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 9, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

What is GIS? Print Page

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.



    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.
      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.

    Subject Guide


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