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An Introduction to the
CSISS Social Science Archive Search Tool (CSSAST)

We recommend reading this introduction before using the tool

An Introduction

The CSISS Social Science Archive Search Tool (CSSAST) enables a user to locate social data according to the geographical location of the study.  The process involves three major steps. 

  1. The first is selection of a location. CSSAST provides several ways to select a location - checkboxes, map interface, or typing a name. Checkboxes for countries are presented in the left frame of the CSSAST Interface.  In the middle frame, the user may choose one or more countries using an ArcIMS map of the world, and clicking or dragging the mouse to define a bounding box. Typical GIS zoom and magnify functions are available using tool icons in the center frame.  The final method of selection is through typing the desired country name.  To learn more about selecting a location, consult the instructions in the right frame of the CSSAST screen. 

  2. Submitting a location invokes the CSSAST search mechanism.  The country list is first converted into a string-indexed array, and then passed as an imploded string to the search engine. The CSSAST search engine is a customized installation of the Thunderstone Document Retrieval & Management system. This Texis/Webinator system compares country names against the holdings of several archives.   This process is not an easy one and some of the limitations of this step are mentioned below under 'Limitations.'

  3. Once a country has been selected, and the search now link has been activated, the left frame is modified to allow the user to add other search parameters. This includes entering a keyword or specifying the archives to be searched.

  4. The final step is displaying the results.  This consists of a list of the holdings of each archive.  This, in turn, gives the user the opportunity to link to an abstract of the dataset or to link directly to the archive's home page.  More about the results is  mentioned below under 'What Your Results Mean.' 


CSSAST has two major limiting factors in giving thorough and accurate results. The more basic of the two challenges is in the use of metadata schemas.  Metadata, or 'data about data' usually consists of a file attached in some actual or theoretical method to the data that gives information about the data.  Just as a card in a card catalog of a library describes something about a book, metadata files describe something about the data.  The ICPSR has made a concerted effort to establish an internationally accepted metadata schema for social science data sets.  This is referred to as the Data Documentation Initiate or DDI.  The DDI is still in its development phase. One of its properties, "Country", makes it possible for CSISS to implement a geo-referenced search of DDI archives, but it is very limited.  At present, "Country" is the only method of identifying the location of the data.  Thus the finest resolution search through CSSAST is by country.  A finer resolution search, identifying a specific locale or identifying a region by its geographic coordinates is not currently supported by the DDI metadata schema.  Efforts are being made to incorporate finer resolution properties in future drafts of the DDI.

A second challenge is the limited accessibility to on-line metadata of the archive holdings.  Although many archives are using the DDI  to organize and access data, linkage to the actual metadata is not consistently available to the public.  It varies from one archive to the next. Many archives are inaccessible to the CSISS search tool.  The number of archives that can be used is thus limited to those archives that use the DDI and give public access to their metadata files.

What Your Results Mean

CSSAST enables a user to locate social data according to keyword and the geographical location of the study.  CSSAST will tell the user which metadata records in which archives match the specified keyword(s) and location. While metadata records in   the different archives do differ, they typically include a link to the actual dataset. It is important to note that different archives have different access restraints on their holdings.  In some cases, a displayed collection may not be available to you, or it may only be accessible from your University and not your home. Future versions of CSSAST will include information about access restraints.  Currently, it is recommended that the user contact his or her corresponding institution to determine accessible archives, or contact the archive directly and investigate data access procedures.

Work in Progress

Although we have advanced greatly from the original concept of CSSAST, the current tool is still in it's prototype phase.  We are in the process of enhancing it's usability and increasing it's functionality.  Please revisit these pages to see our latest developments.


If you have any questions or comments in regards to CSSAST, feel free to contact us at

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CSSAST: Scott Crosier, Alexander Leitner, Eric White