Open Geoportal

making spatial data discoverable at the University of Minnesota

Open Geoportal at the University of Minnesota will help students, researchers, and the public discover spatial data resources in Minnesota and across the world.

The result of a fruitful multiyear collaboration between the John R. Borchert Map Library and U-Spatial, Open Geoportal (OGP) saves researchers time searching for relevant spatial data. OGP is a collaboratively developed, open source web application designed to facilitate rapid discovery of relevant spatial datasets. These datasets can include, for example, scanned paper maps, climate data, and property boundaries.

What is spatial data?

Spatial data can be broadly defined as data containing some sort of locational information. Latitude and longitude coordinates, county name, and street addresses are all examples of locational information.

What’s the big deal with spatial data anyway?

The inclusion of a spatial dimension within a dataset opens up an avenue for analysis and research and provides important context. For example, spatial data allows climatologists to model sea level rise due to anthropogenic climate change, epidemiologists to triangulate the potential spread of infectious diseases, and World Cup fans to see how, when, and where soccer fans tweeted about a given match.

What’s the problem?

The combination of funding agency mandates (see this memo for an example from the White House) and the exponential growth in accessible data in recent years makes improving the discoverability and reusability of research data a priority for research institutions. For spatial data, efficient discoverability is a long standing problem. When looking for spatial data, searching by text or keyword alone makes it difficult to effectively narrow the list of results. To alleviate this, OGP provides a simple map based interface. With it, users pan and zoom to where they’re looking for data. Each time a user moves the map, a list of the datasets within the area of interest is returned. Thus, a user interested in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota can zoom to whatever they think constitutes the area (which is an issue of some debate) and will get a list of datasets that encompass the Arrowhead.

Who will benefit?

While the primary focus of OGP is on improving the discoverability of research data for University of Minnesota researchers, the platform is open to the public. The federated nature of OGP means that users of the University of Minnesota site will also see holdings at other OGP institutions, including Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and more. In addition to the thousands of additional spatial datasets made available this way, holdings at some institutions such as Harvard include thousands of digitized historical maps with a potentially broad appeal to educators, family historians, and others.