The Libraries now have access to a useful new tool for anyone interested in public policy, sociology, public health, or any number of other related subjects. PolicyMap allows you to look at a wide range of data about subjects from demographics, income and spending habits, housing, lending, education, health, and many more. But this isn’t just some database full of dry lifeless numbers. PolicyMap gives you the ability to visualize the data you want to look at. Interested in the demographic makeup of Albany? What about the availability of affordable housing? PolicyMap can overlay that information on a map of the city and give you a good clear look at the differences. You can swap out data sets easily from drop down menus, and the data will appear as either shaded overlays or points on the map, depending on which is more appropriate. The data covers the whole country, so by zooming in and out you can see how different states, counties, or even cities compare to each other. You can even adjust the ranges displayed to suit your needs.
PolicyMap, despite its name, is not just about the map, however. It also provides charts and graphs to visualize the data. The tables function can be used to compare data between different locations, either at a specific point in time in a bar graph, or over the course of the available years in a line graph. Looking at shaded maps isn’t always the best way to visualize data, after all. PolicyMap also has more advanced features, like a layered map, but many of them can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to use. Fortunately, PolicyMap has a very large section dedicated to tutorials and learning aids to help people figure out how to use it. They also provide free online classes on how to use PolicyMap every week.
Despite some difficulties with the interface, PolicyMap is an important tool for one more great reason. Where much of the data provided is from the government, often taken from census data and the like, there are many data sets that are from non-governmental sources. This allows the user to view data that is unavailable from purely governmental sources. This allows you to track information such as access to supermarkets, if, say, you’re interested in food deserts. Subscribing organizations can also upload their own data, though these data sets tend to be fairly localized.
PolicyMap is an amazing tool for anyone in search of data. With its combination of governmental and non-governmental data, as well as its different visualization options, it can be of great benefit. And, though it can be complicated to use, PolicyMap provides plenty of guides and tutorials to bring new users up to speed. So take a look at it next time you’re riffling through our databases!
If you have any questions about PolicyMap, stop in or contact the reference desk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (518) 442-3691.
Blog post created by Alex Hoag
Image source: policymap.com