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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

General information about GIS resources at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Welcome to the GIS Library Guide

Welcome to the Library Guide for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This guide will help you get started with understanding what GIS is, the nature of geospatial data used in GIS, and how to get started using GIS for your research. If you need further assistance, please request a GIS Consultation at the Library please use the box to the right.

What is GIS?

GIS is commonly used to describe both Geographic Information Systems and Geographic Information Science. Each term carries a unique meaning. For this guide, we will use 'GIS' to mean Geographic Information Systems.

Geographic Information Systems are the computer hardware and software that enable users to manage, visualize, and analyze spatial data through the power of maps. It has become an essential tool in the geographer's tool kit for understanding spatial relationships about places and features on the Earth’s surface. 

Geographic Information Science is the academic field, typically a subfield of geography, that establishes the theoretical basis for, conducts research on, and utilizes GIS. There are two types of GIScience:

  • Research about GIS that leads to improvements in the technology
  • Research that uses GIS as a technology tool for the advancement of science

This guide covers using GIS as a technology tool for research. While GIScience is not covered in detail, users can explore the University's Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science for more information.

Globe with various GIS application icons tagged around it.

Image retrieved from:​

What can we do with GIS?

GIS is a powerful software tool that has a limitless range of application possibilities. GIS is used in numerous academic and professional disciplines for research and everyday business operations. It is an especially powerful tool for decision-making and planning. Here are few examples for how GIS is used:

And so many more!


Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise indicated, original content in this guide is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 license. You are free to share, adopt, or adapt the materials. We encourage broad adoption of these materials for teaching and other professional development purposes, and invite you to customize them for your own needs.