This is the "What is GIS?" page of the "GIS at UMD Libraries" guide.
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GIS at UMD Libraries  

What is GIS, and how do the University of Maryland Libraries help you use it?
Last Updated: Jun 11, 2014 URL: http://lib.guides.umd.edu/gis_um Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

What is GIS? Print Page
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What is GIS?

GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems (or more recently, Geographic Information Science).  In simple terms, a GIS is a software package that lets you store, manipulate, create, and analyze geospatial data.

What is geospatial data?  It is information in a variety of formats (boundary maps, spreadsheets, digital photographs or maps, satellite imagery, etc.) that has some component letting you know where it is on the Earth.

      
     

    Earth

    NASA's Visible Earth (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/)

    Photo credit:  NASA's Visible Earth (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/)

     

    Introduction

    This is a guide to GIS at the University of Maryland Libraries--what software, data, training, and tools are available to you.

    GIS Software

    GIS software exists both in commercially produced and open-source versions.  The commercial options have more functionality but can be expensive.  Use whichever one you have or are comfortable with!

    • ArcGIS
      The most commonly used GIS software, and what we use at UM.
    • Cartographica - GIS for Mac
      A relatively new GIS system, for Mac users.
    • GeoDa
      A relatively user-friendly open source GIS.
    • Quantum GIS
      An open source GIS--suitable for PC or Mac and freely downloadable.
    • GRASS GIS
      Another open source GIS option - free and for PC or Mac.
    • ArcExplorer
      ArcExplorer is a lighter weight version of ArcGIS - but it's free!
    • uDig
      Another open-source GIS option.

    What about Google Maps and Earth?

    Neither Google Maps nor Google Earth is a true GIS, but they can perform some GIS-like functions (letting you create data, viewing layers, querying).  Both are nice tools, and if your mapping needs are simple they may do the trick.

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    Mary Kate Cannistra
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    Map

    Data credit:  DC GIS

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