Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Around the Table: Social Sciences

Debra Hiom from SOSIG takes us on a guided tour of major Internet-based Social Science resources.

The resources references in this article are just a small sample of what is available to social scientists over the Internet. All of the sites mentioned can be accessed through the Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) [1] a HE-funded gateway to high quality networked resources in the social sciences. Other subject-based gateways in this area include Biz/ed [2] for economics and business education information. Biz/ed also contains some excellent primary material such as company facts, tutor support pages and searchable datasets.

Probably the largest social science site is Coombsweb [3] at the Australian National University. This contains a range of File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Wide Area Information Server (WAIS), email and Web resources, including a number of the World Wide Web Consortium Virtual Libraries and a useful What’s New in WWW Social Sciences Newsletter.

There are several services in the UK providing access to social science datasets. The main depository is the Data Archive at the University of Essex [4]. The Archive houses thousands of datasets from a variety of sources, including the Office of National Statistics, the Economic and Social Research Council and other national archives. Details of the datasets are available through the Archive’s catalogue, BIRON [5], as well as through the integrated catalogue of the Council of European Social Science Data Archives which allows you to search nine data catalogues simultaneously.

Manchester Information, Datasets and Associated Services (MIDAS) [6], provides online access to a number of census-related datasets, government surveys, macro- economic time series data and digitised boundary data. The latter is also available through the Edinburgh Data and Information Access service (EDINA) [7].

The Resource Centre for Access to Data on Europe (R*CADE) [8] was launched earlier this year. This has been set up to help locate and provide access to European datasets and currently contains data from the International Labour Office, the European Union’s Eurostat service and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Of particular importance and use to many social scientists is material from government departments. The UK is finally following the United States’ lead by beginning to provide invaluable access to this type of grey literature. Her Majesty’s Treasury Service [9] was the first UK government department to have a public Internet site. This includes news and press releases, the full text of speeches as well as details of budgets since 1994. This was quickly followed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) Government Information Service [10] which provides access to a whole range of national and local government information. Another good source of traditionally hard-to-find information is the New UK Official Publications Online (NUKOP) database of recent official publications (including Acts of Parliament, Command Papers, House of Commons Bills and other official publications) at the University of Southampton [11] . To complement these, the Statewatch Database [12] , set up by an independent group of journalists, writers and lawyers, contains over 20,000 entries of news items, books, reports, European Union resolutions and documents monitoring state and civil liberties in the UK and Europe.

For background research, the International Bibliography of Social Sciences (IBSS) [13] contains the bibliographic details of over 680,000 journal articles, book reviews, and monographs from 1980 to date. The service recently announced a new Web interface to the database via the Bath Information and Data Service (BIDS) [14] and plans are underway to provide abstracts for selected articles as well as converting the back editions of the bibliography from 1951.

Community and voluntary sector issues are covered by the VOLNET [15] database which has over 80,000 bibliographic records from Barnardos, the National Youth Agency, the Community Development Foundation, the Volunteer Centre UK and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The full database is available as a subscription service, but a restricted service is available freely over the Web, containing approximately one-third of the full database. Another excellent site for community and Non-Governmental Organisations is OneWorld Online [16]. This site contains a huge quantity of information from 120 organisations concerned with sustainable development, human rights and relief issues.

There are a number of good electronic journals available and these often have useful added features such as searchable archives, discussion facilities and links to other resources. Sociological Research Online [17], a Web-based journal set up under the eLib programme for the publication of work in applied sociology, is a notable example.

People are perhaps one of the greatest resources on the Internet and the ability to share information quickly and easily is invaluable. There are hundreds of mailing lists of interest to social scientists, a good selection of which can be browsed in the special subject group section of Mailbase [18].


  1. SOSIG (Social Science Gateway),
  2. Biz/ed (Business and Economics information Gateway),
  3. Coombsweb Social Science Server,
  4. Essex Data Archive,
  5. BIRON - The Essex Data Archive’s online catalogue and subject index,
  6. Manchester Information Datasets and Associated Services,
  7. Edinburgh Data and Information Access,
  8. Resource Centre for access to Data on Europe,
  9. Her Majesty’s Treasury Service,
  10. CCTA Government Information Service,
  11. New UK Official Publications Online (NUKOP) database of recent official publications,
  12. Statewatch database: the state and civil liberties in UK & Europe,
  13. International Bibliography of Social Sciences (IBSS),
  14. Bath Information & Data Services,
  15. VOLNETUK Community and Voluntary sector database,
  16. OneWorld Online,
  17. Sociological Research Online,
  18. Social Science mailing lists at Mailbase,

Author Details

Debra Hiom,
SOSIG Project Researcher,
Institute for Learning and Research Technology.
Email: d.hiom@bristol.ac.uk
Tel: 01179 288443
Address: 8, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TN