Free GIS Books

Caitlin Dempsey


Building a collection of reference and academic texts on GIS can be costly.  There are some free online source materials that can be a valuable contribution, especially if your book budget is nonexistent.  Most of these free GIS books are available in PDF format and can be read from a computer or on an eBook reader.  A few are only available online.

Free GIS books from the National Academies Press

A good starting place for finding GIS books is the The National Academies Press site which offers over 4,000 titles in PDF format for free from its site.  For example, a search for the term “GIS” returns over 1,100 results.

Map projections manual

The classic book, “Map Projections: A Working Manual“, has scanned by the USGS and made available for free online in both PDF  and DjVu formats.  The volume was originally published in 1987 and was written by John P. Snyder.  The book provides an overview of the “appearance, usage, and history is given together with both forward and inverse equations for each [map] projection.

Urban planning and GIS

This urban planning and GIS book entitled,  “GIS in Sustainable Urban Planning and Management” is an open access book focusing on the use of GIS in sustainable urban planning and management includes six chapters containing exercises and GIS data that can be accessed to learn how to reproduce some of the analyses from the book using QGIS.

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Geospatial analysis

The third edition of “Geospatial Analysis – A comprehensive guide” is available for reading online and “covers the full spectrum of analytical techniques that are provided within modern Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related software products”.  The book was written by Michael de Smith and Paul Longley of University College London, and Michael Goodchild from UC Santa Barbara.  PDF versions of the book are available for purchase from the site.

Free Open Access Book: Google Earth Engine Applications

This  book features research on using Google Earth Engine to access and analyze GIS Data. The over 420-page book contains 23 articles reprinted from a special Google Earth Engines Applications issue originally published with the journal Remote Sensing.  

Published by MDPI Books and edited by Lalit Kumar and Onisimo Mutanga, the open access book features a range of case studies using Google Earth for processing GIS data.  

Some of the case studies include: mapping mining areas in the Brazilian Amazon, monitoring the impact of land cover change on surface urban heat island, estimating satellite-derived bathymetry, and drought assessment using global soil moisture data.

The book is available for free as an open access book in PDF format under a CC BY-NC-ND license.  Those who want a printed version can purchase a soft cover format from the same site.

Free Esri “Best Practices” in GIS series

Esri offers free eBooks as part of its “Best Practices” series.  The booklets over examples of the use of GIS in different industries and subjects in GIS.  Select topics include GeoDesign, Essays in Geography and GIS, GIS for Oceans, and Managing GIS. More: These Two ArcGIS Books are Free from Esri

GIS and public safety

The Rutgers Center on Public Security offers a free PDF version of “GIS for Public Safety: An Annotated Guide to ArcGIS Tools and Procedures“.   From the site: “This book, GIS for Public Safety, focuses on Esri’s ArcGIS functionality (the most popular GIS software, worldwide) and presents many of the tools and techniques that are commonly used by public safety researchers, analysts, and practitioners.”  The book can also be printed to order for $32 each.

Essays on Geography and GIS Volume Two

This two-volume of essays by industry leaders and academics has been published by Esri.  This latest edition contains essays by Jack Dangermond and Roger Tomlinson, among others and covers topics such as GeoDesign and Geographic Literacy.

Read more:

Beyond Mapping Articles

This resource isn’t technically a free GIS book resource but:

Spanning from 1989 to the present, the collective articles from Joseph K. Berry’s Beyond Mapping column in GeoWorld Magazine are available on the web site.  Berry has written extensive about the subject of GIS over the past 13 years.  His articles cover topics including spatial analysis, the direction of GIS, geospatial technology, and applications of GIS techniques.

The articles are listed chronologically but are also in the process of being assembled by topic.  Currently, Beyond Mapping III, which compiles articles by topic from 1996 to 2007 is available online as well.  Beyond Mapping I and II are currently being prepared.  Most articles older than July of 1996 are not entirely online yet.  There are a host of other materials covering GIS exercises and course materials which can be accessed by visiting the InnovationGIS home page.

Further GIS Books

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.