Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Planet SOSIG: A New Internet Role for Europe's Librarians

Emma Worsfold describes the role and purpose of SOSIG, and launches a scheme where European Librarians can participate in adding relevant, quality content to this Social Science Gateway.

The Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) [1], is asking librarians across Europe to consider their role in Internet information provision. SOSIG is proposing a model that offers both short and long term methods for libraries to increase their involvement in Internet information provision. In the short term, SOSIG would like to invite academic librarians to become SOSIG Correspondents. The Correspondents will form a pan-European team of information professionals and academics, working remotely from their workplace to select resources for the gateway. Together they could build a significant electronic collection which could be used to serve their users, and users across Europe. In the long term, SOSIG is suggesting that major European libraries (National and social science libraries) should consider setting up a social science information gateway for their own country. If they follow the SOSIG model, then a network of national gateways can be created that can be cross-searched via a single interface.

SOSIG is funded by the ESRC [2] (Economic and Social Research Council) and eLib [3] (The Electronic Libraries Programme). It has recently joined forces with the European Union’s DESIRE Project [4] , which is part of the Telematics for Research Programme). With this EU funding SOSIG aims to create an information service that can support social science education and research across Europe. This Summer SOSIG will have a new look and new functionality that reflects this aim. It will also be promoting the idea of collaborative and distributed Internet information provision. This is an exciting opportunity for librarians to assume an important role on the Internet, and to work together to build a European electronic library for the social sciences.

SOSIG as an Internet library

SOSIG is an Internet gateway that can be accessed free of charge via the WWW. It is fundamentally an online catalogue which points to a select collection of high quality Internet resources located on servers around the world. Unlike a list of hyperlinks, this catalogue can be searched or browsed, and has the added value of resource descriptions, which allow users to decide whether to spend time connecting to a resource. SOSIG aims to be a ‘one stop shop’ for social scientists who wish to see what the Internet has to offer that is relevant to their work.

In many ways SOSIG is the Internet version of an academic library. The gateway points to Internet resources, but applies many of the principles and practices of traditional librarianship to the collection. Every resource has been selected, classified and catalogued by an information professional. SOSIG has a collection management policy, quality selection criteria, a classification system, and catalogue records and rules. These methods are widely recognised as being essential for the organisation of printed information, and they translate very effectively to the electronic environment. When users access SOSIG they can have the same confidence that they would have on entering an academic library - they can be assured of the quality of the resources, and there is a well established system to help them find the information they need.

It is the human input, as opposed to the use of robots or web-crawlers, that is the key to the success of SOSIG. In the printed world it is acknowledged that librarians can be vital ‘information filters’, whose work saves users time and effort in their information retrieval. The same applies to the Internet - librarians could serve their users by creating a tailored collection of Internet resources. SOSIG would suggest that there are significant benefits to be had from creating a shared catalogue on a European scale.

SOSIG is offering a new role for librarians

SOSIG is proposing that librarians might like to turn their skills and some of their time to Internet information provision, and in effect staff the electronic library. Since SOSIG started in 1994 the number of social science resources available on the Internet has rocketed, with more and more information providers (academics, governments, organisations etc.) using this medium to publish and disseminate their information. Coupled with this, many users are increasingly keen to use the Internet to meet their information needs. We are appealing to librarians who are interested in using the Internet to meet the information needs of their users, to use SOSIG as a means of doing so.

The SOSIG Correspondent model works on the same theory as many traditional cataloguing consortia, where many librarians feed catalogue entries into one shared system for the mutual benefit of all involved. The idea is to have many librarians assume the role of SOSIG Correspondent as part of their work, and to spend time finding and cataloguing Internet resources for SOSIG on a regular but informal basis. The advantages of this approach can be summarised as follows:

