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Geospatial Data: GIS Software

This guide describes how to find and use the DREAM Lab's spatial data, as well as data that is available freely online.

GIS Software Packages

A variety of free and licensed GIS software applications are available for UC students and researchers.  See the Collaboratory's website for more information.

Esri's ArcGIS

is the premier suite of tools for working with maps and geographic information. ArcGIS allows you to

  • create and use maps;
  • compile geographic data;
  • analyze mapped information;
  • share and discover geographic information;
  • use maps and geographic information in a range of applications; and
  • manage geographic information in a database.

The Library has 10 workstations in the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboratory with ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Online available for use. If you're new to the software, you may take a free ESRI course, Getting Started with GIS, or explore ArcGIS Tutorials. See our main Esri web page for details.


QGIS is a free and Open Source software package that can do much of what ArcGIS Desktop can do, and is the best option for Macintosh users.  Installers for Mac, Windows, and Linux are available from: We have created a guide to walk you through the installation steps, and a second to help you start using the software.  QGIS is also available for use in the Collaboratory.


Sample Data

This data is provided for use with the above tutorials.  It consists of two shapefiles:  US States, a polygon file that contains demographic data from the US Census, and California Populated Places, a point file.  The latter file is a proxy for cities.

Online Mapping Services

Google Earth and Maps

Google Earth software allows you to take a virtual 3D journey to any location in the world. Google Maps is a web mapping service with street maps, a route planner, and an urban business locator for numerous countries around the world. Google provides excellent tutorials for Earth and Maps

Amercian Factfinder

Lets you create and view a thematic map from a U.S. Decennial Census table to see geographic patterns in the data. You may search for U.S. Decennial Census data by topic or table name for specific geographic locations. After you pull up a table, click on "Create a Map" under the Actions menu, then select the items you want to view in your thematic map.

Social Explorer

provides easy access to demographic information about the United States. Access thousands of interactive data maps dating back to 1790.

Files referred to in this guide.

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