Making maps

The Map Room provides guidance, advice and help in digital mapmaking and analysing spatial data 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 such as Photoshop and database management software such as Excel.

Some examples of GIS applications are displayed below:




We are happy to provide one-to-one consultations to any Bodleian reader. Typically these are booked for 90 minutes and will be able to answer GIS related questions, give advice and plan the support needed to achieve the required GIS output. For example, we can provide:

  • Technical support on specific issues.
  • Assistance to readers who would like to learn 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 creating web maps and story maps. 
  • Advice on automating processes with tools such as Model Builder.
  • Scripting processes with python or bespoke web maps with JavaScript.
  • Advice on formatting data, database design, finding data.
  • Advice to researchers hiring GIS staff, equipment, funding applications.
  • Career advice on becoming a GIS Analyst or Consultant.

Consultations are ideally made one week in advance but please email to check availability. 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.

We will also be happy to offer consultations over Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams if this is more convenient or run specialised training classes on certain topics or GIS tools on request.

Software and Training Materials

We support two GIS software packages: ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop and Online products and the open source alternative Quantum GIS (QGIS).

There are a huge range of online tutorials and videos that are available to support GIS use and we will be pleased to point you in the right direction of which GIS product and tutorial will be best for your project. See below for a summary of the most common GIS tools:
ArcMap – the traditional desktop ESRI software used for high quality map creation and spatial analysis. It is available in the IT catalogue and due to the longevity of the software there is a lot of supporting material available.                           

ArcGIS Pro - a newer version of ESRI’s desktop software with a modernised interface, built-in 3D viewer and easier ways to share data with ArcGIS Online (see below). ArcGIS Pro will be available from IT shortly in the ArcGIS bundle, it is possible to download a free trial from ESRI’s website.

QGIS - an open source desktop GIS used for creating, editing, visualising, analyse and publishing geospatial information. It is part of the OSGeo project and can be used in conjunction with other open source geospatial products.

ArcGIS Online – a completely web based GIS useful for viewing, sharing and editing data. There is an increasing amount of published open GIS data that can be added quickly into the online map platform and some spatial analysis can be run on the fly. Requires an ArcGIS Online account available as a University account or free personal account with limited credits. 


We can also help support other GIS-based software or products such as Story Maps, Collector for ArcGIS, FME and MapInfo, please see the please see the additional software section to access further information.


Access software at the University:  The Bodleian has ArcGIS Desktop installations on reader machines in Social Sciences Library and in the Centre for Digital Scholarship at the Weston Library. You will be able to log into these machines using your Bodleian Libraries username and password, please email for guidance on how to access the room. 

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

Access software at the home: Any current member of the University of Oxford is eligible for an ArcGIS licence for their own machine which can be found at the IT Services online shop. 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 non-commercial purposes. QGIS 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. 

Other useful GIS Software

We are happy to advice on any of the below GIS products:

FME – This software can process a large volume of complex datasets quickly as well as being able to convert between different data formats with ease. Licenses are free for students and researchers and the software be downloaded here.

GDAL – An open source application used to convert and translate geographic data can be downloaded here.

ESRI Survey Applications - ArcGIS Collector and Survey 123 are both useful tools for survey collection. Using a phone or tablet with an integrated GPS, these can be tailored for specific surveys with different layer styling, draw tools and prepared dropdowns and notes to speed up data collection.

ESRI’s Story Maps and Web App BuilderStory Maps provide a great way to visualise web maps in a presentation style manner – there are various types that can be chosen and many examples in the gallery. ESRI’s web app builder also provides various Web App templates to quickly created application using data from ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Portal web maps.

Geospatial Servers and Databases – these enable geospatial data to be stored and published as web map services. GeoServer or ArcGIS Server/ArcGIS Enterprise are examples of GIS server infrastructure.

Databases - PostGIS extends the open source relational database PostgresSQL, and provides ways of efficiently storing and running SQL location queries on large volumes of spatial data.

Web Mapping JavaScript Libraries – there are a range of web mapping JavaScript libraries to create bespoke web maps and to manipulate published web mapping and feature services. Examples include Leaflet.js, three.js Openlayers.js, MapBox.js and ESRI JavaScript API.

MapInfo - The Map Room offers limited legacy support for MapInfo Professional users. This desktop GIS 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:

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