All posts by Mark Thomas

Library and Campus Events

What’s going on at the library or around campus?  There are several events calendars to keep you posted.

You can get to the library’s Current & Upcoming Events page by clicking the News & Events link on the library’s homepage and then the Events >> heading (besides upcoming events, be sure to also check out the News, Exhibits, and Blogs).  This page unifies listings from several of the library’s subunits (the Instruction & Outreach Department, the Data &GIS Services Department, and the Center for Instructional Technology) as well as from the Divinity School Library.  Direct links to these calendars can be found at the right of the page.  You can also receive an RSS feed to stay updated.

Some library users can find interesting lectures, useful software training sessions, and workshops on the use of statistical data from the events calendar page for the Social Science Research Institute or SSRI (some of these, in fact, are cross-listed on the library calendars or taught by library staff).

Many events at Duke can be found from the main Events@Duke calendar.  Use the See all groups link in the left-hand column to get a listing of the many departments and groups at Duke that may sponsor workshops, lectures, and training sessions.  At the top, you can select Day, Week, Month, or Year listings, and the RSS feed might be handy.   Although it might be fruitful to spend time exploring the various Calendar Views and other options, please be aware that although the goal of this calendar is to be comprehensive not all campus events are submitted.  You still may want to check individual calendars that interest you like the ones mentioned above or (for example) from Student Affairs, the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Nicholas School of the Environment, or the Fuqua School of Business.

Lost in the sea of government information

It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack to find information from the US federal government.  Most of this information is now online, but this hasn’t made the task any easier.  Here are just a few of the ways of searching for government information (documents or data) when you don’t know where to go.

The Government Printing Office (GPO) has for many years provided access to authoritative versions of major government publications through their GPO Access web site.  The information on GPO Access is in the process of being migrated to GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). The migration is occurring on a collection-by-collection basis.  The information on GPO Access will remain current and continue to be available until migration is complete.  Using the “browse” feature to scan though available collections can
be most fruitful.  This site is especially good for legislative and regulatory materials, and for regularly published reports such as the US federal budget, but also provides a link to GPO’s online bookstore
for more general government publications.

The FedStats website provides links to statistical pages of US federal government agencies.  You can look up the statistic by topic without knowing in advance which agency produces it.  The “About” page provides more information about what’s included in FedStats.  Although this may lead to a lot of extractable and downloadable raw data in addition to statistics that are presented online, if you specifically need to locate machine-readable empirical or geospatial datasets generated by the US federal government you can try the website. Datasets here may be in one of more the following formats: XML, CSV/Text, KML/KMZ, Shapefile, RDF, Other.

General search engines to search across websites of federal government agencies and Congress include (the “official” such search engine) and Google U.S. Government (formerly Google Uncle Sam).  Always feel free to consult with the library’s public documents subject librarian, Mark Thomas, and visit the paper collection of federal government publications (many older ones aren’t digitized or even in the library catalog) on the second floor of Perkins Library.

Duke Campus GIS Data

Members of the Duke community who are engaged in research relating to the campus infrastructure can now download GIS Layers of the Duke campus and surrounding areas.  These are in formats compatible with ArcGIS software, and some (the shapefiles) are importable into Google Earth Pro.

The layers were created by Duke’s Facility Management and are being provided for download by Perkins Library’s Data & GIS Services Department.  Categories of data include general campus features (e.g., building footprints, parking lots, crosswalks, Duke Garden trails), campus vegetation (e.g., coniferous trees, hedges), topography (contour lines), and color aerial photography in geo-referenced MrSID compressed format.  The area of coverage includes not only West, Central, and East campuses, but many of the surrounding Durham neighborhoods.  But no, undergrads, we have nothing showing the tunnels!

We hope to improve the documentation over time with improved metadata, as well as periodically update the layers.  Users should contact Mark Thomas or other staff in the Data & GIS Services Department for help in using this data.

Finding your way using GIS

GIS layersIf people are at all familiar with geographic information systems (GIS) software, they typically think of it as a tool for commercial cartographers or for government agencies needing to illustrate dry scientific reports.  But GIS software offers students and researchers in any field (sciences, humanities, and social sciences) a powerful (and often, a remarkably simple) analysis and presentation tool whenever they’re dealing with information that has a locational element.

The Data & GIS Services Department at Perkins Library supports ArcGIS software as well as Google Earth Pro.  The Brandaleone Family Center for Data and GIS Services on the second floor of Perkins Library has this software installed.  ArcGIS software is also site licensed for faculty and staff at Duke, and is available in OIT labs on campus, while basic Google Earth is free to download.  Duke affiliates who want the Pro version of Google Earth can contact Joel Herndon or Mark Thomas.

ArcGIS is great for analyzing any sort of data with a spatial element (for instance: data organized by county; associated with addresses; or containing latitude/longitude coordinates, such as GPS data).

You don’t even have to make a map … you might just want to answer questions about distance (example: what are the closest stores that sell tobacco to each school, and how far are they; or which such stores are within a certain distance from each school), location (example: for a set of crime data, identify the census tract that each crime is in, if you want to study socio-economic characteristics of the neighborhood); or network analysis (example: least-cost routes along roads and rivers to bring logs from tree plantations to mills).  These are only a few of many possibilities (examples reflect real projects done here).

If you do want to build your own map for a paper or publication, ArcGIS is great for creating one that shows just the features you need, starting with a simple basemap and editing or adding more layers to created a customized presentation.

Google Earth has fewer analysis capabilities, but has a short learning curve and a large database of online geographic layers ready to go.  Some sorts of data are easy to add (such as addresses or latitude/longitude coordinates).  The map creation is less customizable than ArcGIS, but there are a lot of options for novel visualization.  Some Duke users, for instance, have found it useful for creating attention-getting maps for poster sessions.

A few of the more focused interactive mapping databases (often dealing only with US Census data) that have GIS analysis or presentation features, or GIS layer download capabilities, include SimplyMap, Social Explorer, National Historic GIS, and Neighborhood Change Database.