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GIS (Geographic Information Systems)

Start here for general GIS questions.


Data Services staff are available to assist with your geospatial questions.  Please visit our Helpdesk at the hours below.  Helpdesk is available in-person in the Research Studio on Level A of Olin Library (starting January 31, 2022) OR via Zoom by clicking on the links below:

Mondays from 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Tuesdays from 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Wednesdays from 10:00am to 12:00pm

Thursdays from 10:00am to 12:00pm

We are also available by appointment.  Please reach out to us via the Data Services Appointment Request form.

This guide will direct you toward spatial data sources as well as connect you with other relevant resources. As you conduct your research, please use these pages to keep up to date on GIS events on campus, new data acquisitions, and library resources for GIS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are tools to explore spatial questions.

The acronym GIS most commonly refers to Geographic Information Systems, the interconnected hardware, software, users, data, and procedures that together form a system for geospatial analysis.  GIS can be used to study, analyze, and visualize any phenomenon that has a spatial component.  If location plays a role in your research, GIS offers a way to include these spatial features in your analysis.

This video gives a brief introduction to GIS and shows some examples of what can be accomplished with this versatile tool.

Jennifer Moore

Head of Data Services

Dorris Scott

Social Science Data Curator and GIS Librarian

Bill Winston

GIS Analyst 

Mollie Webb

GIS Programmer


Map a network drive (Windows) and create a folder connection in ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro

See instructions for mapping network drives on Apple computers further down on this page.

The University Libraries Geospatial Data Collection is available as a shared network drive for users connected to the WashU network (either on campus or via VPN).  See the University Libraries Geospatial Data Collection Research Guide to request access to this resource.

After obtaining access to the drive, follow the instructions below for mapping a network drive to the collection and creating a connection in ArcGIS products (if desired).

Map a network drive (Windows)

  • Connect to the WUSTL network, either on-campus (encrypted, not guest wireless) or via a WashU VPN.

  • Open Windows File Manager / Windows Explorer: Start > Computer (or My PC)

  • Right click on Computer (or My PC) > Map network drive

Map network drive

  • Select the desired drive letter using the "Drive" drop down menu

  • In the "Folder" text box, type \\\libraries_gdc

  • Check the "Reconnect at logon" box if you wish to create a persistent link

  • Check the "Connect using different credentials" box

  • Click Finish


Enter the phrase "accounts\<your wustlkey>" (replace <your wustkey> with your own WUSTL Key) and your WUSTL password to log in.  For example, if your WUSTL key is jsmith, you would enter accounts\jsmith in the username section.

After connecting successfully, navigate to the Geospatial Data Collection by clicking through the "Active" and "geospatial_data" directories.

Create a folder connection in ArcMap

1) Open the ArcMap application (Start > All Programs > ArcGIS > ArcMap)

2) Open the Catalog window (Icon located in the Standard toolbar)

3) In the Catalog window, right click on Folder Connections > Connect to Folder

4) In the Connect to Folder dialog, navigate to the mapped network drive "libraries_gdc" and click OK.


5) The libraries_gdc drive is now mapped in the Catalog window.  Expand the drive to view its contents.


Create a folder connection in ArcGIS Pro

1) Open the ArcGIS Pro application (Start > All Programs > ArcGIS > ArcGIS Pro)

2) In the Catalog Pane, right click on Folders > Add Folder Connection

arcgis pro folder connection

3) In the Add Folder Connection window, navigate to My PC and then click on the connection the "libraries_gdc"

Map a network drive (Mac)

1) Connect to the WUSTL network, either on-campus (encrypted, not guest wireless) or via a WashU VPN.

2) Open Finder > Go > Connect to Server

Finder Window Connect To Server

3) Enter the server address: smb://


4) When prompted, connect as Registered User.  Enter your WUSTL credentials:

  • Name: accounts\<wustl key> (Replace <wustl key> with your own WUSTL key)
  • Password: your WUSTL password


5) The shared drive 'libraries_gdc' will now appear as a mounted drive in Finder and on the Desktop


Note: If you do not see 'libraries_gdc' as a mounted drive, open Finder and go to Finder > Preferences... Under the General tab, under Show these items on the desktop: make sure that Connected servers is checked. You will then be able to see the 'libraries_gdc' mounted drive on your desktop.

Importing an Excel spreadsheet in ArcMap

When attempting to add a sheet from an Excel workbook (.xls or .xlsx) to ArcMap, the following error may appear:

"Failed to Connect to Database - Class Not Registered"

This issue stems from Microsoft Office drivers that may or may not be installed on your Windows system.  Read this help page on Understanding how to use Microsoft Excel files in ArcMap for more information on the issue.  To install the drivers on your machine, see the the Microsoft Access Database Engine 2010 Redistributable download page. 

You might also wish to try some other methods to bring tabular data into ArcMap:

  • Use the Excel to Table tool to convert the sheet to a stand-alone or geodatabase table.
  • Convert the sheet within the Excel file to a comma separated values (csv) format.


Importing an Excel spreadsheet in ArcGIS Pro

When attempting to add a sheet from an Excel workbook (.xls or .xlsx) to ArcGIS Pro, the following error may appear:

"Required Microsoft driver is not installed"

required microsoft driver is not installed

This issue stems from Microsoft Office drivers that may or may not be installed on your Windows system.  See the Esri help page Work with Microsoft Excel files in ArcGIS Pro for more information and to download the necessary drivers.

Unknown Spatial Reference

You add a shapefile or feature class to ArcMap and the following message appears:

Unknown Spatial Reference

This message indicates that the file you are attempting to add does not have any associated spatial information and thus, ArcMap may not be able to place it in the correct place.  Spatial reference information can be applied to a shapefile or feature class using the Define Projection tool from the Data Management toolbox.

1) Activate the Search window from the Standard toolbar and type "Define Projection" in the search field.

2) Click Define Project to open the Define Projection tool.

3) Click the folder icon next to Input Dataset or Feature Class and navigate to your shapefile or feature class.

4) Click the pointer icon next to Coordinate System and navigate to the desired coordinate system.

Note: For more information on selecting an appropriate coordinate system, see the following links:

Choosing the Right Map Projection -