Web Magazine for Information Professionals


This month Neil Jacobs introduces a new book for information professionals in the social sciences and Heta Virnes describes her experience of running virtual helpdesks for SOSIG.

Online Information Services for the Social Sciences

Fourteen members of staff from the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, at the University of Bristol, have co-authored a book, ‘Online Information Service Provision in the Social Sciences’, aimed mainly, though not exclusively, at information professionals. It offers an insight into knowledge retrieval today.

Information provision of a very high standard in the social sciences has increased immeasurably with modern technologies including the Internet, but more knowledge and newer technologies have created access problems with users. This book, published by Chandos, addresses the issues facing users and providers of information in the 21st Century.

The publication arose from a project to investigate the provision of electronic information services. It includes a range of case studies from across the social science sectors, focusing on users and providers in the UK and Europe. From the case studies a number of issues, (such as usability, metadata, marketing), are analysed and some future technical and organisational scenarios are presented.More information about the book can be found from the Chandos site [1] or by contacting Neil Jacobs at the address below.

Virtually yours …

SOSIG [2] runs a number of email helpdesks to help with its users’ queries. As a digital library available from the Internet, virtual helpdesks are the only feasible way to communicate with the majority of our users. We run four different helpdesks depending on what the users’ query: SOSIG-help, SOSIG-info, grapevine-info and SOSIG-feedback.

SOSIG-help is meant for general questions about how to use the SOSIG site and catalogue of Internet resources, as well as reporting any problems. Typical subjects of emails sent to SOSIG-help include help with searching SOSIG, amendments to the records in the SOSIG catalogue, reporting broken links, asking for permission to link to SOSIG, advertising an event, and requesting publicity material.

Unfortunately, because of the high volume of queries, we are not able to answer questions on how to find a particular item (article, piece of legislation, etc) or specific information within the sites listed on SOSIG. We often receive queries from students who are trying to find reference material for their assignments, generally very close to their deadline. We reply with a standard email that details how to find information on SOSIG and some alternative sources to try, even if the reference librarian in us would love to help more!

SOSIG-info is a Web form that allows users to recommend Web sites to add to the SOSIG catalogue. We greatly value input from our user community and would like to encourage our users to contribute to SOSIG even more by letting us know of useful information they would like to see added to the catalogue.

Grapevine-info is for users who have signed up with the Grapevine part of SOSIG. Most queries to this list concern forgotten passwords and usernames and other problems with creating or accessing the My Account feature.

Users can also send SOSIG section editors feedback on their section using the Web forms available in each subject section. The queries are sent directly to the section editors who are the subject specialists who create and maintain the different subject sections on the service.

The type of emails SOSIG receives most has changed over the years. Unfortunately these days like many services we receive an overwhelming amount of spam (several thousand a month) and before we were able to put a tailor-made spam filter in place, a lot of staff time was spent deleting these messages (now it magically disappears overnight). There is seasonal fluctuation in the amount of genuine messages we receive and the academic year has a definite affects on this. The peak time at the helpdesks occurs at the beginning and halfway through each academic term. Similarly, we receive fewer queries during exam and vacation times. We work to targets for how quickly we should reply to our users and attempt to answer 90 % of our messages within one working day. Several members of SOSIG staff run the helpdesks so that they are covered during office hours throughout the week.

We always like to hear from our users in order to find out who is using SOSIG and what they think of it and so enable us to improve the service.


  1. Chandos Publishing (Oxford) Limited http://www.library-chandospublishing.com/
  2. Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) http://www.sosig.ac.uk/

Author Details

Neil Jacobs
Regard Manager
8-10 Berkeley Square

Email: neil.jacobs@bristol.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/

Heta Virnes
8-10 Berkeley Square

Web site: http://www.sosig.ac.uk/

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