Spatial discovery and the research library

A paper co-authored by spatial@ucsb’s Sara Lafia and Werner Kuhn, along with the Map and Imagery Laboratory’s Jon Jablonski and Spatial affiliates Antonio Medrano and Savannah Cooley was published in Transactions in GIS:

Lafia, S., Jablonski, J., Kuhn, W., Cooley, S., & Medrano, F. A. (2016). Spatial discovery and the research library. Transactions in GIS 20(3): 399–412.

Abstract: Academic libraries have always supported research across disciplines by integrating access to diverse contents and resources. They now have the opportunity to reinvent their role in facilitating interdisciplinary work by offering researchers new ways of sharing, curating, discovering, and linking research data. Spatial data and metadata support this process because location often integrates disciplinary perspectives, enabling researchers to make their own research data more discoverable, to discover data of other researchers, and to integrate data from multiple sources. The Center for Spatial Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the UCSB Library have undertaken joint research to better enable the discovery of research data and publications. The research addresses the question of how to spatially enable data discovery in a setting that allows for mapping and analysis in a GIS while connecting the data to publications about them. It suggests a framework for an integrated data discovery mechanism and shows how publications may be linked to associated data sets exposed either directly or through metadata on Esri’s Open Data platform. The results demonstrate a simple form of linking data to publications through spatially referenced metadata and persistent identifiers. This linking adds value to research products and increases their discoverability across disciplinary boundaries.

Spatial Discovery Expert Meeting: Final Report

Final Report on our 2015 Specialist Meeting on Spatial Discovery

Editors: Savannah Cooley,  Sara LafiaAntonio Medrano, Denise Stephens, and Werner Kuhn

This report summarizes a two-day expert meeting on “Spatial Discovery,” organized jointly by the Library and the Center for Spatial Studies of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and held in June 2015 at the Upham Hotel, in Santa Barbara. The 24 participants contributed expertise in Library Science, as well as knowledge pertaining to spatial information and relevant research on data-seeking behavior. Five keynote addresses as well as several plenary and break-out discussions explored the challenges, best practices, and potential strategies associated with the cross-platform discovery of spatial data in the context of modern libraries.

Spatial Search – Final Report


Spatial Approaches to Information Search

coverSpatial Cognition & Computation

Special Issue on Spatial Approaches to Information Search

Guest editors

  • Andrea Ballatore, Center for Spatial Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
  • Werner Kuhn, Geography/Center for Spatial Studies, UCSB
  • Mary Hegarty, Psychological and Brain Sciences/Center for Spatial Studies, UCSB
  • Ed Parsons, Google

Information search has become an enabler across the spectrum of human activity. Search engines process billions of queries each day and influence the visibility and accessibility of online content. Scientists search for meaningful patterns in massive data sets, while consumers search for products and services in a growing pool of options.

Operating at two levels, there is a spatial component at the core of search. On one hand, search technologies rely on a spatial metaphor: We talk about going to our favorite websites to help search for fragments in an overwhelmingly large space of documents, images, and videos. On the other hand, geographic space indexes information and refines search strategies, relying on the geo-location of entities to assess their relevance. While the spatial dimension of search is pervasive and foundational to many disciplines, it has not been adequately analyzed.

The goal of this special issue is to fill this research gap by attracting contributions from disciplines such as cognitive psychology, geographic information science, linguistics, information science, and computer science. Topics of interest include:

  • geographic information retrieval
  • spatial search and uncertainty
  • search models and algorithms for spatial information
  • semantics of spatial search
  • cognitive models for spatial information search
  • human-computer interaction for spatial search
  • visual search in spatial interfaces
  • information foraging for spatial search


Spatial Search: Final Report

Final Report on the 2014 Specialist Meeting on Spatial Search

Editors: Andrea Ballatore,  Mary HegartyWerner Kuhn, and Ed Parsons

This specialist meeting on the theme of spatial search provided a platform for exploring research frontiers at the interface of computer science, cognitive science, and other disciplines, especially in the context of geographically referenced information. This report reviews the discussions among 36 experts from academia and industry over two days and draws attention to research gaps that will require broad interdisciplinary efforts over the next five to ten years.

Spatial Discovery

spatial_discovery_sponsorsA private grant was awarded to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to study the challenges and strategies that libraries and researchers face in trying to discover research data on diverse platforms and in a variety of environments. The research was carried out in a collaboration between the UCSB Library and the Center for Spatial Studies. This Spatial Discovery project (1) developed and tested a technical protocol enabling researchers to easily identify spatial data located across disparate web-accessible databases, repositories, and catalogs; and (2) promoted the evolution of the spatial university through expanded awareness and adoption of spatial data and analysis in research and teaching.

In the first phase of this project, a Spatial Discovery Specialist Meeting was held in Santa Barbara in June 2015. A report of this meeting has been published, detailing key methods and issues related to spatial discovery. A second meeting, Spatial Discovery Specialist Meeting II, was convened in Santa Barbara in May 2017. Preliminary results of the project were shared with meeting participants. A final meeting, Spatial Discovery Specialist Meeting III, was convened in May 2019. It marked the culmination of research and prototyping efforts to make research data discoverable by location.

