New GIS Lab at Heard Libraries provides major computing boost to geospatial visualization and analysis at Vanderbilt


The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries have opened a new Geographic Information Systems Lab in Peabody Library that gives Vanderbilt University scholars a significant computing edge in the rapidly growing field of geospatial visualization and analysis. Designed to uncover relationships, trends and patterns in geospatial data, GIS software enables users to model factors that have important implications for society, including the spread of diseases, urban growth, concentrations of poverty, environmental changes, and access to food, potable water and health services.

The GIS Lab broadens access to this powerful proprietary software to the campus community while supporting the Heard Libraries’ goal of advancing transdisciplinary teaching and research through cohesive services. It features 13 new Dell Optiplex SFF 7010 PCs capable of running both ESRI and open-source GIS software. ESRI ArcPro, installed on each machine, is the industry standard for geospatial visualization and analysis, making it an essential tool in fields such as urban planning, environmental management, public health, archaeology, agriculture, and more. STATA, SPSS, NVIVO and Adobe Creative Cloud are also available on select machines.

“This new lab, which is open to the entire Vanderbilt community, is a hub for shared learning and discovery,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody College. “By bringing tools for geospatial and quantitative analysis together in one location, the lab will inspire collaboration across disciplines, empowering undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, faculty researchers and others to imagine new applications in pursuit of the common good.”

GIS computing has been integral to a variety of Vanderbilt collaborations that have addressed real-world challenges. One such project involved faculty, librarians, students and the community in applying new technology and methods to solve a cancer outbreak mystery in a nearby Tennessee county. Additionally, Stacy Curry-Johnson, librarian for geospatial data and systems, leveraged ArcGIS StoryMaps software in collaboration with the Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Hospital to explore instances of esophageal disease distribution among local veterans.

“Vanderbilt has an impressive network of scholars who are doing innovative, crosscutting research that integrates geospatial visualization and analysis,” said Assistant Professor of Human and Organizational Development Yolanda J. McDonald, who uses geospatial approaches in her research to investigate environmental health inequities. “The GIS Lab, with its robust computing capabilities, will augment what we are able to accomplish and also serve as a platform for spatial learning and discovery, introducing new scholars to this important field of study that is critical to improving planetary health.”

Beyond technology access, the GIS Lab offers a series of workshops, trainings and networking events to equip students and faculty with the skills necessary to best leverage the technology. Learn more about these offerings and other digital scholarship events. In addition, Curry-Johnson maintains office hours in the GIS Lab for individual consultation on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m.

“The GIS Lab is a prime example of how the Heard Libraries are partnering to bridge interdisciplinary work at Vanderbilt,” said University Librarian Jon Shaw. “By equipping this new learning space with the latest technology, the libraries are expanding opportunities for faculty, students and staff to pursue bold ideas and advance discoveries across all parts of the university.”

The GIS Lab is accessible during Peabody Library’s operating hours (7:30 a.m.–2 a.m., keycard required after 5 p.m.) and is reservable for group instruction. Please email with any questions or to collaborate on the development of customized digital scholarship learning opportunities. To schedule the GIS Lab, contact Shahpar Kamtarin at

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