Skip to Main Content

Field Research in the Ecological Arts: Maps and Geospatial Data

Finding Data

There are thousands of places to find geospatial data on the web. This section of the guide features projects of the Cornell University Library that help organize and provide access to geospatial data and can serve as a starting point for your research. Check out Mapping Tompkins, a project to collect geographic data for Tompkins County in a user-friendly portal. Additional sources are listed on the GIS Resources Finding Cartographic Resources guide. 

Olin Library also houses the Cornell Map Collection. Assistance with those resources can be requested through the consultation request form on the Ask a Librarian webpage. 

GIS consultations are available through Mann Library.


CUGIR​CUGIR, the Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository, provides free and open access to geospatial data for New York State, as well as worldwide geospatial data created by researchers at Cornell. CUGIR provides dataset descriptions and previews, and in addition to traditional data downloads, CUGIR also provides WMS and WFS web services for most datasets.

New York State GIS Clearinghouse

The NYS GIS Clearinghouse provides a catalog of data from state, county, and local governments across New York State.  Many datasets are freely available, while others require a Cooperative Member login.  Cornell University is a member, so if you find any datasets requiring a login, contact Keith Jenkins (the Mann Library GIS Librarian) for access.

Geolode​Geolode is a collaborative catalog of geospatial open data websites around the world, searchable and browseable by location, topic, and other tags, so that searchers can quickly focus on the most relevant websites for their geodata needs. It was originally created by staff at Mann Library, and is maintained by a group of volunteers from several colleges and universities.

Cornell Map Collection

Before there was GIS, there were maps.  Olin Library has an extensive collection of over 650,000 paper maps, 4200 books and atlases, and 1000 data discs, representing information that often cannot be found online.  Library staff can help you find and scan historic maps, or to access datasets on disc.  The Map Room is located on the lower level of Olin Library.

New York Historical Aerial Photos

historical aerial photoCornell IRIS (Institute for Resource Information Sciences) has a collection of historical aerial photos covering six New York state counties (Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Seneca, Tompkins, Wayne). Selected years are available for the different counties ranging from 1936 to the mid-1960s and available online. The collection also has photos for 1980 and 1991 for Tompkins County. A project is currently underway to digitize the complete collection photos of all counties.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The fire insurance maps were mainly designed to help fire insurance agents determine the degree of damage to a property and show accurate information to help them determine risks and establish premiums. The maps included street names, property boundaries and lot lines, and house and block numbers. Today, the maps are an invaluable guide to inner-city history, land use, and historic preservation.