April 17, 2018

Lisa Sweeney | Movers & Shakers 2008

The Translator

Lisa Sweeney says her “ability to understand many things well enough to translate them to others” is her strongest asset as head of geographic information system (GIS) services at MIT Libraries. Reference coordinator and public services librarian Heather McCann agrees: “Students respond to her casual yet professional teaching style and are encouraged to use technology they might otherwise have felt was beyond their grasp.” That may well explain the 44 percent rise in GIS research queries over the past year.

Every day, Sweeney helps sophisticated researchers and amateurs alike use geospatial data to study how cybercommunities are created, air quality is monitored, and models of global change are built. McCann sees in Sweeney’s efforts a combination of the fundamentals of librarianship—“collecting, describing, and providing access to data,” she says—and the advanced technological skill of “loading nonrestricted geospatial data in usable form to an online repository with Federal Geographic Data Committee metadata.” Though that may be Greek to some, Sweeney’s frequent training sessions and one-on-one consultations with MIT community members literally help open the world up to them.

Her GeoWeb project may be her ultimate translation. She’s using open source software to make the MIT Geodata Repository searchable and accessible through web browsers, so that, she says, those “who don’t want to do complex analysis or learn a new software package” can work with geospatial data. And that translation could be the future of GIS, launching it way beyond the scope of the academy.


CURRENT POSITION Head, Geographic Information System (GIS) Services, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, Cambridge

DEGREE M.A., Management, Harvard University Extension School, expected 2009

WORK AND PLAY Honored for simultaneous athletic (volleyball) and academic achievements while at Rice University