Posts Tagged ‘geography’

The Geography of US Public Libraries

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Last month my article on the geographic disribution of US public libraries was pre-published online in JOLIS, with a print date pending. I can’t share this one freely on-line, so if you don’t have access via a library database (Sage Journals, ERIC, various LIS dbs) you can contact me if you’re interested in getting a copy.

Title: The geographic distribution of United States public libraries : An analysis of locations and service areas
Author: Francis P. Donnelly
Journal: Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (JOLIS)
Year: 2014, Volume 46, Issue 2, Pages 110-129
ISSN: 0961-0006
DOI: 10.1177/0961000612470276
Publisher: Sage

Abstract

This article explores the geography of public libraries in the United States. The distribution of libraries is examined using maps and spatial statistics to analyze spatial patterns. Methods for delineating and studying library service areas used in previous LIS research are modified and applied using geographic information systems to study variations in library accessibility by state and by socio-economic group at the national level. A history of library development is situated within the broader economic and demographic history of the US to provide insight to contemporary patterns, and Louis Round Wilson’s Geography of Reading is used as a focal point for studying historical trends. Findings show that while national library coverage is extensive, the percentage of the population that lives in a library’s geographic service area varies considerably by region and state, with Southern and Western states having lower values than Northeastern and Midwestern states.

Keywords

Geographic information systems, geography, public libraries, service areas, spatial equity, United States

This OCLC flier (How Public Libraries Stack Up) piqued my interest in public libraries as community resources, public goods, and placemaking institutions. If the presence of a public library brings so much value to a community, then by extension the lack of a public library could leave a community at a disadvantage. This led to the next set of logical questions: how are libraries distributed across the country, and which people and communties are being served and which aren’t?

I took a few different approaches to answer these questions. The first approach was to use (and learn) spatial statistics so the overall distribution could be characterized, and the second was to use spatial extraction methods to select census areas and populations that were within the service areas of each library, to see differences in how populations were served and to study these differences across different states. The LIS literature is rich with research that uses GIS to study library use, so I provide a thorough summary of what’s come before. Then after I had the results I spent a good deal of time researching how the contemporary pattern came to be, and coupled the research on the history of public libraries with the broader history of urban and economic development in the United States.

I had a few unstated motives – one of them was to learn spatial statistics, with the help of: OpenGeoda and its documentation, this excellent book on Spatial Data Analysis (for theory), these great examples from Spatial Justice, and invaluable advice from Deborah Balk, a Professor of Spatial Demography with the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research.

One of my other goals was to use only open source software – QGIS, GRASS, and OpenGeoda, which was also a success. Although in my next study I’ll probably rely on QGIS and Spatialite; I found I was doing a lot of attribute data crunching using the SQLite Manager, since the attributes of GRASS vectors can be stored in SQLite, and I could probably save time (and frustration) by using Spatialite’s features instead. I did get to learn a lot about GRASS, but for my purposes it was overkill and I would have been just fine with a spatial database. I was definetely able to sharpen my Python skills, as processing the American Community Survey data for every census tract in the US manually would have been crazy.

In a project this size there are always some pieces that end up on the cutting room floor, so I thought I’d share one here – a dot map that shows where all 16,700 public libraries are. In the article I went with a county choropleth map to show the distribution, because I was doing other county-level stuff and because the dimension restrictions on the graphic made it a more viable option. The dot map reveals that libraries are typically where people are, except that the south looks emptier and the midwest fuller than it should be, if libraries were in fact evenly distributed by population. As my research shows – they’re not.

US Public Libraries

ACS Trend Reports and Census Geography Guide

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

I recently received my first question from someone who wanted to compare 2005-2007 ACS data with 2008-2010. With the release of the latter, we can make historical comparisons with the three year data for the first time since we have estimates that don’t overlap. We should be able to make some interesting comparisons, since the first set covers the real estate boom years (remember those?) and the second covers the Great Recession. One resource that makes such comparisons relatively painless is over at the Missouri Census Data Center. They’ve put together a really clean and simple interface called the ACS Trends Menu, which allows you to select either two one period estimates or two three period estimates and compare them for several different census geographies – states, counties, MCDs, places, metros, Congressional Districts, PUMAs, and a few others – for the entire US (not just Missouri). The end result is a profile that groups data into the Economic, Demographic, Social, and Housing categories that the Census uses for its Demographic Profile tables. The calculations for change and percent change for the estimates and margins of error are done for you.

Downloading the data is not as straightforward – the links to extract it just brought me some error messages, so it’s still a work in progress. Until then, a simple copy and paste into your spreadsheet of choice will work fine.

ACS Trends Menu

If you like the interface, they’ve created separate ones for downloading profiles from any of the ACS periods or from the 2010 Census. The difference here is that you’re looking at one time frame; not across time periods. The interface and the output are the same, but in these menus you can compare four different geographies at once in one profile. Unlike the Trends reports, both the ACS and 2010 Census profiles have easy, clear cut ways to download the profiles as a PDF or a spreadsheet. If you’re happy with data in a profile format and want an interface that’s a little less confusing to navigate than the American Factfinder, these are all great alternatives (and if you’re building web applications these profiles are MUCH easier to work with – you can easily build permanent links or generate them on the fly).

