Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Planet SOSIG: Politically Correct - Editing the Politics Section of SOSIG

Heather Dawson from The British Library of Political and Economic Science talks about her role as a SOSIG Section Editor.

During 1997 the indexing and cataloguing of resources for the SOSIG database was reorganised with the creation of a committee of section editors based in a number of UK university libraries. The purpose of this article is to give some insight into the role of the Section Editor with reference to my own work on the Politics section.

SOSIG (The Social Science Information Gateway)[1] was founded in 1994 as a result of funding from the ESRC. At the outset all cataloguing of material was undertaken by two editors based at the University of Bristol. However, with the major increase in the number of resources becoming available on the Internet it was decided in April this year to devolve this to a wider committee of librarians. The reasoning behind this was twofold: firstly by increasing the number of people involved more resources could be added; secondly it could draw upon the existing subject expertise of the librarians to identify the most relevant resources. Also through the development of a national consortium efforts could be pooled, avoiding local duplication and creating a better resource for all. Specialist libraries were chosen including the Institute of Education, Exeter University, Edinburgh University and the British Library of Political and Economic Science, and each nominated an individual or team to act as subject editors for a specific section.

My own work at the British Library of Political and Economic Science is concerned with the Politics section. In common with the other editors I spend half a day each week working on my section. This involves the identification of relevant resources, creation of records and editing of existing records to ensure that they are kept up to date.

The collection is selective. Resources are included if they meet the scope policy and quality selection criteria of SOSIG. The scope of SOSIG is extremely wide, encompassing the social sciences in the broadest sense, covering such diverse areas as Economics, Sociology, Geography and Anthropology. It also includes many different types of resources such as datasets, documents, mail archives, electronic journals and the homepages of organisations. All resources are quality assessed before inclusion. The criteria against which they are judged include: reputability of the source, academic level of content and frequency of updates. Sites which consist purely of advertising or lists of links with no added annotations are excluded.

In terms of politics a wealth of resources can be found on the Internet. These include election sites which are updated almost continuously with news from campaigns and opinion polls in a way that is not possible with paper sources. Many also contain the added value of audio and visual clips. It is also possible to access Hansard parliamentary minutes from a number of parliaments world-wide, including the UK, Canada and South Africa. In this way the Internet serves to unlock a wealth of previously unreachable sources with more being continuously added. As a result I view my SOSIG work as an important extension of the traditional collection development activities relating to book buying which I perform for my own employer as they are both concerned with enabling access to resources it is simply the format which is different.

Suitable resources are traced via a number of sources. I receive some suggestions from SOSIG users. I also monitor subject specific sites, including an election calendar for news of ongoing campaigns, and relevant email discussion lists. I also use more general Internet alerting services such as the US based Scout Report for the Social Sciences [2] a biweekly newsletter providing evaluative comment on new sites and sites in the news, and the Internet Resources Newsletter[3] which is produced monthly by Heriot-Watt University and offers an A-Z listing of new sites as well as listings of recent journal articles relating to the Internet. I also look at the daily newspapers for information on ongoing political events and then use a search engine to search the Internet for sites related to them. A positive effect of this work has been to increase the efficiency of my searching techniques which has also improved the Internet training I provide for library users at the British Library of Political and Economic Science.

Cataloguing of resources is done remotely via an online form and then transmitted to the main database.

template for a mail archive
Figure 1: SOSIG cataloguing template.

The information input includes a number of standard fields, such as contact details of the site administrator, the language and location of the resource. Descriptions are also added for each item. These summarise the content and coverage of the source, drawing out the key features and any special technical requirements for access. Subject keywords are assigned with reference to the Hasset thesaurus [4] developed by the Data Archive and the resources are indexed according to subject categories relating to the UDC (Universal Decimal Classification) scheme. During 1997 the large increase in the number of resources being added led more detailed subcategories to be adopted to enable more precise subject browsing. For instance, the Politics section is now subdivided into a number of sub-categories including elections, parliaments and political parties. An item can be placed in more than one category if appropriate.

Once the form is completed it is transmitted electronically to SOSIG and added overnight to the subject listings. Addresses are regularly checked by a link checker to ensure that outdated material is deleted. I also revisit sites to ensure that descriptions are kept up to date.

At present the Section Editors scheme remains experimental until May 1998. However, there are hopes that it will continue beyond this date and form the basis for a national and perhaps even international framework of inter-library co-operation. Indeed SOSIG is already trying to attract European participation in the form of European Correspondents [5] who will use their subject and language knowledge to make contributions to the Gateway. From my own point of view, such activities can only have a positive outcome as co-operation between libraries will allow for a sharing of expertise and ultimately it will result in increased access to high quality resources for the user.


[1] SOSIG (The Social Science Information Gateway) can be found at:

[2] The Scout Report for the Social Sciences can be found at:

[3] The Internet Resources Newsletter can be found at:

[4] The SOSIG Thesaurus can be found at:

[5]Emma Worsfold describes SOSIG plans for European Collaboration in issue 9 of the web version of Ariadne which can be found at:

Author details

Heather Dawson
The British Library of Political and Economic Science
10 Portugal Street
London WC2A 2HD