As a boy, Tom Brittnacher was obsessed by transportation and maps – interests that ended up playing a pivotal role in his career choice.
Brittnacher , UBC Library’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Librarian, arrived last year to develop a new service to support research on campus with spatial analysis.In June, an opening reception was held for the new GIS/Research Data Lab in Koerner Library. The lab houses six workstations that allow users to manipulate data and produce graphic representations of the results in geographic settings.That may mean tracking changes in sea levels, displaying the complexities of overlapping territoriesin First Nations land claims, or analyzing movements of improvising modern dancers. All this can be depicted visually and used for disciplines such as health policy, geography, political science, forestry, economics, history and social policy.
A desire for data
Pent-up demand means researchers have already started accessing the expertise of Brittnacher, who is working with an established team of data services personnel.The lab is also fostering interdisciplinary collaboration. “People come to me, saying ‘I need this data, where can I get it?’” Brittnacher says. For example, two researchers from different departments were asking for information on 19th-century British parliamentary constituency boundaries, but neither had any idea where to turn. Brittnacher found the data at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., introduced the researchers and brought them together. He continues to assist them.
“The lab is geared toward people who don’t have access to GIS and statistical software in their own departments,” Brittnacher adds. Teaching will be another area of emphasis, with workshops geared towards GIS neophytes as well as more experienced users.
Brittnacher comes to UBC Library with extensive experience in library settings and the private sector. Prior to attending library school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), he worked as a GIS Analyst, Urban Planner and Cartographer. Upon graduation, Brittnacher became the GIS Librarian at the American Geographical Society Library at UWM. The prospect of coming to build a GIS service from the ground up proved impossible to resist. “I wasn’t looking when I saw the job advertised,” he says.Brittnacher had a long-time interest in BC, dating back to a cross-country family trip he navigated at age 14 that passed through Vancouver. “I knew that this was a part of the continent I wanted to live in,” he adds, “so I jumped at the opportunity.”
- This article originally appeared in the Friends 2010 Summer newsletter. To read the rest of the issue online click here.