The US Census Bureau also recently put together a great resource called the Guide to State and Local Census Geography. They provide a census geography overview of each state: 2010 population, land area, bordering states, year of entry into the union, population centroids, and a description of how local government is organized in the state – (i.e. do they have municipal civil divisions or only incorporated cities and unincorporated land, etc). You get counts for every type of geography – how many counties, tracts, ZCTAs, and so on, AND best of all you can download all of this data directly in tab delimited files. Need a list of every county subdivision in a state, with codes, land area, and coordinates? No problem – it’s all there.

2010 Census Generalized Cartographic Boundary Files

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

I’ve had a few interesting projects that have kept me busy at the end of this year. I’ll do a post or two after New Years, once I’m back in the office and can take some screen shots to illustrate.

In the meantime I have one tidbit I can mention – the Census Bureau has released the 2010 version of the Generalized Cartographic Boundary Files. These files are generalized versions of the TIGER files, with smoothed and simplified boundaries and areas of coastal water removed. They haven’t posted them on the same page as the 2000 and 1990 boundaries; they’ve mentioned they’re creating a new interface to host all of them, which is currently a work in process at http://www.census.gov/geo/www/cob/.

However, you can get access to all the 2010 boundaries via the FTP site – you just need to know what you’re looking at. All the files are named with codes to identify the geographic coverage, summary level, and resolution / scale. There’s a README file on the FTP page that tells you how to identify each.

But in brief – The file names look like this: gz_2010_ss_lll_vv_rr.zip, where:

  • ss is the state INCITS / FIPS code which you can look up here – ‘us’ is a national level file.
  • lll is the summary level or unit of geography – the README file has a table with each code. The most common ones: 040 for state, 050 for county, 060 for county subdivisions, 140 for census tracts, 160 for places, 310 for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, 860 for ZCTAs. (No PUMAs- 2010 PUMA boundaries haven’t been drawn yet, and 2000 PUMA boundaries are still being used in the latest ACS).
  • vv is a version number for the file.
  • rr is resolution – most of the files are 500k = 1:500,000, which is the least generalized and best for mapping state-level to regional areas. For national level files you also have the option of 5m = 1:5,000,000 and 20m = 1:20,000,000, which are more generalized and better for national mapping.

The Census Bureau has been doing a lot of tweaking to their website lately. The legacy version of the American Factfinder is set to disappear for good on Jan 20, 2012.

Reading List for Geographic Information Course

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

The fall semester is here, and I’m about to start teaching the class I mentioned in my last post (an information studies course on geographic information). I thought I’d share my reading list and try out the Open Book plugin. I chose my readings based on: my particular audience (undergraduate students from many disciplines with little or no background in geography), relevance (materials appropriate in a hybrid information studies / geography course), cost (wanting to assign the students a single textbook that’s reasonably priced and covers all the bases, and will supplement with other readings), and copyright (staying within the bounds of fair use by not assigning too much from a single work). Here goes:

[openbook]1593852002[/openbook] I decided to go with Krygier and Woods Making Maps as my assigned text book. Since cartography is a visual and technical art, I thought it made sense to use a book that relies on visuals for explanations rather than text. It’s approachable, particularly for my students who won’t be coming from a geography background, affordable, wonderfully quirky, and covers all of the essentials of the geographic framework and map interpretation and design independent of specific GIS software.

[openbook]1405106727[/openbook] I’m using the first chapter of Cresswell’s book as a succinct introduction to how individuals define places, but would recommend the rest of the text for classes that cover geographic concepts and methods.

[openbook]026208354X[/openbook] I’m assigning the second and third chapters of Hill’s book. The second chapter, which discusses how people process, store, and use geographic information is the best summary of this topic that I’ve ever seen, and the third chapter is a good overview of the different types of geographic objects. As a librarian-geo nerd, I love the chapters that deal with coordinate metadata and gazetteers, but won’t be using them in this class.

[openbook]0262620014[/openbook]This is an urban planning / design classic, and I’ll have my students read the summary of Lynch’s city elements (based on his research, Lynch proposed that people mentally break the urban environment down into five types of elements in order to organize and navigate the city: paths, barriers, districts, nodes, and landmarks).

[openbook]0470129050[/openbook]This is the only traditional textbook that I’ll be borrowing from (I actually used it when I was a Freshmen, way back when). While I’m using the previous three books to discuss egocentric places, or how we as individuals conceive of place, I’m using the first chapter of this book to give the students an overview of geocentric places – the formal, defined hierarchy of places that exist in the world – and to introduce them to the concept of regions.

[openbook]0226534146[/openbook]This has become a modern classic and I almost assigned it as a second textbook. I am assigning the chapter on maps for propaganda as a background to our discussion on map interpretation and communication, and will later use the chapter on census maps to talk about the effects of data classification and choice of enumeration units.

