique summary
  • Final project
  • My final project.
  • [icon]Summer 2006 syllabus

    Week 1: What is a GIS?

    Tues June 20

    • Discussion
    • Introduction to the class slides
    • Learn the basic concepts of GIS slides

    • Hands-on
    • Signing up with the weblog at
    • Copying the tutorial data to the C: drive
    • Creating a home folder on the G: drive
    • Starting up the GIS
    • GIS tutorial 1: Introduction

    Wednesday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercises 1-1 and 1-2 (email written answers to the professor, and save any maps in your student folder)
    • Please note: Lab is reserved for a different class this week Wed 3:30pm-5pm and Thurs 1:15pm-3pm, so schedule your work around these times.

    Thurs June 22

    • Go over tutorial 1 exercises

    • Discuss readings (around 35 pages)
    • Catherine Greenman, "Turning a map into a layer cake of information: Linking geography and data can help fight cime, find customers and protect nature," New York Times (January 20, 2000) (4 pages). PDF
    • Daniel Dorling and David Fairbairn, “Geographical information systems [ch. 7]” in Mapping: Ways of representing the world (Harlow: Longman, 1997), 121-136 (15 pages).
    • Damon Darlin, “A journey to a thousand maps begins with an open code,” New York Times (20 October 2005) (1 page).
    • Ellen K. Cromley, “Using maps in community-based research projects [table],” in Jean J. Schensul et al, Mapping social networks, spatial data, and hidden populations (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1999), 62-65 (4 pages).
    • Denice Adkins and Denyse K. Sturges, “Library service planning with GIS and census data,” Public Libraries 43:3 (May/June 2004), 165-170 (5 pages).
    • K.C. Kowal, “Tapping the Web for GIS and Mapping Technologies: For All Levels of Libraries and Users,” Information Technology and Libraries 21:3 (Sep 2002), 109-114 (5 pages).

    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 2: Map design

    Friday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercises 2-1 and 2-2

    Weekend homework

    Visit each of the following interactive mapping web sites and try to create a useful map of your local neighborhood showing some set of interesting features and/or statistics.  Print out your map.  Can you download the data used to create your map?

    Then before coming to class next week, post a reaction to these sites on the weblog describing: How easy or difficult was it to find your local area and download a map? Which site seems most effective and why? What kind of information seems to be missing from these sites?

    Web sites of interest ...

    Week 2: Using a GIS

    Tues June 27

    • Go over tutorial 2 exercises

    • Discussion
    • Discuss interactive mapping web sites assignment (remember to post reactions to the weblog beforehand).

    Wednesday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercises 3-1 and 3-2

    Thurs June 29

    • Go over tutorial 3 exercises

    • Discuss readings (about 60 pages)
    • John Krygier and Denis Wood, [selections], Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS (Guilford Press, 2005), 30 pages.
    • Dean K. Jue, “Implementing GIS in the public library arena,” in Linda C. Smith and Myke Gluck, eds., Geographic information systems and libraries: Patrons, maps, and spatial information (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1996), 195-212 (15 pages).
    • Stuart L. Frazer, “Are geographic information systems (GIS) a feasible service option for non-research libraries?” College & Undergraduate Libraries 8:2 (2001), 1-16 (15 pages).
    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 4: Geodatabases (creating a geodatabase and joining a table)

    Weekend homework

    Contact a local library, school, business, or non-profit organization that you would like to volunteer with over the course of the semester and ask them if they would sponsor your mapping project.  Post to the course weblog when you have found a group to work with.

