Geospatial Information Literacy for a Location-Enabled Canadian Society

May 05, 2014

Geospatial Information Literacy for a Location-Enabled Canadian Society

In an earlier posting, David Monaghan quoted from real American hero G.I. Joe who, for those of us of a certain generation, would remind us every Saturday morning that “knowing is half the battle!” The point that David and G.I. Joe make is that knowledge about the world provides us with the ability to formulate more evolved and intelligent thoughts, make better decisions, and improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Location-enabled information can tell us when the buses run and when traffic is jammed, it can tell us how governments are performing, it can track climate changes, find land suitable for development, and help resolve territorial disputes. Knowledge is essential to building a successful location-enabled society.

But, how do we access that knowledge?

In the age of Google, the amount of information and resources we have at our fingertips (IAYF) is staggering. Rapid technological changes have opened access to geospatial information to a wider audience with limited computer and GIS knowledge. The publication and distribution of spatial data are increasingly important activities enabling organizations and individuals to create and share maps over the Internet. With all these remarkable changes, however, it is easy to overlook the fact that the sheer abundance of information and resources available over the Internet does not in itself create a more informed citizenry.

Just as literacy refers to the ability to read for knowledge, write intelligibly and think critically about information, geo-literacy is the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently and think critically about geospatial information. If a source asserts that the earth is flat, is there evidence (e.g., surveys, maps) to back the argument up? If a government agency makes its data available without accompanying documentation (metadata), is the data still reliable and/or usable?

Traditional information literacy is often incorporated into school and classroom programs through libraries. Should geospatial information literacy fall under the same programs and responsibility of information professionals such as librarians? How can we better highlight the need for skills specific to geospatial information and sources? How do we extend these programs to the rest of Canadians? Who – government, academic institutions, public libraries – is responsible for defining and overseeing geospatial literacy standards?

The message G.I. Joe sent out to children years ago still endures; knowing is half the battle. The future of the Canadian geomatics sector is tied directly to Canadians’ ability to access, use, and think critically about geospatial information and sources. The battle for the geomatics community is now to find ways to equip Canadian citizens with the geospatial information literacy skills essential to build a strong, vibrant, and informed location-enabled society.

Deena Yanofsky is a member of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Geomatics Round Table and an Academic Librarian at McGill University


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