Making maps


The Map Room provides support in 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.

Oxford’s centrally supported GIS product is ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop, the industry standard for mapping software. Learning Desktop represents a significant investment of time, but it is very powerful, professional software. The ArcGIS range also includes ArcGIS Explorer, which is a streamlined and far more basic package. Explorer is free to download, and is useful for very simple mapping and for learning the concepts of GIS. A beginner in GIS might be well advised to try Explorer first before progressing to Desktop.

Central support for Pitney Bowes MapInfo Professional is being phased out. The Map Room will continue to host installations on its reader machines and offer assistance to ‘legacy users’ through Trinity Term 2013.


The Bodleian has ArcGIS Desktop installations on reader machines in two locations. The three PCs in the Map Room are available for use at any time that Duke Humfrey’s Library is open. The Training Room in the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) also has 25 reader machines, which can be used whenever the room is not booked for teaching.

In addition, the RSL offers a GIS facility in the Hive. This space is available, by arrangement, for individual and small group consultations.

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

Learning opportunities

In partnership with the IT Learning Programme (ITLP) the Map Room offers regular taught courses on the mapmaking aspects of ArcGIS. These are repeated on a termly basis, and once over the summer. The curriculum includes an introductory three-hour session on ArcGIS Explorer, followed by four three- hour sessions on ArcGIS Desktop. The course focuses on mapmaking skills for a general academic audience, and it assumes no prior knowledge of GIS. Any current member of the university is eligible to attend. Nominal course fees apply. Places are limited, and can be booked online. The courses can also be self-taught from online course materials, which are freely available to any university member via the ITLP Portfolio on WebLearn.

The Map Room also frequently provides GIS skills seminars for students and staff in individual departments. Contact Michael Athanson ( to discuss arranging one.

For comprehensive guidance on making maps, please consult our LibGuide ‘Making maps using geographic information systems (GIS)’ [coming soon]


Readers are encouraged to attend the taught classes wherever possible. However, we are also happy to provide one-on-one consultations whenever they are needed. Readers often seek advice on such issues as planning the mapping and analysis aspects of their research, or data collection methods for fieldwork. Equally, we are happy to help readers make a few maps, if they don’t have the time or the need to learn GIS software.

Consultations should be arranged in advance, by email ( or telephone (0)1865 277013. 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 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
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