The University Record, October 22, 2001

Social Science taps into digital world

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Gutman (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)
About 200 “official representatives” of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) are coming to Ann Arbor this weekend from academic member institutions around the world, to learn how to make the most of the world’s largest computerized social science data archive. Part of the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), ICPSR recently welcomed a new director, Myron Gutmann, who was formerly director of the Population Research Center and professor of history at the University of Texas-Austin. Gutmann is giving top priority to an ambitious series of activities that ICPSR has launched to expand services to approximately 500 member institutions and enhance access to its massive archive.

“The big news is ICPSR Direct,” says Gutmann. “Data users at about 100 of our member institutions are now able to download data straight from our archives to their desktops, without needing official representatives to obtain the data for them, and we’re working to open up access even further. This direct access gives students, faculty and staff researchers the chance to work more efficiently, and it gives our official representatives the freedom to provide additional services, assisting data users with substantive and technical issues rather than spending time on routine data transmissions.”

In order to make the most of ICPSR Direct, all archival documents that accompany the data must be converted to digital format, Gutmann notes. “At the start of 2001, between one-fourth and one-third of our documents were available only in paper form, and we are continuing an ambitious program to scan and convert these materials, which we anticipate will be completed within one year.”

Visiting the recently redesigned ICPSR website at www.icpsr.umich.edu suggests the extent of the archival holdings, which include everything from the latest ABC News/Washington Post polls on the recent terrorist attacks to a dataset describing the height of runaway slaves and indentured servants in the U.S. from 1700 to 1850. Some of the data sets are available free of charge to non-members. In the special topical archives, for example, data on health and medical care, aging, criminal justice, education, and substance abuse and mental health are freely available to the general public. Other data are available to non-members for a charge.

ICPSR also offers a summer training program, with a record 599 scholars from 194 institutions in 25 countries attending the courses that ended this past August. Nationally and internationally recognized for the quality of its methodological instruction, the ICPSR summer training program attracts participants from a broad range of social and behavioral sciences, including sociology, psychology and political science.