    Web sites of interest

    Week 3: Finding data for a GIS

    Tues July 4

    • No class for July 4 holiday

    Thurs July 6

    • Go over ideas for projects

    • Discuss readings (about 60 pages)
    • Christine M. Koontz, Dean K. Jue, Charles R. McClure, and John Carlo Bertot, “The public library geographic database []: What can it do for you and your library?” Public Libraries 43:2 (2004) (5 pages).
    • Margo J. Anderson and Stephen E. Fienberg, “Prologue” and “The history of the US Census and the undercount,” in Who counts? The politics of census-taking in contemporary America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999), 1-34 (30 pages).
    • Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald, “Downloading the data and the maps [ch. 02]” in Unlocking the census with GIS (ESRI, 2004) (25 pages).

    • Optional reading
      Christine Koontz, "US Public Library Geographic Database: Preliminary training tool, version 1.1" (presented at PLA/ALA June 2006). PDF
    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 4 (continued): Spatial joins of points to their enclosing areas, and summarzing the total number of points within an area.

    Friday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercises 4-1 and 4-2

    Weekend homework

    Try to find three different sets of data from online sources which may be of relevance to your community group.  Post a description of the data you found on the weblog (both what it is and where you got it) and describe how it may be of use to your community group.  Come prepared to demonstrate to other students how you found and downloaded this data.

    If you have trouble finding the data you need, come prepared with data-seeking questions on Tuesday

    Web sites of interest

    Week 4: Analyzing patterns with a GIS

    Tues July 11

    Wednesday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercises 5-1 and 5-2
      NB: You must download the CountySchools.dbf file called for in Exercise Assignment 5-2 (p. 188) since it is missing from the data CD. 

    Thurs July 13

    • Guest
    • Barbara Dimick, from the Madison Public Library (3:30)

    • Discuss readings (about 60 pages) slides
    • R.J. Johnston, “Ecological fallacy” and “Modifiable areal unit problem,” in R.J. Johnston, Derek Gregory, and David M. Smith, eds., The dictionary of human geography, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994) (5 pages).
    • Paul Spicker, "Poor areas and the 'ecological fallacy,'" Radstats Journal 76 (2001) (10 pages).
    • Christine M. Koontz, “The history of public library facility siting,” in Library facility siting and location handbook (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997), 9-25 (15 pages).
    • Andy Mitchell, “Schools,” in Zeroing in: Geographic Information Systems at Work in the Community (ESRI, 1998), 47-54 (10 pages).
    • Richard LeGates, “Spatial equity and regional integration [ch 09],” in Think globally, act regionally: GIS and data visualization for social science and public policy research [incl. CD-ROM] (ESRI, 2005), 194-217 (20 pages).

    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 7: Geocoding (first half)
      (note we're skipping tutorial 6 for now)

    Weekend homework

    Propose a specific mapping project for your sponsor, including (1) a question to be answered or issue to be explored; (2) the audience for your findings; (3) examples of data to be created or found; (4) examples of basemaps to be created or found; and (5) examples of manipulations of the map you might try as you explore the data.

    Before coming to class next Tuesday, post this project descriptoin to the weblog and please "comment" on at least one other student proposal, offering constructive criticism or advice. Be prepared to talk about your project proposal in class next Tuesday.

    Useful web resources ...

    Week 5: Making maps with a GIS

    Tues July 18

    • Discussion
    • Project proposals

    • Hands-on
    • Map coordinate systems and projections (from tutorial 5)
    • Data downloading clinic: Streets, census, and zip code information for McFarland WI (within Dane County)

    Thurs July 20

    • Go over tutorial 5 exercises
    • Discuss readings (about 60 pages)
    • Daniel Dorling and David Fairbairn, “Representing others [ch. 4]” in Mapping: Ways of representing the world (Harlow: Longman, 1997), 65-81 (15 pages).
    • Mark Monmonier, “Data maps: Making nonsense of the census [ch. 10]” in How to lie with maps, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 139-162 (20 pages).
    • Denis Wood, “Every map shows this ... but not that [ch. 3,” in The power of maps (New York: Guilford Press, 1992), 48-69 (20 pages).
    • Nick Paumgarten, “Getting there: The science of driving directions,” New Yorker (2006-04-24) (5 pages).
    • Hands-on
    • Open lab for project work (bring questions and we'll go over as a group if they are of wide interest)

    Friday homework

    • GIS tutorial exercise 7-1 only (not 7-2)

    Weekend homework

    Before coming to class on Tuesday, think about the possible advantages and pitfalls of GIS that we've discussed so far (and your own experience with using GIS in lab) and find a map from a newspaper, magazine, or web site to critique.  Post a summary of your critique to the weblog (with a link to the actual map if it is online).  Bring this map in with you next Tuesday and be prepared to talk about it.

