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GIS Services

Geographic Information Systems: A guide to learning and using GIS at Temple University

Free GIS Data & Imagery GeoBlog

Public domain GIS data and Free GIS data repositories and clearinghouses
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Recommended Data Sources

UNdata: "largest and most authoritative compilation of United Nations and agency statistics ever compiled, covering economic, social, financial and development topics containing more than 350 series"

Conservation Geoportal "lets users quickly find and evaluate data and maps for any consevation topic or geography and provides a convenient place for anyone to publish maps and data."

Some Questions to Consider

"The issue of locating data online is not so much one of finding data but rather one of finding appropriate data ....."

From Geographic information systems for the social sciences : investigating space and place / Steven J. Steinberg and Sheila L. Steinberg. Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, c2006, p. 100.

For most GIS projects, data collection constitutes the largest portion of time and effort put into the project. Locating data for a GIS project is the same as locating data needed to conduct any research project. It should not be assumed that the data needed for a project is readily available.

"When considering data from any existing source, you must answer five key questions:"

1. Do the data contain the information I need for my study?

2. Is the data appropriately documented (metadata) so that I understand how and why it was collected and coded in the way provided?

3. Is the format of the data appropriate for my study, and, if not, will I be able to convert it?

4. Do the data contain a geographic element to link it to the GIS, or, if not, could one be added easily?

5. If there are multiple versions, is this the best one for my purpose?

From Geographic information systems for the social sciences : investigating space and place / Steven J. Steinberg and Sheila L. Steinberg. Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, c2006, p. 100.


Locating Data

Many data sets are readily available on the Internet, primarily from four types of providers: government agencies, universities and research organizations, nonprofit organizations, and private firms. Government agencies in the United States and elsewhere have done especially well in making data available online.To locate GIS data on the Internet, begin by reviewing the following list of links: although not intended to be comprehensive, it provides links to many datasets grouped by location, both national and international: GIS data on the Internet.

If you would like to search for data on the Internet, use a search engine such as Google and the phrase GIS Dataset along with keywords specifying location and topic, according to what you are looking for: for example, to find environmental data for the state of Montana, you might use as your search terms GIS Dataset environmental Montana. This will retrieve about 1,310,000 web links, the first of which is a Geographic Information Clearinghouse website sponsored by the Montana state government. The 2nd link in the list is titled Mapping DEQ's Data from The Montana Department of Environmental Quality which has interactive web mapping application that allows its users to explore data collected and managed by the Department; and so on down the list. As stated above, the data you need may not be readily available. Data from local organizations and agencies may be especially difficult to locate because they may not have the resources to make data available online. If you need assistance in locating data, contact the GIS Librarian, Gregory McKinney

The Social Sciences Data Laboratory has shape files for the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, and shape files for other geographies. To access the files go to the Social Sciences Data Laboratory webpage; then from the left menubar, select GIS Data Resources. The SSDL webpage also provides links to other geographic data on the Internet: US Census GIS Files, Pennsylvania Spacial Data Access (PASDA), and City of Philadelphia Shape files from PASDA. If GIS users are interested in other regional shape files, they can submit a data request form, and the SSDL staff may be able to obtain it for them.

If you need data, maps or other resources from the Federal or a state government, contact the Government Documents and Map Librarian, Latanya Jenkins. She can assist in locating or obtaining data. In addition to contacting her, refer to her subject guide Maps and Geospatial Data.

Refer also to the PORTALS TO GIS RESOURCES column on the left side of the OTHER RESOURCES tab in this guide.

Other Resources

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries: from the Newberry Library, a dataset that covers every day-to-day change in the size, shape, location, name, organization, and attachment of each U.S. county and state from the creation of the first county in 1634 through 2000. The data are organized by state and are available online in four versions: 1) Viewable, interactive maps; 2)  Downloadable shapefiles; 3) Downloadable KMZ files; and 4) Downloadable and printable PDF files.

Subject Specialist

Gregory McKinney's picture
Gregory McKinney
Paley Library
Room: 221
1210 W. Polett Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Phone: 215-204-4581
Fax: 215-204-5201