Increasing Access to Qualitative Data
ESDS Qualidata provides a national service for the acquisition, dissemination and re-use of social science, qualitative research data. The problem of how to make resources accessible to users is therefore a central concern for the service, and ESDS Qualidata is continually seeking ways to improve its resources to meet users' requirements. Work in this area means users can search and locate accessible collections of qualitative data across the UK via our online data catalogue. More recently, in response to user demand, emphasis has been on data development, with a view to providing users with direct access to the content of digitised collections.
New Focus on Digital Resources
First steps in this content-oriented direction included an increased focus on depositing digital data in-house with the UK Data Archive, and the digitisation of 'classic collections' for research and teaching resources. 'Edwardians Online', based upon Paul Thompson's collection of oral history interviews, 'Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918', was ESDS Qualidata's first major web-based digitisation project. The aim was to produce a multi-media resource, integrating a wealth of existing primary and secondary materials relating to the interviews, including the original text transcripts, digital sound-bites from the original audio recordings, background material concerning the original research study, and details of publications based on secondary studies of the collection.
Towards a Standard Framework for Archiving Digital, Qualitative Resources
From these initial moves it became clear that there was a need for a standard framework for providing online access to archived qualitative resources. Therefore a further objective of the Edwardians project was to produce a prototype methodology which could be developed into a more general application for other examples of social science datasets. Others have since been added and grouped together as ESDS Qualidata Online.
Edwardians Online: Phase I
Working with the example of the 'Family Life and Work Experience' dataset, research focused on the following key areas:
- methods of access and facilities for exploring qualitative data
- developing a non-proprietary electronic format for preserving the content of qualitative datasets and that is capable of sophisticated searching and online dissemination
- a format that is portable and facilitates data-interchange
- suitability of available XML standards and technologies for encoding the content of archive resources
- development of tools for facilitating the encoding of data in this format
In the Online Project pages there is a description of the encoding methodology developed in Phase I of Edwardians Online, which has seen the initial digitisation of a subset of the 'Family Life and Work Experience' dataset in XML, and the types of access that this method supports.
Edwardians Online: Phase II
Phase II of the project focused on the development of additional search and retrieval functionality and the encoding of additional features in the interview texts. A Document Type Definition (DTD) for a generalized XML application for qualitative datasets was developed. This may be used by other data creators and data publishers to encode a broad class of qualitative data.