The Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) allows social science researchers and practitioners easily to discover and access relevant high-quality networked resources and services world-wide including data archives and statistical software. It also provides a comprehensive list of relevant UK-based sources. SOSIG points to hundreds of resources on subjects ranging from anthropology to statistics. All the resources that appear on the gateway have been catalogued and described to aid users.
The culture of the Internet is still very much one of co-operation and a readiness to share knowledge and expertise with others, so, whatever your interests or specialisms, there are likely to be groups of people who share those interests on the Internet. Traditionally academics have shared resources such as working papers, articles, library catalogues, data archives and so on and the number of these has grown as publishing information on the networks has become easier. However, as more commerical institutions and businesses are becoming involved in the Internet a whole new range of information and services are also appearing.
The Internet - this global network of networks and the means of exchanging information - has been around for 20-30 years, but the advent of the World Wide Web (the set of tools and standards which allow images, sounds and animations to be transmitted and offer a 'graphical user interface' to information) has made publishing and accessing information much 'friendlier' and, in theory, much easier. When Internet access first escaped from the domain of the computer experts in this way, many others in the academic community 'gave it a try' and found it wanting. The most common complaints were the lack of availability of useful materials and the difficulty in locating the few that did exist. These problems persist with the continuing rapid expansion of the Internet: imagine a vast second-hand bookshop with a constantly expanding and changing stock but with little more than the spines of hundreds of thousands of books visible. Rose Growing and Essays on Stress jostle on the shelf next to Developments in Cognitive Psychology. Just like browsing the Internet, random selections from the shelves may uncover something up-to-date and worthwhile, but may just as easily disclose nothing more than outdated or frivolous comics on subjects of little or no interest. The time and effort taken to clamber to the top shelf to retrieve Essays on Stress will have been wasted if eventual perusal of the back cover or a quick flick through its pages reveal it as a collection on stress fractures in bridges (or worse still, simply a list of titles of other such works) rather than on the psychological and physical effects of occupational stress you were looking for. A recognition of these difficulties led to the eventual establishment of the Social Science Information Gateway project in the UK.
The project also has a number of volunteer LISTeners. These are generally subject specialists in the social sciences who can advise on the quality of resources. In addition to recommendations for the LISTeners, the project also regularly receives recommendations from the users of the service. An on-line form is available via the 'Add New Resource' button on SOSIG's home page for users to e-mail suggestions and additions (as well as occasional corrections) to the gateway. These are subject to the same quality checks before they are added to SOSIG. Regular, automated checks also avoid 'dead' links which occur when sites move leaving no forwarding address or vanish altogether - although as one of the selection criteria for SOSIG is 'stability' this happens less often than elsewhere.
Underlying SOSIG is ROADS (Resource Organisation and Discovery in subject based Services), a two-year collaborative project funded by eLib. ROADS provides the software tools and standards for SOSIG and a number of other subject-based gateways now being built on the SOSIG model, including the templates for recording resources and tools for indexing and searching. The project builds and extends on the work on resource descriptions already in process on SOSIG. The project will also implement a system that allows users to search across several different subject based services seamlessly. This will initially be piloted on the SOSIG service, OMNI (Organising Medical Networked Information) and the Electronic Libraries Information service at the UK Office of Library Networking (UKOLN).
EU funding for the DESIRE project involving eight European partners will build further on the software tools and standards underpinning the gateway and will allow SOSIG to offer a European focus as well as the existing UK and more general 'worldwide' sectors. Consideration will also be given to the extension of cross-database searching, improvements to search mechanisms, meta-data, indexing and cataloguing standards and practices as well as issues raised by the multi-lingual nature of many of the resources.
For more information about the ROADS project contact the authors or see the URL: <http://ukoln.bath.ac.uk/roads/>
Information about DESIRE is available at: <http://www.nic.surfnet.nl/surfnet/projects/desire/>
Users without WWW clients can access the service using the Lynx client. This will give you a text-only based interface to the service. Make a telnet call to:
login as: sosig
Debra Hiom, Research
Lesly Huxley, Training Officer
SOSIG/DESIRE, University of Bristol