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Number 2/2001

IASSIST Conference in Amsterdam May 14-19, 2001

International co-operation in data archiving

Mari Kleemola, Sami Borg, Arja Kuula 5.6.2001

Woodshoes. Photo: Marion WittenbergThe annual conference of the IASSIST (International Association for Social Science Information Service & Technology) was held in Amsterdam in May. The theme of the conference was Collaborative Working in the Social Science Cyber Space. In the numerous workshops, topical subjects relating to archiving and reuse of social science data and possibilities for international co-operation were discussed. Detailed information about the conference and the abstracts of presentations can be found at the conference's website.

New data description standard and new tools

Workshop. Photo: Nero MatthiasAt the moment, the world of data archives is going through times of change and upheaval. A major part of the conference's workshops concentrated on the DDI description recommendation which is new in the field, but already fairly well established. Several data archives have changed their old data descriptions to suit the DDI or produce DDI compatible descriptions of their databases. Producing these descriptions in practice, the new opportunities provided by the DDI and new applications utilising it were the cause of much discussion.

Special attention was paid to NESSTAR, a joint database application which enables simultaneous information retrieval in several archives at the same time. The representatives of the FSD took part in this discussion by presenting the experiences of the FSD in using NESSTAR.

Archiving of qualitative data

Research officer at the FSD, Arja Kuula, co-arranged a workshop on the availability and documenting of qualitative data. The workshop focused on archiving and describing of qualitative data. Among the Finnish representatives in the workshop was Tiina Malkamäki from the The Archive of Folklore and Comparative Religion at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Turku. She presented a project launched in 1999 where materials of the Department of Cultural Studies have been digitised and stored in a web-based database.

Even though qualitative data continue to remain outside the IASSIST'S main activities, the interest in various types of data is growing all the time. A sign of this was that the workshop on qualitative data received a large and active audience.

European co-operation

At the conference, several European co-operation projects were presented and discussed. One of these is LIMBER, an EU-financed project with an aim of constructing a multilingual thesaurus, ELSST. The FSD has worked closely with the project in connection of its own controlled vocabulary initiative.

In connection of the conference, the CESSDA-DDI workgroup convened to discuss the data description procedures and practices in European data archives. The standardisation of descriptions would benefit researchers needing materials by enabling simultaneous information retrieval in different archives at the same time with a single interface. The archives could also ease their workload especially in archiving and storing international survey series like the Eurobarometers.

New data archives and web resources

Train. Photo: Nero MatthiasThe Outreach programme of the IASSIST enables the presence of those organisations whose attendance would otherwise be impossible due to financial restraints. Several information service organisations of the Eastern European countries were present in Amsterdam within the Outreach programme.

In some countries, the era of the Internet has recently brought forth new social science data archives, for instance, in the Czech Republic, Romania and Latvia. In many other countries, information services of the field are being strengthened within university libraries or other existing support services of research. It appears evident that CESSDA, the European consortium for data archives, will get new members in the next few years. This trend will contribute to the development of the societies of the European Union, and more broadly, the whole of Europe.

It was also interesting to hear about the situation in Russia. In the past two years, a national portal serving social sciences has been built at the University of Moscow. It provides researchers with a wide range of electronic information sources, and to some extent, also datasets.

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