Making maps


The Map Room provides guidance and advice in digital mapmaking using geographic information systems (GIS) software. GIS is used for storing, querying, processing, analysing, and visualising geographic data. It combines elements of a graphic editor (e.g. PhotoShop) and database management software (e.g. Excel). GIS is typically used for either making map images for publication or for conducting spatial queries or analyses to answer specific research questions.

We support two GIS software packages: ESRIís ArcGIS Desktop and the open source alternative, Quantum GIS (QGIS) Learning GIS represents a significant investment of time, but it will enable you to interrogate and visualise spatial data in very powerful ways.

Self-teaching resources

A huge range of online tutorials and videos are available to support self-teaching in GIS. We will be pleased to point you in the right direction.

ArcGIS Desktop



The Bodleian has ArcGIS Desktop installations on reader machines in the Training Room at the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL). The room has 25 reader machines, which can be used whenever the room is not booked for teaching -- a weekly schedule is posted on the door. You can log into these machines using your Bodleian Libraries username and password. Please seek assistance logging in from RSL staff or by emailing   

Many departments (e.g. Geography, Archaeology, Continuing Education, Earth Sciences, and others) also have installations in their computer labs.

Any current member of the University of Oxford is eligible for an ArcGIS licence for their own machine. Find this at the IT Services online shop under 'ESRI Software.' NB: When adding it to your basket, you will need to select the 'DVD Media' option in order to get an installation disk. Academic visitors may be able to obtain ArcGIS through their home institutions. Readers without academic affiliations are welcome to use ArcGIS in the RSL. ArcGIS for Home Use is also an affordable option for noncommercial purposes. Quantum GIS is another alternative -- it's free for anyone. The Map Room is happy to provide advice and technical assistance to anyone seeking to install GIS software on their own computer.


We are also happy to provide prebooked 90-minute one-to-one consultations to any Bodleian reader. Please note that we are only able to answer questions and give advice -- we cannot provide a 'mapmaking service' or extensive teaching beyond the scope of a 90-minute time slot. For example, we can provide:

  • Technical support on specific issues
  • Assistance to readers who are self-teaching GIS
  • Assistance with choosing and installing GIS software
  • Advice on planning the mapping and analysis components of research
  • Advice on data collections methods for fieldwork, surveying etc
  • Advice on formatting data, database design, finding data
  • Advice to researchers re: hiring GIS staff, equipment purchases, funding applications

Consultations must be arranged in advance, ideally by one to two weeks. Demand for consultations at peak times (academic term) is usually high. Readers who are coming in for practical support in GIS are advised to bring a USB storage device with them. Those who have geographic data they would like to map are likewise encouraged to bring it in -- preferably as either an Excel worksheet, a Google .KML file, a GPS file, or a comma- or tab-delimited text file.

Legacy Support

The Map Room offers limited legacy support for MapInfo Professional users. The software itself is no longer available through the university. The following resources will continue to be made available here, but will no longer be updated.

Utility software

Nigel James wrote several utilities for map librarians and GIS users. These can be downloaded from his website

  • GeoTools
    • Conversion Tools Grid reference and coordinate conversion plug-in for MapInfo; may not work for MapInfo v10.
    • Scale Finder Converts between over 100 current and historical distance units
  • Translators
    • NTF2MIF OS NTF to MapInfo Import Format (MIF)
    • OSM2MIF OS MasterMap to MapInfo Import Format (MIF)
    • LL2DXF OS LandLine to DXF
    • TOMS2XYZ Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer to delimited XYZ
      Back to top