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About the BTAA Geoportal

Visit the BTAA Geoportal at

Key features

  • connects users to digital geospatial resources, including GIS datasets, web services, and digitized historical maps from multiple data clearinghouses and library catalogs
  • saves researcher time by centralizing regional geospatial data discovery into a single interface
  • provides discovery for the most up-to-date resources
  • allows users to search by What, Where, and When, without needing to know Who or Why

About the Geoportal

Geospatial data and tools are increasingly important in academic research and education. With the growing number of GIS datasets and digitized historical maps available, it can be challenging to locate the right resources since they are scattered across various platforms and not always tagged with the necessary metadata for easy discovery. To address this issue, the Big Ten Academic Alliance Geospatial Data Project launched in 2015 to connect scholars with geospatial resources.

One of the primary outputs of the project is the BTAA Geoportal, a comprehensive index of tens of thousands of geospatial resources from hundreds of sources. The Geoportal enables users to search by map, keyword, and category, providing access to scanned maps, digital GIS data, aerial imagery, and interactive mapping applications. All of the resources available through the Geoportal are free and open, and the scanned maps cover countries around the world. Most of the data in the catalog is sourced from local governments, such as states, counties, and cities.

The Geoportal is a useful tool because finding local geospatial data through a simple Google search can be difficult due to the lack of visibility of these datasets. The problem is that users need to know which agency is responsible for creating and distributing the data they are looking for and visit that agency's website to access the datasets. For instance, if you are researching a particular neighborhood in a city and need data on the roads, parks, parcels, and city council ward boundaries, you might need to check different state agencies, the city or the county website. But with the Geoportal, you can easily search by What, Where, and When without worrying about the Who or Why.

The BTAA Geoportal helps scholars find and access geospatial resources from various sources, enabling them to focus on their research rather than the time-consuming task of finding the right data.


The following quotes are anecdotes from Task Force members about using the BTAA Geoportal

In the Classroom


Every semester I get invited to talk to a 200-level Geography course called "Mapping your world". I always highlight the Geoportal as a resource for finding spatial data as the students work on their end of semester group projects. Many of the groups research regional issues focused on the Midwest and have told me that they frequently use the Geoportal to find data. While new to mapping, students successfully find their data on the Geoportal, but they don't always realize what a valuable resource this is. However, an instructor who has been working in the field for decades really appreciates that so much spatial data has been aggregated into our Geoportal, and has been an advocate for the Geoportal in the classroom.


A nursing department professor reached out to us with the idea to develop content using the Geoportal for an online course. We created a tutorial for students to search for public health data in the Geoportal and visualize it in ArcGIS Online. The students were from all over the country and interested in finding public health related datasets from their own states. In addition to the Minnesota datasets and scanned map featured in the tutorial, the students also found public health related datasets for Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maryland.


I visited a Landscape architecture undergraduate class. For their capstone project, they needed to find information for a particular town or community of their own choice and design a new feature (such as parks, service center, etc.) according to their instructor. Many students (including international students) wanted to choose their out-of-state hometown for the project, but might not have known what agency or website to visit to find the information. The Geoportal solves this by providing a platform for them to search by place for their projects.

Research Projects


A grad student was looking for GIS data for Twin Cities parks -- we used the Geoportal to search due to the map search option (combined with "parks" as a keyword). It turned out that St. Paul parks were part of a Ramsey County administrative boundaries data set, which would have been hard to locate with just text searching.


Kari is a graduate student in Anthropology. Her research interests are about how human encroachment influences the natural habitat in the Congo. She is learning GIS to prepare for her field trip and used the portal to find data in her research area, including administrative boundaries, roads, rivers, protected areas, mining, forest, populated areas, etc. It is hard to find this kind of related information from a simple Google map search, and the Geoportal helped her to explore her research question and prepare the background information before her field trip.


Joe A., an archaeologist, came to a Geography Awareness Week showcase that the University was putting on. I'd been invited to present that night, and I ended up talking about the Geoportal, but I didn’t have a lot of time to answer questions because there were other presenters and a short time span. Anyway, Joe emailed me the next day saying that he went on the Geoportal and that he had everything from Boone County in just a few clicks. He referred to it as "early Christmas." I believe he was aware that we had township atlases of that sort, but he didn’t realize we had georeferenced historical atlases online like that for download, as it directly related to some research project that he and a colleague had been working on, where they were downloading and georeferencing plats one at a time. I haven’t really spoken with him since, but they seemed to be relieved at the reduced workload.

Code Repository

The code for the BTAA Geoportal is available on GitHub at

The geoportal is built with Geoblacklight, a multi-institutional open-source collaboration for finding and sharing geospatial data. We are also active contributors to the GeoBlacklight project.

The technical infrastructure for the project is provided by the University of Minnesota Libraries Web Development department.