There is no limit to your education in library and information science. Independent studies in librarianship allow students to explore field topics that do not have specific courses at an institution. DLIS student Emily Griffin recently engaged in an independent study of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through the Map Warper software. Map Warper is a GIS program and open source tool that allows users to impose current Google Maps data onto existing and historical maps. Griffin first gained experience with Map Warper by working on the New York Public Library (NYPL) project to create a digital gazetteer as part of an Academic Service-Learning project. The NYPL Map Warper is displayed on digitized maps for historical places in New York City. Griffin applied her experience and insight to the tool’s usefulness in a St. John’s University undergraduate Discover New York course project with adjunct faculty member Caroline Fuchs.
Griffin described her project as, “a study of results of incorporating Map Warper software into coursework of a college-level class and suggest best practices in teaching Map Warper software.” Fuchs’s course, Explore New York City Through Comics, focused on engaging students with this metropolitan area to strengthen critical thinking and information literacy skills. Fuchs chose the graphic novel, Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel, as the course text to incorporate a discussion of the Map Warper software. In this comic, author Siegel incorporated historical maps from the NYPL collection as page breaks in the story. Griffin worked with Fuchs to select maps from within the text for the class project. Students were given the task to compare the historical maps from the comic with the area today, overlaying maps and analyzing the chosen 3-mile area’s development and change over time.
Griffin attended the class three times as a guest leader and presenter. Unfortunately, during training with the Map Warper software, the site experienced serious technical malfunctions and crashed continuously. Griffin led two software workshops and tried to accommodate the technical difficulties with video support guides. Students became frustrated, as not everyone in the small, 25-person, class were able to use the software. However, as part of the project all students were asked to reflect on their chosen maps and their experiences in the training sessions prior to editing maps independently. The students were then tasked to edit the appropriate maps and reflect on the experience using this GIS software. Even the students unable to sign into the site were required to submit a reflection on their experiences.
Griffin conducted a case study based on a survey of students willing to participate. Questions asked for a participant’s prior experience using primary resources, his or her feelings on the usability of the Map Warper software and whether or not teaching skills were appropriately utilized in the course and Map Warper training.
Griffin presented the results of the study at the Metropolitan New York Library Council 2015 Annual Conference. At the conference, Griffin revealed the 23 surveyed students provided contradictory statements about their experience with Map Warper. Overall, she concluded, the general assignment of relating map within the context of assigned readings does not provide students a meaningful experience and the Map Warper software is a tool better suited for basic searches but not as a map editor.
Fuchs, who also attended the METRO conference, said the audience showed great interest in Griffin’s presentation. Attendees treated Griffin as a colleague instead of a student, Fuchs remarked. The interested audience provided positive feedback and suggestions for future projects. As a result, Griffin was approached by two librarians from the New School and invited to present to the library staff and faculty.
To conclude the project, Fuchs required Griffin submit her research to a journal for publication. In a reflection on the submission process, Griffin warns students intending to publish materials should expect a lot of work to make it happen. Journals require specific formatting and document type settings. If for any reason, Griffin reveals, that you doubt your article does not fall within the scope of the journal it should not be submitted. Learning these lessons from the first attempt to submit her work, Griffin intends to try again with a different publication. Overall, Griffin found pursuing the independent study was a challenging but rewarding experience.