Making maps


The Map Room provides teaching and advice 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.

Oxfordís centrally supported GIS software is ESRIís ArcGIS Desktop, the industry standard for mapping and spatial analysis. Learning Desktop represents a significant investment of time, but it is very powerful, professional software. The Map Room partners with the IT Learning Programme to offer a termly course in ArcGIS (see below).

Support for Quantum GIS (QGIS), including taught courses, is planned for the near future. QGIS is an open source, cross-platform GIS.

Central support for Pitney Bowes MapInfo Professional was phased out in 2011 - 13.


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. Please note that the ArcGIS installations are only available on the training account -- your normal Bodleian reader login will not access them. Please seek assistance logging into the training account from RSL staff or by emailing   

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.

Any current member of the University of Oxford is eligible for an ArcGIS licence for their own machine. Academic visitors may be able to obtain ArcGIS through their home institutions. Readers without academic affiliations are welcome to use ArcGIS in the RSL, or 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.

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. The ArcGIS Desktop course comprises three three-hour sessions. It 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.


Readers are encouraged to attend the taught classes wherever possible. However, we are also happy to provide pre-booked one-to-one consultations. Please note that we are only able to answer questions and give advice -- we cannot provide a 'mapmaking service' for readers. For example, we can provide:

  • After-class 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.

  • The MapInfo Guide -- A brief guide to getting started in MapInfo
  • 'How To' Guides to MapInfo -- More advanced topics
  • IT Learning Programme course in MapInfo (no longer taught) Course materials

    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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