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Number 2 June 2000

LIMBER: breaking the language barriers

By Maria Forsman June 15, 2000

A new EU-financed project has been launched by the European data archives whose aim is to create tools for multilingual information retrieval and storage on the Internet. The German, Greek, French, Norwegian and British data archives participate in the project. As the project progresses, information shall be passed also to other data archives and interested parties in general.

The aim: to find research material

LIMBER (Language Independent Metadata Browsing of European Resources) is a project where a multilingual interface is developed in order to find material in the European social science data archives.

In social science data archives there are data of interest to researchers working in different countries. The LIMBER project develops tools for multilingual information retrieval with the aim of helping users find the material they need regardless of place and language.

If the objectives set for the LIMBER project become realised, researchers can in the near future make queries in the data archives' joint database application NESSTAR in the language of their choice

The objectives of the LIMBER-project are:

  • To study and develop the metadata model and representation (in XML and RDF) for social science datasets to allow their integration within and across data archives;
  • develop and evaluate a multilingual thesaurus to be used to index and access social science datasets in data archives ;
  • develop and evaluate a multilingual query and retrieval tool to assist queries and allow queries to dataset archives to be made in several languages in different data archives.
  • develop and evaluate tools to support the construction and maintenance of datasets using automatic indexing, and,
  • evaluate an XML metadata server using social science datasets and a metadata model created for the multilingual thesaurus.

Multilingual thesaurus

The basis for the compiling of a multilingual thesaurus, i.e., a controlled index term list, is HASSET (Humanities and Social Science Electronic Thesaurus) used by the UK Data Archive.

Translating HASSET into Finnish has been discussed since the establishment of the FSD in 1999. In the Autumn 2000, the FSD starts a project to sort out possibilities to translate HASSET into Finnish and/or in one way or another join the LIMBER project.

A multilingual social science thesaurus contains many problems, however, and it is important to discuss them. They are not insurmountable but they must be taken into account.

Essential aspects are differences between cultures and countries, i.e. in the educational system, social classes or practices in social policy. In addition, regional changes and different age groups can give reason to think. There are problems in the multi-layered meanings of words, too; the Finnish word "tieto", for instance, can mean "data", "information" or "knowledge" in English.

Theory of science or methodology may bring forth changes in terminology. A new word may be introduced in the English speaking scientific community whose content a Finnish sociologist fully understands but to which there isn't yet a Finnish equivalent or an established substitute.

World languages and small ones

In April, the UK Data Archive invited twenty experts from different data archives to Essex to discuss these and other questions connected with a multilingual thesaurus, information retrieval and contents description. The FSD was represented in the LIMBER workshop by Maria Forsman and Arja Tuuliniemi.

One of the visions for the future in the LIMBER workshop was "ELSST", European Language Social Science Thesaurus. In addition to being a multilingual tool in description and retrieval of data in different data archives, it would also serve a broader purpose, in content description and retrieval of social science data on the Internet.

When assessing the prospects of the thesaurus, also the joint EU-project of European virtual libraries, RENARDUS, was discussed. The Finnish Virtual Library is one of the participants in it.


Image courtesy of LIMBER-project

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