Geographic Information Systems (GIS) store, analyze and visualize data for geographic positions on Earth’s surface. GIS is a computer-based tool that examines spatial relationships, patterns and trends. By connecting geography with data, GIS better understands data using a geographic context.  
 Extracted (in part) from GIS Geography 

In short GIS is data driven digital mapping that allows for advanced analyses and visualizations.

The Digital Scholarship Lab can assist you in:

  • locating spatial data sets
  • managing, cleaning and converting spatial data
  • choosing proper software and licensing for ESRI products (including ArcGIS Online accounts)
  • locating training materials
  • in class GIS lectures and assignments
  • offering GIS workshops (workshops may be offered for specific groups upon request)
  • collaborating on faculty led research projects


There are many different GIS software packages available. Each software package will have strengths and weaknesses which can make choosing difficult. Below are a few options that are commonly used here at the University of Rochester but this list is by no means comprehensive. For other options you can view this page.

Desktop Applications

ESRI ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Pro: The University of Rochester maintains a site license to a comprehensive set of ESRI ArcGIS software. ArcGIS Pro (recommended) and ArcGIS Desktop (soon to be deprecated) are installed on all IT maintained public PCs on River Campus. ESRI products are primarily Windows only. Licensing information can be found on the University IT Licensing page for all other cases including installs on personal PCs.

QGIS: QGIS is an opensource desktop software package similar to the ESRI options and is also installed on all public PCs on River Campus. It is free and opensource and is available for PC, Mac and Linux.

Online Applications

ArcGIS Online is a power cloud based online GIS and mapping tool that the University has access too as part of our ESRI software site license. It can be used as a stand alone tool or can be used in conjunction with ESRI desktop mapping tools. From the ESRI website: “ArcGIS Online is a cloud-based mapping and analysis solution. Use it to make maps, analyze data, and to share and collaborate. Get access to workflow-specific apps, maps and data from around the globe, and tools for being mobile in the field. Your data and maps are stored in a secure and private infrastructure and can be configured to meet your mapping and IT requirements.” To get an ArcGIS online account or for questions please contact: blair.tinker@rochester.edu

Google Maps (My Maps) and Google Earth can be used to quickly create simple maps and visualizations that can be easily embedded in most online publishing platforms.

Scribble Maps allows you to quickly and easily create online maps using a variety of icons and symbols and share or embed the maps freely. It is a “freemium” platform with a free basic service that allows for the creation and sharing of interactive maps and a “pro” version with additional functionality.

OpenLayers and Leaflet are not stand alone applications but are open source web mapping libraries that allow for the creation of customized applications and maps. While these libraries may have a steep learning curve it allows for the creation of royalty and copyright free web applications.

Learn More and Training

Look below to learn more about GIS and mapping and access some resources we have at U of R. If you would like to be informed about GIS related workshops, events or news on campus please email blair.tinker@rochester.edu to be put on the mailing list.

CAS251/EES251 is taught most fall semesters as an interdisciplinary course in GIS methods and software. The course focuses on making sure each student leaves with a working understanding of GIS software so that they can apply the methods in their own course of study. ArcGIS Pro and QGIS are the main software tools covered.

Books Held in the Library: the library has several versions of the popular “Getting to Know” series for learning ArcGIS. There are several versions of the books which should be matched to the software version: ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Desktop

Online Training: ESRI provides an extensive catalog of tutorials, walk-throughs, videos, online courses and in person training via ESRI Training. Some of the courses are free to the public and others you will need to log into your ArcGIS Online account to access. To get an ArcGIS online account or for questions please contact: blair.tinker@rochester.edu

Monroe Community College: MCC offers a range of GIS courses as part of their Geographic Information Science and Technology certificate program.