Meet new Geographic Information Systems Librarian Taylor Hixson

taylor-hixson2Taylor Hixson has joined the University of Chicago Library as the new Resident Librarian for Geographic Information Systems.

Taylor has an M.S. degree in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee and B.S. in Mass Communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

Barbara Kern interviewed Taylor about her experiences and plans for her work at UChicago.

Q: Taylor, what originally got you interested in GIS?

When I was an undergraduate studying journalism I took a data journalism class, and I remember a class assignment where I had to use Google Fusion tables to map addresses. I was really impressed with how creating a simple, interactive map could add another level to the news and storytelling.

Q:  How have you worked with researchers at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville or elsewhere with GIS?

When I was at UT I was always trying to incorporate more GIS or spatial information into projects I worked on. For example, when I worked on an ecology database project there I ensured all records I worked on were accurately georeferenced in the metadata, and when I was doing a practicum with Department of Energy contractors, I spent a lot of time compiling variations on place names for better database searching.

Additionally, when I was at UT, the university became a partner with the Department of State’s new Diplomacy Lab initiative. Through that I worked on a team with several other students and a faculty member to create a report and an interactive map for State and humanitarian agencies to use.

 Q: You worked for the Department of State as a Virtual Foreign Service Intern on a humanitarian aid mapping project.  Tell us about that.

Working as a VSFS intern was a great experience. I volunteered for a year with other students from across the country on different humanitarian mapping projects for the Officer of the Geographer’s MapGive program. I learned a lot about working collaboratively on geographic information projects and how to help others learn about gateways into GIS through simple citizen mapping projects such as editing OpenStreetMap.

VSFS helped me gain more practical experience and connections without having to spend time abroad or in D.C. I highly recommend that UChicago students in the College or graduate and professional programs consider  participating in VSFS–especially in one of the many mapping and GIS internships.

 Q: How will you work with faculty and students in your role?

I intend to collaborate with students and faculty across the divisions at UChicago. It is my goal to host workshops for faculty and students or to provide classroom instruction to introduce concepts of GIS and resources UChicago has available, whether that is access to online tools, databases, or research centers.

Overall, I want to be a central resource for anyone on campus needing a launch pad for GIS, from those getting started with GIS, who want to find books or learn some introductory tools, to more advanced researchers, who want to create geospatial metadata or have questions about publishing scholarly literature in the top GIS journals.

Q: What are the key challenges or trends in GIS for researchers and librarians?

For librarians, I think a key challenge is always the findability of data. Findability has gotten better with the federal government’s efforts through geoplatform.gov and metadata standards, but the novice GIS user who starts at Google may be overwhelmed with how to search for data, what data formats to find, and where to find them.

For both researchers and librarians, usability and accessibility of interactive maps on the web is a big challenge. For example, not everyone is making their maps compliant for users with screen readers and other adaptive technology even if the option to incorporate web accessibility is readily available through the mapping application.

I also think that understanding the value and reliability of data collected is another challenge for researchers and librarians to continue to consider.

GIS in the digital humanities is another trend, and one that I do not see going away. It is enabling researchers in the humanities to carve their niche by performing a type of analysis that may have never been done before and changing, challenging, or reinforcing previous research findings.

Q: Are you ready to face a Chicago winter?

I already bought a parka and snow boots, so in some ways, yes, but mentally, I’ll probably never be ready.

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