The University Record, October 8, 1996

ICPSR completes large data migration

By Mary Vardigan
Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research


The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), at the Institute for Social Research, has completed the largest data migration ever to occur in the social sciences.

During the past two years, ICPSR staff converted the unit's extensive data holdings---more than 40,000 separate files on 12,000 reels of tape totaling more than 600 gigabytes---to magnetic disk storage, providing direct desktop access to the data resources through electronic file transfer.

ICPSR is a membership-based organization serving hundreds of colleges and universities worldwide. Faculty and students at member institutions have access to ICPSR's entire collection of social science data for use in research and instruction.

"The data migration reaffirms ICPSR's commitment to give member institutions access to a wide range of social science data as quickly and efficiently as possible," says ICPSR Council Chair Carole Shammas of the University of California, Riverside.

"The project took good organization, management and teamwork to execute, through all levels of the organization," notes ICPSR Technical Director Janet Vavra, who led the media conversion effort. "Through careful planning, we were able to continue to acquire and release data in a timely fashion throughout the migration without having to shut down or reduce services during any part of the effort."

The project involved several technically challenging tasks, according to John Gray, ICPSR's director of computing and network services.

"At the simplest level, the tapes were carried from one building to another and copied to disk, with thorough checks to verify that the data survived the trip," says Gray. The data also were compressed and converted from EBCDIC to ASCII binary encoding. The Information Technology Division (ITD) provided expertise and hardware to facilitate the effort.

"The data migration sustains and improves our services," says ICPSR Executive Director Richard Rockwell. "It means that ICPSR can continue to serve high---and mounting---demands for data without expanding its staff."

ICPSR's Website at provides information about ICPSR's data resources and services, as well as search and download capabilities and data subsetting and analysis features.