ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

June 2008

Book Review

New Encyclopedia of Geographic Information Science Hailed as an "Excellent, Concise Reference"

By Dr. Joseph J. Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Editing an encyclopedia pertaining to any field of study is a daunting task. Undertaking such a project for geographic information science (GIScience), a complex, varied, rapidly changing field, must have been somewhat formidable. I've known and worked with Dr. Karen Kemp for a good many years and, given her extensive background in research and teaching in GIScience, cannot think of a better person to oversee such an effort. I salute her and her advisory board for bringing this useful book to the rest of us.

The Encyclopedia of Geographic Information Science (ISBN 978-1-4129-1313-3, 558 pages, $150), published by SAGE Publications, emphasizes the truly important without getting sidetracked by the many interesting but minor details in the field. The book's topics encompass not only specific functions that a geographic information system (GIS) is capable of, such as buffering, data modeling, and projecting, but also organizations, algorithms, considerations, and theories that underpin modern GIScience. Topics include such basic concepts as direction, elevation, qualitative analysis, and terrain as well as the organizations and initiatives important in the field, such as the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the Association of Geographic Information Laboratories for Europe, and the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science. Because it goes beyond GIS software, the book is an excellent supplement to other compendiums such as A to Z GIS, the Esri Press best seller.

Themes covered include analytic methods, cartography and visualization, conceptual foundations, data manipulation, data modeling, design, geocomputation, geospatial data, organizational and institutional aspects, and—my favorite—societal issues. The book has an international perspective that one would expect given its international contributors. Real-world illustrations are here, but the book spends little time on case studies, devoting its pages to the core essentials of the field—issues that have been important since spatial analysis came along, before GIS was born. The book is printed in black and white, and while a bit lacking in diagrams, its large font makes for easy reading. The diagrams and images that do exist are well chosen and clear.

At 558 pages, the book lives up to its title of "encyclopedia" and can definitely be used as such. It seems that even though indexes are easier to create than ever with the electronic tools at our disposal, many books these days seem to skimp on such things. Not so with this encyclopedia, which includes thousands of index entries presented in several different ways to serve the reader. More than 150 contributors are listed, including many whom I consider the leaders of GIScience. However, despite the breadth of knowledge of the contributors, what I find most refreshing about the book is that it is written in a way so as to be understandable by most people working in the field.

Unlike some books with a varied cast of contributors, this one is remarkably consistent in tone and emphasis, making for easy reading, a remarkable thing for an encyclopedia! For example, I found the entry on ontology to be one of the clearest explanations that I have seen in a GIS book, or any geography book for that matter. Emphasis is placed with each entry on that topic's importance for the person working in GIScience. The book will be useful to those new to the discipline and is an excellent, concise reference for those who have been in the field for decades.

Most of the topics in this encyclopedia will remain important for years to come. Many of the topics here are germane to geography such as the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem, spatial autocorrelation, mental maps, and scale. For these reasons as well as for its sheer readability and usefulness, I believe that this book will serve as a practical reference for geography and GIS educators, practitioners, and university students long into the future. It's not a reference for taking up space on the shelf, but one for the top of the desk, to be referred to often.

To reach Joseph Kerski, e-mail him at

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