Earlier today I was lucky enough to speak at 200OK in Tulsa. My talk, Mapping The Internet, is about a project I’ve been working on called MargieMap.

MargieMap is a visualization of United States census tracts by income. It also layers libraries on top of the census tracts. I used Mapbox to host the map tiles. The income data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and the library data came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I’m planning to open source the data I’ve gathered, but I haven’t found a suitable (read: affordable) way to do that yet.

Why income?

I’ve been interested in the correlation between income and internet access for a long time. A lack of Internet Access contributes to the Homework Gap.

Of course a lack of internet access isn’t limited to households with school-aged children, nor are it’s challenges. According to a 2015 Pew Research Study nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States are smartphone-dependent – meaning they do not have access to the Internet outside of their smartphone.

These individuals reported using their phone for a multitude of things including job searches and looking up medical conditions. A large number of these individuals also reported losing their cell phone data due to cost.

With internet access being so prevalent, it’s hard for some developers to imagine not having connection, but the truth is – everyone will lose connection. Losing connection is something that is almost completely beyond a person’s control. Unfortunately, it’s usually beyond the control of the person when they’ll regain their connection.

Why libraries?

Free wifi is a very common feature for restaurants and coffee shops, but the truth is that wifi isn’t really free. Patrons of the establishment are expected to buy things in order to hang out and use the wifi.

Public libraries are one of the few places a person can go and use the internet without having to pay for a meal or a drink – which is really important if someone is unemployed and searching for jobs online. There are so many reasons why someone might need to use the internet – to research an illness, pay bills, or research for school. Fortunately, public libraries offer internet access without a fee.

How can I use the map?

The map has categorized incomes by color – low incomes are heavy blue and fade as the median income increases. Higher incomes start off light and turn into a heavy pink. You can search by zip code, city, or state and see the incomes in that area. If you click on an area on the map, you’ll see the median individual income for that tract.

You might also notice orange dots scattered around the map – those are public libraries. The goal of the map was to visualize the income data along with libraries and see if there’s any correlation between income and libraries.

What’s next?

I’ve gotten data for all 50 states onto the map, but I also have data for U.S. territories as well. I plan to map the income data for the territories, but I’ve been struggling to find a list of libraries for the territories. If you know where I could find this data, please let me know!

Starting small, I’d like to find high/low incomes for the country, and for each state as well. Once I have that, I’ll be able to focus on those income tracts and see if they have libraries and how many.

There’s so much I want to do with this data – MargieMap is just the first step. I’m very excited to see what all I learn, and I’ll be sure to blog about it too!

** I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the help I got from Devin Clark. Devin is a JavaScript dev with a specific interest in geo and mapping, and he was a great resource on mapping tools. Thanks Devin! **