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Maps and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

How to find maps, geographic data, and other spatial information

About this Guide

1835 Boston Map, digitized by the Boston Public Library

Welcome to the Maps and GIS Research Guide. Use the navigation menu on the left to find maps, geographic data, and links to GIS software.  If you have any questions about this guide or geographic research, please email me at

Image: Map of Boston in 1835, digitized by the Boston Public Library


Some common geographic terms include:

Cartography, the making of maps, including print, digital, and 3-dimensional maps

Coordinates, a reference system that communicates location using longitude and latitude

Geodata or geographic data, used for any data that reference a location on Earth

GIS (Geographic Information System), used for databases that house geographic data (like terrain, population, political borders, etc.) and tools to visualize and analyze that data; examples include ArcGIS and QGIS

Raster data, data that are displayed on a map as pixels; images from satellites are usually stored as raster data

Topography, land surfaces, forms, and features, and the study of these phenomena

Vector data, data that are displayed on a map as points, lines, and shapes; political boundaries are usually stored as vector data.

Map and GIS Help

For any research help regarding spatial information, contact me at or write to one of our subject librarians.

Boston University librarians can help you with:

  • Finding maps
  • Finding GIS datasets
  • Citing map and data sources
  • Integrating geographic information into your research


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JD Kotula
38 Cummington Mall
Boston, MA 02215