GUI-Free GIS Instruction in the Library

Phil White

University of Colorado Boulder


We all love Esri...



There are other ways of doing things!


  1. aka: Why go from GUI to Coding?

  2. + +

    aka: Python + Notebooks + the Cloud

What's wrong with the GUI?



Breaking Out of the Box is Good!

  • The strengh of desktop GIS is also its weakness

  • Disconnect between GIS concepts & GIS button pushing

missing data

Benefits of Coding

  • More reproducible

  • Forces a stronger grasp of spatial concepts & computer literacy

  • Creative problem solving/aka: coding is fun!

Oh, and by the way...

"Data Science" is having a moment...

Python as well...

The Library's Role

Libraries may be the only option on campus for learning about alternative approaches to GIS

There are great, free and open Python-based GIS tools available

Coding can improve data, computer, and spatial literacy

Yes, coding is hard...but:

We have an opportunity to bridge a gap and push our students to new heights!

+ +

Notebooks Rule

Jupyter Notebooks

  • Document that combines executable code, visualizations, and annotations

  • Made for Python, but can also run R

  • Executing code in small chunks makes debugging easier (aka: great for beginners)

Jupyter Notebooks

But wait...

I don't want to spend the whole class period doing tech support on everyones' laptops


[Insert Heavenly Sound Effect]

What is JupyterHub?

  • A cloud-based environment for running Jupyter Notebooks

  • Essentially one cloud computer that all class participants use

  • This means minimal (if any) technical hiccups

  • Because web-based, equal access for any user no matter OS or device (Yay Equity!)

Set up is pretty easy

My instructions for setting up JupyterHub based workshops

Parting Thoughts

  • Libraries have a vital role to play in facilitating open, reproducible scholarship

  • This increasingly means code-based methods in open source languages

  • Geography and GIS Librarians have a great opportunity to bridge the gap between conventional GIS and data-science approaches

Learning has never been easier!

White & Powell 2019, JMGL

Thank you