Skip to Main Content

GIS (Geographic Information Systems): Learn GIS

GIS Help at UNR

Need GIS help?

Walk-in help is located @ GIS Depot (Inside the Ansari Map Library- basement level of DeLaMare Library)

Carlos's Office Hours: upon request

Chrissy's Office Hours: upon request

These times don't work for you? Schedule a one-on-one in-person or Zoom appointment with Chrissy or Carlos.

Book an appointment with Chrissy

Book an Appointment with Carlos (Remote sensing, R, & GIS)

How GIS Works

A geographic information system (GIS) applications include both hardware and software systems for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. It enables you to visualize information in new ways that reveal new and important relationships, patterns, and trends. It integrates various types of data.

GIS data can be split into two main categories: vector and raster data.  

  • Vector data is data that is represented as either points, lines, or polygons.  
  • Raster data is data that is cell-based such as aerial imagery and elevation data.  These data types may include cartographic data, photographic data, digital data, or data in spreadsheets.

These data types may include cartographic data, photographic data, digital data, or data in spreadsheets.

Major GIS Functions

  1. Data acquisition (spatial and non-spatial)
  2. Data processing (data management)
  3. Data analysis (Spatial & statistical analysis)
  4. Data storage  (Store data more efficiently)
  5. Data output   (Maps,  graphs, tables, reports)


Welcome to the GIS Library Guide. 

Geographic information systems (GIS) allow us to collect, manage, analyze, and visualize spatial data.  There are many options for getting started with GIS!  

This guide provides detailed information to help you access GIS programs such as ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap)/Pro/Online, QGIS, and Google Earth Pro for your download on a personal computer,  access remotely, or library computer labs. It also provides links on how to get started and how to get help. 

Map of native lands across US

What is GIS

A framework to organize, communicate and understand the science of our world.

A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data. Rooted in the science of geography, GIS integrates many types of data. It analyzes spatial location and organizes layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D scenes. ​With this unique capability, GIS reveals deeper insights into data, such as patterns, relationships, and situations—helping users make smarter decisions.  

Hundreds of thousands of organizations in virtually every field are using GIS to make maps that communicate, perform analysis, share information, and solve complex problems around the world. This is changing the way the world works.

GIS specialists use data to:  

  • Identifying Problems
  • Monitor Change
  • Manage & respond to events
  • Perform forecasting
  • Set Priorities
  • Understand patterns or trends.

Source: ESRI What is GIS? - Overview

Applications of GIS

The real power of GIS is through using spatial and statistical methods to analyze attribute and geographic information. The end result of the analysis can be derivative information, interpolated information, or prioritized information.  

Some examples of the types of questions that GIS is used to answer might be:

  • Locations- Where is it ...?
    Where can one find a local park, grocery store, library, or bus stop? (e.g., place name, post or zip code, or geographic references).
  • Trends - What has changed since ...?
    How has the forest cover changed since 1900 in the Sierras?
  • Patterns - What spatial patterns exist...?
    The question is asked to determine whether cancer is a major cause of death among residents near a nuclear power station or how many anomalies there are that don't fit a predetermined pattern and where they are located.
  • Networks – How to get to ...?
    What is the fastest way?
  • Modeling – What if...? How would it happen?
    if a new road is added to a network, or if a toxic substance seeps into the local groundwater supply. (Answering this type of question requires both geographic as well as other information, and possibly scientific laws.)
  • Decisions - What should one do if ...?
    If the Hoover Dam burst, which areas would be affected by the water?
  • How many schools are within one mile of the bus stop using buffer analysis?
  • How walkable is a neighborhood using street network analysis?
  • Where are areas of high crime based on the hot spot analysis?


Earth Sciences, GIS and Map Librarian

Data Coordinator

Profile Photo
Carlos Ramirez Reyes
DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library
Mackay Mines 102
+1 (775) 682-7378