The first phase of the project produced an interdisciplinary open data site showcasing campus research. The second phase experimented with spatial discovery of non-spatial data, producing spatializations of campus research; these included a self-organizing map of UCSB theses and dissertations and topic maps of Earth Research Institute (ERI) documents.

Period: 2015–2020

Co-PI’s: UCSB Library and Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies)

Researchers: Sara Lafia

Past Contributors: Denise Stephens (UCSB’s University Librarian until June 2017), André BruggmannGeorgios TechnitisAntonio Medrano, and Savannah Cooley


  • Lafia, S., Kuhn, W., Caylor, K., and Hemphill, L. (2021). Mapping Research Topics at Multiple Levels of Detail. Patterns, 100210. doi:10.1016/j.patter.2021.100210.
  • Lafia, S. (2020). Designing for serendipity: Research data curation in topic spaces (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara).
  • Lafia, S., Kuhn, K., & Caylor, K. (2020). Mapping research topics at multiple levels of detail. Manuscript submitted for publication, EarthArXiv.
  • Lafia, S., Last, C., & Kuhn, W. (2019). Enabling the discovery of thematically related research objects with systematic spatializations. In 14th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2019). Schloss Dagstuhl-Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Informatik, E-Scholarship.
  • Lafia, S., Turner, A., & Kuhn, W. (2018). Improving discovery of open civic data. In 10th International Conference on Geographic Information Science (GIScience 2018). Schloss Dagstuhl-Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Informatik, E-Scholarship.
  • Lafia, S., & Kuhn, W. (2018). Spatial discovery of linked research datasets and documents at a spatially enabled research library. Journal of Map & Geography Libraries 14(1): 21–39, E-Scholarship.
  • Lafia, S. (2017). Spatial discovery and the research library: Linking research datasets and documents (Master’s thesis, University of California, Santa Barbara), E-Scholarship.
  • Lafia, S., Jablonski, J., Kuhn, W., Cooley, S., & Medrano, F. A. (2016). Spatial discovery and the research library. Transactions in GIS 20(3): 399–412, E-Scholarship.
  • Cooley, S., Lafia, S., Medrano, A., Stephens, D., & Kuhn, W. (2015). Spatial discovery expert meeting final report., E-Scholarship.

In the Media:

  • Lafia, S., and Kuhn, W. (2019, Summer). Enabling the spatial discovery of research data in libraries. US National Report (US National Committee for the International Cartographic Association)
  • Lafia, S. & Kuhn, W. (2017, Summer). Opening access to university scholarship through spatial discovery. ArcUser.
  • Lafia, S. & Kuhn, W. (2017, Spring). Spatial discovery at UCSB. spatial@ucsb.local2017 Poster.
  • Lafia, S. (2017, Spring). Spatial discovery: Linking geographic footprints to topic spaces. UCSB Grad Slam Semifinals.

Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Spatially Integrated Social Science

2014 Stimson cover SISS Handbook Edward ElgarUCSB has been at the forefront of promoting a spatially integrated approach to social science research and teaching. Its Center for Spatially Integrated Social  Science, under the leadership of Michael Goodchild and hosted by the Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research (ISBER), the Department of Geography,  and the Center for Spatial Studies provided training for hundreds of social science researchers and instructors from across the country over the period 2000-2011. Goodchild and Donald Janelle edited Spatially Integrated Social Science (Oxford University Press) in 2004. Building on this foundation, Robert Stimson (The University of Melbourne) followed up with a similar effort in Australia, culminating in the newly released 2014 Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Spatially Integrated Social Science from Edward Elgar Publications, featuring chapters by Goodchild and Janelle.

See the Table of Contents.

Advancing the Spatially Enabled Smart Campus: Final Report

Final Report on the 2013 Specialist Meeting on Advancing the Spatially Enabled Smart Campus

Authors: Donald G. Janelle, Werner Kuhn, Michael Gould, and Maureen Lovegreen

This 2-day specialist meeting in December 2013 was conceived and organized by the Center for Spatial Studies (spatial@ucsb) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). The meeting combined “thinking big” (asking what will make campuses smarter in the future) with “acting small” (focusing on specific organizational and technological measures and their evaluation). Making our daily environments smart through technologies has been on research and political agendas for more than three decades, featuring a primary interest in the outdoor environments of cities. Smart city projects are now found throughout the world, focusing on environmental sustainability, e-governance, transportation, health, and other public goods by deploying innovative technologies for sensing, social networking, and knowledge integration.

Spatial Thinking Across the College Curriculum: A Report

The report on the 2012 Specialist Meeting has been published on Spatial Cognition and Computation.

hscc20.v014.i02.coverAbstract: This report presents findings from a specialist meeting of spatially-minded researchers and administrators from education and industry to consider prospects for introducing courses and curricula on spatial thinking in higher education. More than 40 participants explored the rationale for expanding student exposure to concepts, tools, and applications of spatial reasoning across a range of science, engineering, and humanities disciplines. The focus was on what we know and what we need to know to make the case for space, underscoring basic research on what is meant by spatial thinking and on variations in the spatial reasoning skills required in different domains of knowledge. The need for rigorous assessments of learning outcomes associated with different approaches to teaching spatial thinking was emphasized. Read the full article