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 is being carried out in a collaboration between the UCSB Library and the Center for Spatial Studies. The desired outcome of this Spatial Discovery project is to (1) develop and test a technical protocol enabling researchers to easily identify spatial data located across disparate web-accessible databases, repositories, and catalogs; and (2) to promote the evolution of the spatial university through expanded awareness of and adoption of spatial data and analysis in research and teaching. The resulting one-stop discovery mechanism will be suitable as a primary web-delivered search tool capable of functioning within a research data cloud, as well as a resource within institutional discovery frameworks. In addition, the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboratory will promote increased integration of spatially-framed instructional and research activities across disciplines through targeted collaborative programming and outreach.

In the first phase of this project, a Spatial Discovery Specialist Meeting was held in Santa Barbara on June 17-18, 2015. A report of this meeting has been published, detailing key methods and issues related to spatial discovery. A second expert meeting, Spatial Discovery Specialist Meeting II, was convened in Santa Barbara on May 11-12, 2017. Preliminary results of the project were shared with meeting participants. Discussions informed the project’s current research direction. A third expert meeting is currently being planned for the spring of 2019.

To date, the project has worked with campus faculty to create an interdisciplinary open data discovery site that showcases campus research. The project has also experimented with a linked data interface for the site that triplifies research object metadata and links data to publications. The Spatial Discovery Project is now experimenting with spatial discovery of non-spatial data. It is prototyping several spatializations of campus research, including a self-organizing map of UCSB theses and dissertations.

The vision for Spatial Discovery at UCSB in the coming year includes partnering with Esri, along with other university research libraries, to launch a Hub site, integrating spatial campus data through the UCSB Library’s Interdisciplinary Research Collaboratory. The project also plans to link spatial research data shared through UCSB’s new Data Collective with other campus repositories, like eScholarship, ultimately making campus-affiliated research more spatially discoverable.

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., 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 GIS20(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. “Enabling the Spatial Discovery of Research Data in Libraries.” US National Report (US National Committee for the International Cartographic Association) (July 2019)
  • 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.