    Week 6: Community information and GIS

    Tues July 25

    • Discussion
    • Discuss and present the media maps you found
    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 8: Spatial data processing (first half of tutorial, no homework exercises required)

    Thurs July 27

    • Discuss readings (about 60 pages)
    • William J. Craig and Sarah A. Elwood, “How and why community groups use maps and geographic information,” Cartography and Geographic Information Systems 25:2 (1998), 95-104 (10 pages).
    • Joan C. Durrance and Karen E. Pettigrew, “From vertical files to the web,” in Online community information: Creating a nexus at your library (Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2002), 16-42 (25 pages).
    • Dean K. Jue, Christie M. Koontz, J Andrew Magpantay, Keith Curry Lance, and Ann M. Seidl, "Using public libraries to provide technology access for individuals in poverty: A nationwide analysis of library market areas using a geographic information system," Library & Information Science Research 21:3 (1999), 299-325 (25 pages).
    • US Bureau of the Census, “Post 9/11 Relief and Recovery: Chinatown, New York,” Using census data to help local communities: Census Information Centers at work (Oct 2003), 8-9 (2 pages).
    • Hands-on
    • GIS tutorial 6: Digitizing (no homework exercises required)

    Weekend homework

    Before coming to class next Tuesday, think about the different historical trends, environmental areas, and settlement patterns represented in the Wisconsin Cartographer's Guild atlas you are reading for this week, and post an argument to the weblog of which single map in that atlas is most important for state library and information professionals to understand, and why. Also make sure to comment on at least one other student post. Be prepared to explain and defend your choice in class on Tuesday.

    Web sites of interest ...

    Week 7: Critiquing GIS

    Tues August 1

    • Discussion
    • Discuss Wisconsin historical atlas
    • Hands-on
    • Open lab time for working on projects

    Thurs August 3

    • Discuss readings (about 35 pages)
    • Linda Zellmer, “How homeland security affects spatial information,” Computers in Libraries 24:4 (Apr 2004), 6-8, 37-40 (5 pages).
      Bob Drogin, “Spy Agency Specializes in Lay of the Land: A geo-intelligence unit keeps tabs on terrain, at home and abroad, in the war on terrorism,” Los Angeles Times (February 21, 2005) (2 pages).
      Katie Hafner and Saritha Rai, “Google Offers a Bird's-Eye View, and Some Governments Tremble,” NYT (December 20, 2005) (2 pages).
      Michael R. Curry, “The digital individual in a visible world,” ch. 07 in Digital Places: Living with Geographic Information Technologies (New York: Routledge, 1998), 100-128 (25 pages).
    • Hands-on
    • Open lab time for working on projects

    Weekend homework

    Next week, each student or group will present their final project to the class. You are not required to create a formal PowerPoint set of slides, but I will ask you to show some of the data you used and maps you created, and to discuss with us why your project was a useful one and what hurdles you encountered along the way.

    Web sites of interest


    Week 8: Project presentations

    Tues August 8

    • Presentation due
    • Class presentations of projects

    Thurs August 10

    • Presentation due
    • Class presentations of projects

    Weekend homework

    • Write-up due
    • Project write-ups due in instructor's mailbox by 5pm Monday morning August 13.
    • Celebrate!
    • Summer school is over.  Whew.



    Last updated June 4, 2009 by gdowney @