Map and GIS librarianship is as important and essential as ever before. In a variety of settings, including academic institutions, public libraries, and archives, map and GIS librarians provide relevant geospatial resources and teach geoliteracy to diverse information seekers. While the range of skills and abilities needed for map librarianship are similar to other types of librarianship, map and GIS librarians develop specialized knowledge while maintaining a breadth of subject specialties such as computer technology, history, geography, and information science. These sets of competencies were made clear at the WAML Conference where the presentations stretched across many disciplines and themes, from fantasy-world map collections to discussions which focused on the technicalities of spatial thinking and representation.
I recently took a course on map and GIS librarianship with Susan Aber through San Jose State University’s iSchool program,which provided me with understandings on map users, cartographic resources, and geospatial information. Most importantly, I gained skills in promoting map and GIS resources to library users. Therefore, I was excited when I found out I was chosen to attend the 2017 WAML Conference as the recipient of the WAML Diversity Scholarship. I travelled from Los Angeles to Austin eager to discover, learn and participate in the conference.
I received a warm welcome from Susan Powell and the other members of the scholarship committee. I was particularly impressed by the very stylish WAML t-shirts -many of my friends coveted this shirt when I wore it back home. While in library school, I have had the opportunity to attend a few of the major national and regional library conferences. It was a pleasant surprise to find the WAML conference to be a cozier affair with all the attendees of the WAML conference gathered in one large room. The atmosphere was active, friendly, and familiar. This camaraderie extended to greetings I received from Southern California-based WAML attendees who welcomed me to the conference.
The presentation subjects were quite varied,and I was glad for having recently completed my Map and GIS Librarianship course as many of the topics covered reflected much of my coursework. In particular, familiar names of attendees and past WAML members were recognized as authors of required course readings and geospatial research. I appreciated the breadth of the topics covered, and learned much from the presentations and discussions. I was introduced to the many map and GIS resources librarians draw on to in order to provide accurate, important and relevant information to students and researchers. I also learned about the technical competencies involved with accessing map and GIS resources.
Highlights from the conference include presentations from GIS librarians at academic institutions. While many academic librarians search for the best methods to attract students to information literacy course, Cecilia Smith, the GIS Librarian at Texas A&M encountered a different problem. As she discussed in her presentation, Defining Geospatial Instructional Success, her “Introduction to GIS” non-credit course attracted an overwhelming amount of students and curious faculty. This resulted in the unanticipated issues of managing a too-large class size and the technical challenges of multiple students using ArcGIS at once on shared computer lab devices. Smith used these experiences to analyze the effectiveness of the course structure and then used this assessment to develop a better workshop series. As someone with a strong interest in information literacy, I was impressed by the methods Smith used to develop and design an improved course.
Susan Powell of UC Berkeley and Marcel Fortin of the University of Toronto presented a collaborative panel discussion, GIS Reference Services. The conversation kicked off with a series of discussion topics related to GIS librarianship. The questions revolved around the challenges involved in providing robust GIS reference services. Other discussion topics included shifts in GIS and map reference questions, obstacles in providing high-quality GIS reference services, and how spatial reference fits in one’s library service model. This discussion provided insights into the distinct work of map and GIS librarians and served to highlight some of the issues involved in maintaining effective reference services.
My strong interest in my library’s map resources along with the information and knowledge I gained at the WAML conference will definitely be carried into my current librarian work. I have worked at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) for many years as a paraprofessional, and during this time I became very interested in our library’s map collection. LAPL’s Map Librarian Glen Creason does an outstanding job of promoting the library’s rich and sizable local historical map resources. Having completed my degree in December, I was recently promoted to Bilingual Outreach Librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library. In my new position,I will explore ways to incorporate my interest in map and GIS librarianship into my position and will find ways to highlight and promote my library’s map resources. Future ideas informed by the knowledge gained at the WAML conference include highlighting social justice issues through a community mapping project. A potential project might involve soliciting community reflections on their sense of place, and examining how our local communities are defined through subjective spatial representation.
Many thanks to WAML members and the scholarship committee for the invitation and opportunity to attend such an illuminating and informative conference.