October 19-25, 2020 marks the tenth year of Open Access Week, an international event highlighting the potential benefits of openness in research and scholarship. Open Access Week is organized by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, or SPARC. To quote from their Who We Are page, SPARC “works to enable the open sharing of research outputs and educational materials in order to democratize access to knowledge, accelerate discovery, and increase the return on our investment in research and education.”
In the spirit of SPARC’s mission and Open Access Week more generally, I want to briefly highlight a collaborative project that the University Libraries is involved in and that also helps to advance the goals of openness for research and education, the Big Ten Academic Alliance Geoportal. The BTAA Geoportal provides discoverability and facilitates access to geospatial information resources, including GIS datasets, web services, and scanned historical maps from multiple data clearinghouses and library catalogs. The resources in the geoportal are selected and curated by librarians and geospatial specialists at 13 research institutions across the BTAA. Our collective efforts as contributors to this project advance openness in a number of ways, but I want to call out three that I think are particularly important:
Open data – Geospatial data assets are produced and made publicly available by many different entities, at different administrative levels (e.g., city, county, state), and often through different platforms, across the region comprising BTAA institutions. By centralizing regional geospatial data discovery into a single interface, the BTAA Geoportal saves time and makes it easier for researchers, educators, and other stakeholders to find and use these data to advance their work.
Open collections – As research libraries undertake projects to scan maps within our collections, the BTAA Geoportal provides us with an opportunity to make this content more discoverable, accessible, and usable in support of research and education. In the words of our University Libraries strategic directions, it allows us to “open content for expanded access.”
Open educational resources – Finally, I want to call attention to one of the latest initatives of the BTAA Geoportal team, our first series of tutorials that were just released earlier this month. These tutorials highlight the BTAA Geoportal in the context of teaching and learning about topics such as types of geospatial information, finding and evaluating geospatial data, using GIS web services, and more. Licensed under Creative Commons, these tutorials are openly available, reusable, and adaptable, and we hope they will support the teaching needs of librarians and disciplinary faculty in in-person, hybrid, and fully online instructional contexts.
It has been extremely rewarding for me to be a collaborator on the BTAA Geoportal team and to participate in these efforts that help to advance a philosophy of openness in our work and in supporting research and education. I hope that you will take some time to explore the BTAA Geoportal to identify how these geospatial information resources might advance your own work too.
If you have questions about the BTAA Geoportal or geospatial information resources more generally, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in learning more about the ongoing work and progress of the BTAA Geoportal team, check out our five-year project impact report, which was released in May 2020.