[openbook]1934356069[/openbook]This is the only software book that I’ll be using chapters from, so the students have some formal guide for using QGIS (in addition to the QGIS documentation). I’m using the chapters on vector and raster data.

[openbook]1412910161[/openbook]This concise, excellent book deals strictly with the concepts and principles behind GIS. I’m using the chapters on spatial search and geoprocessing, but would recommend the entire book for any GIS course, novice to advanced.

In addition to chapters from these books, I’ll also be using:

  • “Revolutions in Mapping” by John Noble Wilford, National Geographic Feb 1998 – a great overview of the history of cartography
  • USGS GIS poster – if there is such a thing, this is a “web classic” and an accessible intro to GIS
  • One article from a scholarly journal and one article from a mass market magazine to illustrate how geographic research is covered and used
  • And for shameless self-promotion, I summary I wrote about US Census data – In Three Parts

Finally, an honorable mention:

[openbook] 1593855664[/openbook] If I was teaching an introductory GIS course in a geography or earth sciences department, this is certainly the book I would use, and for those of you in that boat I’d recommend checking it out. It does an excellent job of covering GIS principles without being software specific, contains exercises at the end of each chapter, and is well written and affordable. Since the scope of my course is broader than GIS and my audience more general and diverse, I opted to leave it out (but may still assign a chapter).

Geographic Information: Literacy and Systems

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I’ve been spending a good portion of my summer working on the course that I’m going to teach this fall. The library at my college offers credit courses in Information Studies which students can take as a minor – they can choose two 3000 level courses and then a 4000 level capstone course. My course is a 3000 level special topics course which I’ve called Geographic Information: Literacy and Systems.

My situation is rather peculiar. I can’t teach this course as a pure GIS course, since it’s an information studies class and not geography or earth sciences. Beyond that, my college does not have a geography department, and earth sciences are not an individual department but are combined with other natural and physical sciences. With the exception of a regional geography class offered by the anthropology department, my college doesn’t offer geography instruction. So even if I could teach a pure GIS class, it’s unlikely that any of the students would have any foundational geographic knowledge.

I also can’t teach the course as a “library” class where I’m training people to be map or GIS librarians, because that isn’t the point of the info studies minor. The minor is meant to introduce students to the foundational principles of information – what is information, how do we search for it, organize it, what is its context in society, etc. I also could not teach the course as a basic software class, as that isn’t really appropriate for a college course. In short, I couldn’t find a model that I could follow, as what I’m doing falls outside these traditional realms.

So I decided to build the course around the concept of geographic information where I’ll cover some foundational geography,cartography, and GIS from an information science perspective that encompasses:  organization, search and retrieval, data processing, and assessment and analysis of GI. I’ve divided the class into four units that cover geographic information and fundamental geography, maps as information objects, and two units of GIS. In the first GIS unit we’ll cover the theoretical aspects and the basics of using the software with datasets that I’ll provide. In the second unit we’ll deal with the nitty gritty of actually searching for and processing freely available GIS data. In the last couple of weeks I’ll spend some time on web mapping and on geographic analysis and research.

Many of the concepts that I’ll be teaching are things that I never formally learned in a college course, such as a discussion of the kinds of administrative and statistical divisions that exist in the world, why they exist, and how data is collected for them. The second GIS unit on data processing is something that I feel is never adequately covered in GIS classes, but is essential for doing just about anything in GIS. I think this is also poignant in information studies, as it involves a discussion of the difference between data and information and how you can turn one into the other.

I’ve decided to use all open source software. Since these are undergraduate students who probably won’t be entering a geography related field, and we are a commuter campus where students have to make special trips to get to computer labs, I didn’t see any logic in using ArcGIS. With the open source software they can use it anywhere and there will be a better chance that they’ll use it after the course is over (and after they graduate). I’ve opted to go with QGIS as it covers all the bases I need. I liked gvSIG but had too many problems with the map layout – I might be able to cut my way through them, but can sophomore business and english majors? QGIS is also more thoroughly documented (in english), which is important since this is an introductory class.

I’m using Krygier and Woods Making Maps as my textbook, along with a few chapters here and there from other texts. I have looked to the pages Krygier’s created for his courses for guidance, and like the stream of consciousness style he used for writing his notes. I’ll post an annotated reading list later.

Since I’m breaking molds, I’ve also decided not to use Blackboard to organize the whole course and am using a blog and various other bits and pieces of software for creating assignments, organizing the roster, etc. If you’re interested you can follow along on my course blog – (only students can register). Classes start on August 31st…

Innagural Post

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Welcome to my little world of Gothos! Here, I will share my experiences, tips, musings, knowledge, mistakes, opinions, and thoughts as a geography / GIS librarian. We’ll cover data sources, data processing, map making, resources, and more. I’ll also post relevant announcements for the local GIS community at CUNY and beyond. Where possible, I’ll also share some of my work: maps, reference guides, and datasets. See the About page for additional info.


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