Desktop Software And Data
There are several options for building, managing and utilizing geographic information systems. Like most university-level programs, UW-Green Bay is very committed to the desktop option. Desktop GIS is the only reasonably accessible option with the power to perform complex operations on large amounts of data and is the standard in the disciplines that we are preparing our students to work in. The main ingredient of a desktop GIS is locally installed software and at UW-Green Bay we are standardized on products published by Environmental Systems Research, Inc. (Esri). As with all flavors of geospatial technology, desktop GIS requires a library of spatial databases containing the information needed for the work at hand. The Biodiversity Center has done quite a bit of work to assure that frequently-used spatial databases are available via the campus network. We've also assembled some documents that we hope will help users track down the databases that they need.
One of the primary components of a desktop geographic information system is the software. Products from Environmental Systems Research, Inc. (Esri) are obvious choices because they are so prevalent. The ArcGIS for Desktop package from Esri is the standard at UW-Green Bay. Other options exist however, and choices like this should always be made on the basis of technical capability, support requirements and cost. Although there are vast differences among the options from the standpoint of features and horsepower, in one sense all desktop GIS software is the same. It reads, edits and displays the contents of spatial databases. Ideally anyway, spatial data is standardized to the point that any robust spatial database will work in any mainstream software tool.
Spatial Data Resource Guide
Finding the spatial databases needed to support coursework and research simultaneous with battling the ArcGIS learning curve can be a major challenge. The Biodiversity Center has tried to moderate this problem by facilitating access to data resources for desktop users. We've pulled together extensive information on the primary mechanisms used for accessing spatial data - download portals, map services and sharing arrangements. We believe that our efforts in this regard help desktop GIS users to get their projects off to a faster start than would otherwise be possible.
Many State and Federal agencies operate download portals whose purpose is to get their spatial data out to the geospatial technology community. The Data Resource Guide lists websites that offer download access to spatial databases that are potentially useful to coursework and research efforts at UW-Green Bay. We've made extensive use of these sites to stock our library.
Local Government Data
Local governments build extensive libraries of spatial databases to support their own operational and administrative functions - zoning, parcel mapping, street maintenece to name just a few. The Data Resource Guide lists the arrangements we've made with local governments to secure access to their databases for students and researchers at UW-Green Bay
Project & Partner Data
The Data Resource Guide lists projects and partnerships that the Biodiversity Center has been party to that have resulted in the sharing and/or creation of project-specific spatial data.
Internet map services are an increasingly important data source for desktop GIS users. As the technology evolves, more and more data is distributed this way and traditional approaches to data distribution are starting to go away. Finding the map service that meets a specified need can be difficult and connecting can be daunting for inexperienced users. The Data Resource Guide includes listings of potentially useful services as well as "how to connect" information.
Spatial Data Library
Over time, the Biodiversity Center has obtained numerous spatial databases on behalf of desktop GIS users. To avoid the waste associated with going after the same data time after time, we've assembled a sizeable geospatial data library. As of Summer 2011, our holdings include more than 200 volumes containing roughly 24,000 databases. Library holdings are focused mainly on the western Great Lakes, but data relevant to UW-Green Bay research in Panama and other parts of the world is also included.
How It Works
The Biodiversity Center's GIS/Mapping Specialist is responsible for maintaining the library and for filling data requests. Priorities for adding to holdings are based on feedback from users.
The Geodata Drive is a network share set up and maintained by the Biodiversity Center. A subset of our Spatial Data Library is maintained on Geodata to allow quick access to frequently-used databases.
Why Use The Library?
Since public domain data downloads are free and fast, why don't we all just go get the data when it's needed? There is no law against doing it that way, but most of our users find that the time spent finding and downloading files is just the beginning. Additional work often needs to be done to assure the useablity of the downloaded files - uncompressing, cataloging, checking/fixing, adding pyramids, etc. If needed data has already been downloaded to the Spatial Data Library, it usually pays to go there for it, rather than downloading it again.
Desktop Software Instruction
There is more to geospatial technology
than learning to manipulate desktop software, but that is where most of us get our start.
The Biodiversity Center has tried to keep track of the various education products available,
especially those that serve users who are just getting started.