Meet Rob Shepard, new GIS Librarian

headshot of Rob Shepard
Rob Shepard, new GIS Librarian

Rob Shepard joined the UChicago Library on September 28, 2023. Rob was most recently an Assistant Professor of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska. Previously, he served as the GIS Specialist at the University of Iowa Library’s Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio. Rob specializes in the field of population geography, using quantitative spatial data analysis and critical humanistic inquiry to focus on geographic disparities concerning race, ethnicity, gender, and class.

As GIS Librarian in the Center for Digital Scholarship, Rob will provide GIS consultation and outreach, manage the GIS Hub, participate in the BTAA Geospatial Information Network, and teach two credit-bearing courses per year in the Social Sciences Division on geospatial information.

Cecilia Smith, the Director of Digital Scholarship, interviewed Rob about his role here at the University of Chicago and his past experience in libraries.

What were you doing before taking this position at the University of Chicago?

Before joining you all, I was working as a professor of geography at the University of Nebraska. I served as the graduate programs director for geography, which included their GIScience certificate program. But I had been a librarian at University of Iowa for several years before that role, and I am delighted to return to librarianship.

How will you support students, faculty, and instructors in your role here?

This university has a lot of demand for GIS and spatial analysis, and I am already having consultation meetings with students, faculty, and staff. While there are often questions about finding and using geographic data, I am usually also providing some degree of guidance in how to analyze GIS data. There are many disciplines embracing GIS as a tool, and my background in spatial theory and spatial reasoning can be supportive in various parts of the research and publishing process. Relatedly, I will provide guided workshops and trainings on campus. I will also be teaching two credit-bearing courses each year in spatial data science and GIS, and I have been working with colleagues in the Social Sciences Division to develop new coursework. For example, I will be teaching the inaugural iteration of our “Pitfalls of Spatial Data Science” course in Spring 2025, which we’ve been developing as a team.

What’s your favorite thing about being a GIS Librarian?

I get to learn new things all the time. I help scholars at various stages of their journey as they think through spatial aspects of their research questions, which means I get at least a small taste of what they’re doing and why it matters. That helps to fulfill my curiosity about the world, and also it gives me the opportunity to apply my knowledge and experience meaningfully – often in ways that I had never anticipated.

What are you interested in outside of libraries?

My last house had a very big yard, and I got deeply into gardening. Since I’ve moved to Chicago, I don’t have a yard, so perhaps I will fall back into writing music again. My dog would prefer that we spend all my free time on long walks, though, so there are a lot of complicating factors.

What have you been reading, listening to, or watching lately?

This is my first time in many years commuting to work by train – so suddenly I find myself with much more reading time. I just finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale last week, and I am about halfway through two other books – Neuromancer, and Good Omens.

Reach out to Rob at with GIS questions.