Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Planet SOSIG: Welfare Reform Digest

Jennie Grimshaw gives a personal account of the creation of the Welfare reform digest.

Social Science Business and Law Hub

We are pleased to announce that as of August 1999 SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway), the UK’s number one place to find social science information on the Internet will be expanding its service. SOSIG provides a browsable and searchable database of thousands of high quality Internet resources of relevance to social science researchers, academics and practitioners. The gateway will draw on the expertise of a number of specialist organisations within the social sciences to help build its database of resources. The new partners are:

In addition to the expanded catalogue of Internet resources SOSIG will benefit from closer links with the Social Science Research Grapevine service which will provide news of conferences and courses in the social sciences as well as an area for researchers to post CVs and find potential research opportunities and partnerships.

SOSIG is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of the UK Resource Discovery Network (RDN) which will be developing an integrated resource discovery service for the UK.

If you have any queries about the new service please send them to

Debra Hiom
Institute for Learning and Research Technology
8-10 Berkeley Square
Bristol BS8 1HH


The British Library has produced a valuable Internet current awareness service for social policy practitioners and researchers interested in the future of the Welfare State. The Welfare Reform Digest is published monthly on the Web and brings together details of recent publications from a whole host of sources, including research reports, government papers, journals and newspapers.

This site could save people many hours in keeping abreast of new literature on welfare reform, as each article is listed under a subject heading with a detailed abstract and full bibliographic information.

Subjects covered include: care of the elderly, child welfare, education, health care, the minimum wage, pensions, social care, social housing, social security and the welfare state. Jennie Grimshaw gives the history of this Internet resource:

When the Social Policy Information Service was launched by the British Library in December 1996 with me at its head, part of its mission was to facilitate access by social science practitioners to the results of academic research. Now I was far from being the ideal head of a proactive information service, since I had spent my entire career as a cataloguer, mostly in science and technology libraries and was totally ignorant of social science. However, in an attempt to fulfil our mission, I began to cast about for ways in which busy social science practitioners might be made painlessly aware of leading edge research. I also needed to try and educate myself about the literature of the social sciences, current thinking and research trends, so as to appear something less than a complete idiot when talking to clients (potential and actual). Inspiration dawned in the shape of an idea for the production of a literature digest or current awareness bulletin on a topic of current concern. Then, in May 1997, the New Labour came into power with a mission of their own, to modernise Britain and to reform the welfare state. Here was a topic that would be relevant to a wide spectrum of social science practitioners - social and health care professionals, educators, pressure groups and the voluntary sector. Compilation of the digest would involve me in systematically scanning our intake of official publications, journals and monographs, which would educate me about current issues and research in short order. The subject itself seemed guaranteed to generate impassioned debate, and an extensive literature discussing and evaluating the reforms that was just begging to be digested.

So in the early summer of 1998 I approached the then Science Reference and Information Service Publications Committee with a formal proposal for the production of a monthly printed digest as a priced publication. The proposal for a printed product was turned down flat as not commercially viable, but the Committee suggested we might launch it experimentally as an electronic journal on the Internet. Initially the resource would be free, and would add value to the Section web site. If successful, access to the database we built might become fee-based. Having scanned and abstracted the literature for four weeks from mid-July to mid-August 1998, we were ready to launch a pilot issue, but ran into a lengthy delay in getting permission from the British Library’s Webmaster to mount the resource on Portico, the BL web site. We were finally able to mount the pilot issue, six months late, in early 1999.

Since then, the digest has been updated monthly. It covers reform of health and social care, social housing, the benefits system, pensions, and education, both in the UK and overseas. It includes abstracts of official documents (policy statements and consultation papers), journal articles, research reports, current monographs and reports in the quality press. Material is identified through systematic daily scanning of the new books, trade and academic journal issues and UK government documents destined for the open access collections in the Official Publications and Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras. We hope it reflects the cut and thrust of the debate, and will help practitioners to keep up with policy developments, critical commentary on them, and empirical research evaluating their implementation and impacts.

The basic product which we have mounted as a free resource needs to be improved in many ways. Three spring immediately to mind:

We hope to grow the resource incrementally, and to develop it in time into a comprehensive database. The next step, now that we have a decent quantity of data mounted, is to promote use of the site through linking to established social science gateways like SOSIG, and articles in the professional press. So in conclusion I would like to invite you to visit Welfare Reform on the Web at the British Library’s web site at http://www.bl.uk/services/stb/spiswlfr/digest.html. Please have a look at the goods on offer and let us have your comments on the response form provided. If I have been wasting my time on this project, an early indication would be welcome so that will no longer have to sit up in bed abstracting Community Care!

Author Details

Jennie Grimshaw
Email: jennie.grimshaw@bl.uk

Article Title: “Planet Sosig Column”
Author: Debra Hiom, Jennie Grimshaw
Publication Date: 23-Sep-1999
Publication: Ariadne Issue 21
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue21/planet-sosig/