Part 5 - Going Further

This tutorial has provided you with a basic introduction to GIS concepts and applications using QGIS. This section will cover the next steps you can take on your own.

I. Finding Data II. Data Sources III. Additional Concepts and Applications

Section I: Finding Data

Throughout this tutorial you've been provided with data that you've used to work through various exercises. Once you're working on your own projects, you'll need to find or create the data you need. There is a lot of free GIS data available on the web, created by various government agencies, academic and non-profit organizations, and private companies. You can try a search engine or look at an academic map / GIS library website for a list of helpful links (a list of suggestions is included in the following section). To be strategic about your search, it helps to understand who creates and provides the data:

Geogratis - Canadian GIS Portal

Regardless of where you download your data, you'll want to examine the metadata for the layers. Metadata can be formally or informally described on the website where you downloaded your files, in narrative documentation that is included with the files you downloaded, or in special XML files that accompany each of your GIS files. There are a few well-defined standards such as the FGDC and ISO 19139 that data creators use to document data, and include elements that explain who created the data, when it was last updated, what the file contains, what the intended purpose of the file is, if it was created for a specific optimal scale, the coordinate system and map projection it was created in, and copyright and use restrictions. You'll want to check the metadata to verify that the data is going to meet your needs and that you can use it for your intended purpose. For example, you wouldn't want to use a generalized boundary file if you're mapping at a large, local scale, and if you are going to use the data for a commercial purpose you need to verify that that's permitted. In any event, you should cite the source of your data in any maps, tables, or reports you create from it.

If you are looking for a particular GIS file and it's provided by several sources, which source should you use? For example, if we wanted census tracts for a particular city, we could download them from the city's GIS page, from a state-based site, from one of ESRI's pages, or from the Census Bureau itself, via the TIGER page or the generalized boundary page. To answer this question, you'll have to examine the download page, and even download the files to view them and their metadata. Here are some things to consider:

Finally, remember that GIS data is often just one piece of the puzzle. It represents the geographic features, but if you need attributes to go with these features (demographic data, weather data, sales data, etc) you'll have to download this data from someplace else (or create it yourself) and process it to make it usable with your GIS data.

Section II: Data Sources



United States

State of New York

New York City

Baruch Geoportal

This is Baruch's GIS data repository; it includes a mix of public and Baruch-only datasets. Some can be downloaded directly from the web while others can only be accessed by making arrangements with the geospatial data librarian.

Section III: Additional Concepts and Applications

In this tutorial you've learned what GIS is, what it looks like, and generally how it works. You've learned how to work with vector-based GIS data to do some basic geoprocessing and analysis, and you've learned the basics of thematic mapping and map design. Here are some things that we didn't cover that you may wish to explore next:

The QGIS website and the OSGeo foundation have links to additional manuals and tutorials for learning QGIS and GRASS. In print, Sherman's Desktop GIS: Mapping the Planet With Open Source Tools is great for delving deeper into QGIS and for providing a crash course in GRASS, PostGIS, and the GDAL OGR command line tools. Open Source GIS: A GRASS GIS Approach by Neteler and Mitasova is the definitive source for learning about GRASS. In addition to QGIS and GRASS there are a number of other open source GIS products bouncing around that are worth a look. gvSIG, an open source desktop GIS package created by local government agencies in Spain, is a notable alternative.

If you think you're going to become deeply involved in GIS, you may want to consider trying the major proprietary packages in the industry such as ESRI's ArcGIS or Pitney Bowes MapInfo. If you're a current Baruch student, faculty, or staff member you can sign up to take free, self-paced, online courses in ArcGIS as part of the ESRI Virtual Campus program. Visit the ESRI VC page under the Tutorials and Courses tab on Baruch GIS Guide ( for information on how to sign up. ArcGIS is available in several computer labs on campus. CUNY affilaites outside of Baruch should contact the site license administrator of ArcGIS on your campus to see who administers the courses to gain access. Once you're familiar with QGIS, the leap to one of the proprietary packages isn't too great because they use a similar interface and operate under the same basic principles. ArcGIS is well documented; there are many books and online tutorials. On the flip side, the software is more resource intensive, is only available for the Windows operating system, and is expensive enough that it's not a viable option for an individual user. You can download and sample a basic, freeware version called ArcExplorer from ESRI's website.

ArcGIS Screenshot

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