General policies and principles for the Library's collections are stated in the General Collection Development Policy.

Purpose of the Collection

The Geospatial Collection has served as UCSB’s spatial data center since its founding in 1967. During that period, it has evolved into one of the nation’s most prominent collections of maps, aerial photographs, and digital spatial data.

Subject Parameters

The Geospatial Collection collects materials suitable for geographic analysis, including maps, atlases, aerial photographs, other geospatial remote sensing information, and digital data that can be mapped using desktop Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. Works describing the creation, use, and organization of spatial information are also collected as part of the Geospatial Collection.  When in print, these works are generally housed in the Sciences-Engineering Collection.



Spatial data describes phenomenon of any subject.  The key feature of the Geospatial Collection is that they are either maps, or can be mapped.  The Geospatial Collection actively collects basemap information (topography, terrain, hydrology, and human settlement), land cover and use, demographic information, and data about earth systems processes.

Geographical Coverage

The Geospatial Collection collects internationally, with a particular focus on California and the Central Coast counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. 

  • Locally:  The Geospatial Collection is attempting to build a comprehensive collection of spatial information about the greater campus area, defined as the Pacific Ocean on the south, the Santa Ynez foothills on the north, the Gaviota Coast on the west, and the point where State Street becomes Hollister Avenue on the east.
  • Regionally: the Geospatial Collection, as a member of the University of California-Stanford University Map Libraries Group (‘the UC/Stanford Group) has accepted responsibility for collecting cartographic materials in all formats, to the greatest extent practical, for the following California counties:
    • Ventura
    • Santa Barbara
    • San Luis Obispo
    • Kern
    • Monterey
  • Statewide:  The Geospatial Collection collects statewide spatial data, primarily through harvest and the solicitation of donations, as appropriate to the teaching and research missions of the UCSB campus.
  • Globally:  maps and spatial data on a variety of topics of interest are collected regardless of their geographic extent.
  • Extraterrestrial:  The Geospatial Collection maintains a collection of data, maps, and charts of planets in our solar system. These are primarily legacy NASA and USGS collections dating from the Cold War period.

 Types of Materials Collected

In addition to being a general cartographic repository, the Geospatial Collection has particular strengths in a number of areas, either through active collecting or historical serendipity.  In particular:

  • Geospatial data:
    Geospatial data, for the purposes of this policy, is digital information that can be displayed as a map using standard desktop GIS software, such as QGIS or ArcMap.  The Geospatial Collection is one of the oldest academic library collections of geospatial data and has been actively involved in national data preservation efforts.  The Geospatial Collection collects geospatial data related to:
    • Greater Campus
      The Geospatial Collection is attempting to collect all usable spatial data, regardless of its provenance, for the areas immediately adjacent to campus.
    • Local jurisdictions
      For the California counties where we collect intensively, the Geospatial Collection assembles datasets from municipal, county, state and federal government agencies, councils of governments, non-governmental organizations, and others.  This data is typically harvested from the open World Wide Web, or is solicited from the agency directly.  The topic and format of these datasets vary widely and include:
      • Administrative boundaries such as school, library, and voting districts
      • Land ownership information (cadastres)
      • Zoning, land use, land cover, infrastructure, building footprints
      • Other datasets commonly used in local government
  • Global digital basemaps
    As printed topographic maps become more rare and space grows more scarce, the Geospatial Collection increasingly collects foreign digital basemap data.  These typically take one of two forms:  a rasterized and georeferenced topographic map, or a collection of vector layers.  The Geospatial Collection concentrates on collecting areas of the world for which base layers are not freely available online.
  • Research and instruction data
    The Geospatial Collection collects data layers in support of scholarly research and undergraduate and graduate coursework.  These datasets are supplied by commercial vendors, and are both locally hosted (data is stored on tangible media or Library-controlled servers) and remotely hosted (on vendor websites).
  • Preservation capture
    Spatial data, especially that produced by government agencies, is widely acknowledged as being ‘fugitive.’  Agencies responsible for creating and managing data are rarely charged with archiving past versions of data.  To that end, the Geospatial Collection functions as a long-term historical repository for spatial data that is in danger of disappearing from public view, and actively engages with the community in developing and implementing best practices for spatial data collection management.
  • Aerial Photographs:  The Geospatial Collection holds the largest collection of aerial photographs known to exist in an academic library.  Starting with a series of key donations in the 1980’s, our holdings offer an incomparable view of how the California landscape has developed since 1927.  As of 2015, the collection contains some 2.3 million individual images—mostly black and white vertical airphotos.  
  • Maps:
    • Local and regional maps are collected on all topics.
    • Global topographic maps:  Whether in print or digitally, the Geospatial Collection serves as a repository of medium-scale basemap information.  Through its longstanding agreement to collect this information on behalf of the UC/Stanford Group, the Geospatial Collection has amassed the second largest map collection in California.  A large portion of this collection is national map sets for countries other than the United States.  See “Global digital basemaps” under “Geospatial data” above.
    • Atlases
      • Thematic and general.  General atlases are collected as supplements to global topographic maps or in lieu of them when they are not available.

Systemwide and Other Resources

Through its participation in the UC/Stanford Map Libraries Group and consortial acquisitions via the California Digital Library, the Geospatial Collection is able to collect datasets of cross-campus interest that would otherwise be unaffordable.

Related Collection Development Policies

Subject librarian: Tom Brittnacher
Policy Last Updated: December 2020