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A New Dimension

3D GIS aids resource planning and facility management at Tufts

By Jim Baumann, Esri Writer

This article as a PDF.

The ability to quickly generate high-quality maps is one of the greatest benefits of using L-SIMS.

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Main floor of Tisch Library showing room use within L-SIMS

The Tufts College Library has grown from a small collection of books the university's first president shared with students to a library system with holdings of more than 1.2 million volumes and other materials. To manage this collection, the library developed a 3D GIS-based library information system that incorporates the library's existing data management programs.

Founded by the Universalist religious denomination in 1852, Tufts University is a small liberal arts school located in Medford, Massachusetts. The university has an enrollment of about 9,000 students and fosters a tradition of social responsibility.

The Tufts College Library began as a collection of books kept by Hosea Ballou II, the first president of Tufts. Ballou circulated the books from his office in the College Building, now Ballou Hall, personally signing them out to students. As the college grew, adding schools and campuses, the library system expanded to meet the increasing needs of the institution.

Today, the largest facility in the Tufts University Library system is the Library for Arts and Sciences, now called the Tisch Library, on the Medford campus. Tisch houses the majority of the library system collection including 700,000 books, 30,000 electronic journals, 20,000 electronic books, and 20,000 video recordings. The library facilities include a student café, offices, group study rooms, research areas, and a media lab for viewing DVDs and videotapes. In addition, the Tisch Library has an active research instruction program and offers both one-on-one consultations and an instant messaging reference service.

Tisch Library continues growing and evolving, with additions to special collections and the need to provide supplemental materials when new courses are introduced at the university. Management of its facilities and resources is a significant concern for university library administrators, who are continually trying to improve access to the expanding collections within the confines of the existing space.

Recognizing the need to better manage both its facilities and collections, Tufts Library administrators enlisted a team of university employees, including Thom Cox, technical project manager, and Patrick Florance, GIS center manager, to help develop and implement a GIS-based library information system that incorporated the library's existing data management programs. The project was funded by the Berger Family Technology Transfer Endowment.

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Tisch Library collections database within L-SIMS

Said Florance, "The Tufts University Information Technology group partnered with Tisch Library Information Technology Services [LITS] to create L-SIMS [Library Spatial Information Management System], a fully functioning, 3D GIS-based view of the interior space of the library that merges databases from LITS, facilities management, and various library collections."

The L-SIMS project began with an extensive needs assessment study that involved consultations with library staff and students concerning current and potential use of the library, an examination of existing databases, and a detailed inspection of the library and its contents.

After the needs assessment, the Tufts team created a data model for L-SIMS, which involved the development of a unique identifier schema to link the various feature types to the appropriate databases. A significant component of the project was the database development and conversion. The library's CAD floor plans were brought into ArcGIS, georeferenced, and cleaned significantly to create feature topology. The floor plans were ground truthed, and a significant amount of editing was performed in areas that had experienced recent renovations.

"We hired Tufts students to complete the work, so it also became a real-world learning experience for those students looking to further develop their GIS and spatial thinking skills," commented Florance.

About 30 distinct features were coded for the L-SIMS geodatabase, including rooms, walls, doors, doorways, emergency exits, stacks and shelving, fire extinguishers, panic buttons, electrical outlets, computers, and Ethernet connections, as well as the collection itself—all the features that are commonly found within a library. Then several different databases related to those features were integrated into the system. This included the facilities database that identifies room numbers, room use, square footage, who is responsible for the room, occupants, and so on. The LITS database was also included. This holds information about all the computers in the library, such as the computer ID, the processor, whether it has a CD or DVD drive, and all the software on it. Also integrated is the collections database, which stores the different reference numbers and collection types for all the stacks in the library.

L-SIMS helps reference librarians better direct students to the resources in the library in addition to assisting with tasks such as developing plans for facilitating disaster planning, determining the location and contents of special collections, and accessing the availability of computer resources.

The Tufts GIS center used ArcGIS to generate high-quality maps. Key library staff were trained and became ArcGIS users and the data stewards for the new system. Tufts also created a Web-based prototype of L-SIMS using ArcGIS Server.

"L-SIMS really serves as a resource management tool. Several library staff members have commented on how excited they are about the new system," said Florance. Previously, when changes occurred, they would have to remap sections of the library for each specific use—often a time-consuming process. Added Cox, "The ability to quickly generate high-quality maps is one of the greatest benefits of using L-SIMS. Detailed floor maps are posted on each floor of the library that indicate the location of various book collections, as well as important emergency information such as exits, panic buttons, and fire extinguishers. When library resources are altered, the maps must be re-created to reflect those changes."

Now when a student comes to the reference desk requesting help locating a book, the reference librarian can provide an accurate, highly detailed map showing the stack where the book can be found. L-SIMS is regularly updated so the maps produced from the database always reflect the current status of the library collection.

Using L-SIMS, librarians can also analyze the use of specific elements of the Tisch Library collection. Access to those parts of the collection that are in great demand can be optimized by relocating them to a more prominent location, while those materials that attract less interest can be stored in or relocated to a less prominent place.

"It is the hope of the L-SIMS project team that this foundation work will be the impetus for the future development of a public, Web-based, interactive mapping application to provide comprehensive information and access to library resources. Both students and Tisch staff will be able to explore the contents of the library online and identify topics of interest. For example, a user searching for a specific book could pan to a library stack to see the collection type and the related reference numbers to locate the required material. Or, they could click on a displayed computer to see what software is loaded on it," concluded Cox.

L-SIMS is so successful that several schools and departments at Tufts are asking the library to build geoenabled SIMS or business inventory management systems (BIMS) for them.

About the Author

Jim Baumann writes about GIS-related topics for Esri. He has written articles on various aspects of GIS and information technology for more than 20 years.

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