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Geographic Information System Basics

textbook cover image
2012 Esri Partner Conference Palm Springs ( by Kris Krug ( used under a CC-BY-NC-SA license (

Description: Essentials of Geographic Information Systems integrates key concepts behind the technology with practical concerns and real-world applications. Recognizing that many potential GIS users are nonspecialists or may only need a few maps, this book is designed to be accessible, pragmatic, and concise. Essentials of Geographic Information Systems also illustrates how GIS is used to ask questions, inform choices, and guide policy. From the melting of the polar ice caps to privacy issues associated with mapping, this book provides a gentle, yet substantive, introduction to the use and application of digital maps, mapping, and GIS.

Author: Jonathan E. Campbell, UCLA, Michael Shin, UCLA

Original source:

Adoption (faculty): Contact us if you are using this textbook in your course

Adaptations: Support for adapting an open textbook

Open Textbook(s):

  1. WEBSITE External website. This icon is licensed under a Creative Commons
		Attribution 3.0 License. Copyright Yusuke Kamiyamane. Read this book online
  2. DOWNLOAD PDF file. This icon is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 3.0 License. Copyright Yusuke Kamiyamane. Print PDF (.pdf) (24 MB)
  3. PRINT Buy a print copy

1. Reviewed by: Nancy Elliot
  • Institution: Thompson Rivers University - Open Learning
  • Title/Position: Open Learning Faculty Member/Adjunct in Natural Resource Sciences
  • Overall Rating: 3.8 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

- I like how the book opens with a discussion of spatial thinking (mental maps, e.g.) and then has a presentation of useful definitions and concepts (e.g., location, distance). This section of the text could be expanded a bit because this discusses WHY we make maps; maps are essentially communication tools. I support how the authors discuss some of the philosophical ideas about map-making, albeit for only a short time!

- The authors also do a good job of covering most of the concepts of GIS without referring to a particular software program. Thus, their emphasis is on ideas about how geographic space is modelled using traditional vector and raster models

- The book would benefit from a good glossary and a good index, both of which are missing in the PDF version. The online HTML version has a glossary to some terms, but I think many more terms could appear in the glossary.

- It would be useful for this particular copy of the book to come with a Table of Contents. I could only find a table of contents by finding a copy at

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Yes the content seems to be accurate, free of errors and unbiased.

I think though that the presentation of the models and various 'tools' (e.g. buffer, dissolve etc all vector tools) should be communicated as analysis steps rather than the strong emphasis on 'tools'. By that I mean, part of the book reads like a help manual on how to apply tools, rather than on how they can be applied to specific problems. The authors do provide some specific examples, but these appear later in the book. These should not be separated.

Content Accuracy Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

The content the book covers is a fairly general coverage of basic vector and raster models.

The authors present vector models and tools well. These are fairly stable in terms of their applications. Thus I believe that this section will not become outdated.

It will be harder to keep the raster section up-to-date, primarily because the technology that provides the source data for raster models, satellites, air photography, and other, is changing. Moreover, at some point, people will be capturing their own raster, albeit at a very local scale, data, through the use of small drones. This will greatly change the world of visualization and also manipulation of this data so it can be used in a vector analysis environment. Any sections to do with raster will need to be reviewed more frequently.

It should not be too difficult to update the raster sections since they are isolated to distinct sections of the text.

Other sections contain general overviews of some important topics, such as cartographic principles. These topics will not require much update, although they could be expanded to include more detail.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The text reads clearly in the sections where it is describing non-technical topics, such as mental mapping, cartographic principles, and GIS project management. There is an effort to balance breadth of subject with level of detail, so that the reader receives an introduction to many ideas without being bogged down by too much detail.

The online version has a glossary that appears when your mouse hoovers over words, and this is essential for some of the more technical terms. As mentioned, this is not apparent in the PDF version, nor is there a glossary at the end. This is sorely missed!

The description of the vector and raster models gets quite technical and examples on how to apply the analysis approaches discussed would greatly enhance their presentation. Otherwise, I think the the reader would have to have a fairly good understanding of what the basic modelling elements are (e.g.. cell, line, polygon, point), and how they relate spatially.

Clarity Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework


Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Yes! There is good use of subheadings and there is clarity at the beginning of each section through the use of Learning Objectives. The end of each section includes 'Key takeaways', essentially a summary, and short exercises.

The chapters of the book make sense thematically and could be assigned across different modules.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The text begins with ideas about why we map, moves on to some basic discussions of terms, provides ideas about where to find data, discusses ways to model data, and presents concepts on how to then communicate results through cartographic representations. As mentioned early, clarity would be improved if more examples were provided.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Online edition:
there were no navigation problems and the links to move back and forth amongst sections are easy to use

PDF version:
There is neither a table of contents nor an index so it is very difficult to find what one wants to find. It is also very difficult to see the flow of the book from the PDF version.

The figures and tables appeared clear in both version, however, I believe there is room to provide some interactive tools in the online version that would demonstrate concepts more effectively.

I do think that some of the figures depicting analysis in the Multiple Layer Analysis section (7.2) could be quite confusing. The authors use A,B and 1,2 to result in A1 and B2. The way it is presented is dry and boring, and could alienate people who do not understand what they are trying to do. It would be much better to replace with diagrams that showed real-world examples.

For example, instead of talking about scale and then showing a picture of a scale bar, why not create an interactive online tool where students can measure things using scale bars, etc? This would help reinforce the concepts by making actions interactive not passive.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I do not recall grammatical errors.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

There is not a lot of latitude in the examples that are selected, although I did not find it culturally insensitive.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

the book contains little to no Canadian content. This is problematic in sections that discuss data. For example, when identifying how to get Census data the text provides US government sources only.

Additionally, I think there is room to substantially improve content by enhancing the text with Canadian examples. It is a geography text after all!