An Introduction to the
We recommend reading this introduction before using
CSISS Social Science Archive Search Tool (CSSAST)
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.
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
- 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.'
- 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.
- 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
What Your Results
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 firstname.lastname@example.org