Working as an intern with Towson University Center for GIS (CGIS) has shown me first hand just how significant of a role web GIS plays in our business. Specifically, MD iMap comes to mind. Throughout my internship, I have been tasked with updating and creating metadata files for MD iMap; a job that sounds boring, but sparked an interest in me for wanting to learn more about how exactly our maps are put on the web. The problem was that I didn’t know where to begin.

The purpose of writing this blog is to share some insight and resources I recently came across with those who want to become a little more familiar with increasingly popular field of web GIS and web mapping.

With a little guidance and insight from fellow co-workers and TU professors, I was able to get my hands on a few valuable resources for learning the basics of web GIS. These resources include:

The book Web GIS: Principles and Applications is an excellent place to start for learning the essentials of web GIS. This book covers everything from technical basics, to web services, to mashups, to mobile GIS. Additionally, the book covers applications of web GIS in E-government and E-business. In fact, Maryland is even mentioned in a couple chapters in regards to Governor Martin O’Malley’s Maryland StateStat site. This book is a great introduction for those new to web GIS world, and even for those with working experience in GIS. Personally, I found it very useful for understanding the processes of creating web services and other tasks that I help with at CGIS. This book is chalk full of information without being overly technical and an easy read. I highly recommend it!

OpenLayers is a free open source JavaScript library for creating web mapping applications from scratch.  It’s relatively easy to use, all you need to do is throw in a couple links to different web map services from various servers/APIs such as Google Maps, ESRI ArcGIS or Bing Maps and voila, you have yourself a handy dandy web map! Well…okay, so maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but with the beginners guide by your side, you will be creating web maps in no time.

I mentioned JavaScript, but there’s no need fret if you aren’t familiar with any programming languages. The OpenLayers beginners guide is your friend here and the best part is that it doesn’t require you to have any prior programming experience, which is great if you are someone like me! The book guides you though the whole process of creating web maps in a step-by-step process, and you learn by doing! As the book says, “Less theory, more results”. This is essentially why I chose this book.

Here is a little example of a basic map I created using OpenLayers:


Seems pretty simple right? The other thing about open layers is that it’s completely customizable and requires no special software to run because it’s run on a web browser. This seems like a winning combination if you ask me.

In sum, I have outlined a couple great book and free tools for understanding and creating web mapping applications. Hopefully, this blog will help some of those out there who looking to learn a new skill or two and break into the world of web GIS, or for those who wish to expand upon and leverage the use of Open Source Technologies.  Soon, you’ll be creating web maps and mashups in no time.


Alex Stapleton joined CGIS in 2011 as a GIS Technician. He works primarily on the community anchor institution data component of the Maryland Broadband Mapping Initiative. He is pursuing a B.S. at Towson University in a combined Sociology and Geography major, with a minor in Geographic Information Systems.