The SOSIG Correspondent Model - a simple and practical solution

SOSIG has developed a system whereby resources can be catalogued remotely from any PC which has a WWW browser such as Netscape. Librarians will spend a few hours each week cataloguing from their desktops. All the tools and guidelines needed to work as a SOSIG Correspondent are available on the WWW, and the process of adding resources is relatively simple: 1. Do a quick search on SOSIG [5] to check that the resource is not already there 2. Check that the resource falls within the scope of SOSIG [6] 3. Check that the resource meets with the SOSIG selection criteria [7] 4. Create a catalogue record for the resource by filling in the simple Submit a Resource Form [8] (that has hypertext links to the cataloguing rules) 5. Click on the ‘Submit’ button to email the record to SOSIG SOSIG staff will then add the record to the database and the resource can be viewed publicly on the gateway. DESIRE will shift the predominantly UK focus of SOSIG towards Europe and its languages. Three types of correspondent might be considered, although they may overlap:
  1. Language Correspondents
    Language Correspondents can focus on adding resources written in the language favoured by their users, and can build up the multilingual aspect of the collection. We are particularly keen to find colleagues from mainland Europe who can submit resources written in other European languages. Ideally, there will be correspondents for each language; French Language Correspondents, German Language Correspondents etc.
  2. Country Correspondents
    The gateway aims to point to resources from all European countries. Country Correspondents can improve the geographical coverage of the collection. For example, a correspondent from Sweden can focus on submitting resources created in Sweden and located on servers in Sweden. As more and more social scientists across Europe begin to publish material on the WWW, we hope the country correspondents can ensure that resources from all countries are added to the collection.
  3. Subject Correspondents
    SOSIG covers a broad range of social science subjects ranging from anthropology to statistics, and aims to point to the highest quality Internet resources available for each subject. Subject Correspondents can build up parts of the collection that have particular relevance for their users. For example, a law librarian might want to build up the legal resources section by becoming a Law Correspondent, or a librarian serving psychology researchers may want to focus on psychology resources. The Correspondent role is very flexible. We are keen to pilot this model, and find the best way to make it work. SOSIG can provide support while people learn how to use the system, and your comments and feedback on this approach will be welcome. The level of input is also flexible, as we are aware that some librarians will have more time than others to devote to Internet work.

How to become a SOSIG Correspondent

If you are interested in becoming a Correspondent please fill in the Form for New Correspondents at:


Please tell us which area(s) you would like to work on (which language, country, or subject).

Further information, and the Correspondents’ tools and guidelines can be found at the URL above

Rising to the challenge

It will be interesting to see if librarians are willing to make Internet resource selection and cataloguing a part of their work. SOSIG has set up the system to make collaborative and distributed cataloguing of Internet resources possible. Correspondents can start submitting resources to SOSIG straight away, and the new multilingual interface will be made public later this year. In particular, we hope to have built up the number of resources from mainland Europe before the new interface goes public, so that when it is made available, users will instantly be able to reap the benefits of a quality controlled European gateway, staffed by information professionals.

A strategy for Europe: Creating a network of national social science gateways

The correspondent model offers an immediate method of providing access to Internet resources in the social sciences however, some of Europe’s National Libraries or major social science institutions might like to consider a more strategic long term approach. The ROADS software [9] on which SOSIG is based has been developed under the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib). It can be used to set up distributed databases based on servers in different locations, which can be simultaneously searched via a single interface. It is therefore possible for each country in Europe to set up their own social science information gateway, and to then enable users to search this and all the other gateways simultaneously.

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands) [10] is piloting this model as part of the DESIRE project. A ROADS database is being set up on a server in the Netherlands, and resources selected by Dutch university librarians will be entered. A National collection of Dutch Internet resources for the social sciences will be developed over time. Once there are enough records in the database the UK and the Netherlands will enable the two gateways to inter-operate so that users in both countries can search and browse the two collections simultaneously. It is possible for Koninklijke Bibliotheek to create their own interface in Dutch, or to use the existing SOSIG interface.

The tools and methods for setting up a National subject gateway are currently being developed by the DESIRE project. The infrastructure and documentation will all be made publicly available. Those interested would need to invest in the necessary hardware and would also need technical staff to set up and maintain the software and interface, and information staff to select and submit resources into the database. Many of the skills required by the information staff can be acquired through the hands on experience gained by contributing to SOSIG as a correspondent. A country interested in setting up a gateway might consider using SOSIG as a holding place for resources - any resources submitted to SOSIG could be moved over to the National database once it was set up.


The Internet currently has a strong American bias. The DESIRE project hopes to balance this by encouraging the development of a European network of information gateways, and by encouraging academics and librarians to use these gateways to improve access to the thousands of valuable Internet resources created and located in Europe.


  1. SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway),
  2. Economic and Social Research Council Web pages,
  3. Electronic Libraries Programme Web pages,
  4. DESIRE Project Web pages,
  5. Search SOSIG,
  6. Scope of SOSIG,
  7. SOSIG selection criteria,
  8. SOSIG form for submitting a resource,
  9. ROADS Web pages,
  10. National Library of the Netherlands,

Author Details

Emma Worsfold,
SOSIG/DESIRE Research Officer,
Email: emma.worsfold@bristol.ac.uk
Web Page: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/about/staff/emma.html
Tel: 01179 288443
Address: Institute for Learning and Research Technology, 8 Woodlands Road, Bristol, BS8 1TN