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Data Services: History

History: 1985-2006

Contributed by James Jacobs

In the mid 1980s, UCSD University Librarian Dorothy Gregor did something that few libraries in the world had done: she established a data service in the library. The library's Social Sciences Data Service (SSDS) made data visible and easily available to all students and faculty in a way that it had not been before. By selecting, acquiring, and organizing a local digital collection of important social science data and providing easy ways for students and faculty to find, acquire, and use those datasets in their own diverse computing environments, SSDS generated a demand for more services. Between 1985 and 2006, the service developed and evolved to keep current with rapidly changing technologies and the growing needs and technical abilities of users. What had been the rather arcane province of a few technically-savvy faculty became a transparent resource for more faculty and for undergraduate and graduate students.

In the 1980s, datasets were delivered on computer tapes and SSDS acquired those tapes and built an online inventory of datasets so that all UCSD users could easily find and use the data. The technical services department cataloged paper copy "codebooks" -- the metadata that made the data understandable and usable. As cataloging standards evolved, the datasets themselves were cataloged. In cooperation with the Dean for the Social Sciences, SSDS was able to move the most popular two or three datasets online and provide online access and subsetting tools. As demand grew further, the Dean was able to acquire the first Hewlett Packard optical disk "jukebox" (serial number "001") for SSDS -- enabling the library to put over 200 studies online. This was so innovative for the time that it attracted attention of other academic data archives world-wide.  With the advent of the WWW and the availability of inexpensive disk storage and advanced commercial statistical software, SSDS was able to create one of the very first web-based data services which featured user-friendly access to complex data, searchable economic time series and social survey questions, and the easy creation of subsets of large datafiles. Working with CDL and other UC campus data services, SSDS helped create the innovative California Data Warehouse, "Counting California."

During this time, the Dean for the Social Sciences provided support for SSDS with systems administration and computer programming staff through his own social science computing facility. As SSDS evolved the Dean funded library staff computer programmers and even transferred more than twenty thousand dollars to the library budget for programming support for the social sciences. 

Over the years SSDS provided storage, curation, and access for many locally-important data collections including: The California Polls, Decennial Census data, Tobacco Use Behavior Research, the Lijphart election archive, SANDAG Annual Demographic Estimates, and a wealth of economic time series including International Financial Statistics and U.S. "Citibase." 

Because the Data Services librarian and staff were leaders in digital library technologies, the service also provided help to other library units including helping librarians with their first ("bitnet") email addresses, setting up early email services and gopher services and the library's first blog. SSDS provided the library's first electronic newsletter and journal subscriptions and helped set up access to databases in chemistry and the humanities. SSDS worked closely with government documents staff and got a gift from DEC computers of the library's first CD-ROM network for housing government CDs. SSDS also developed one of the first (and most popular) interfaces to the Government Printing Office's online collections. SSDS set up the library's first non-opac public computing workstation and helped set up the library's first GIS lab.