Tuesday 12. Nov. 2019

The Danish National Archives’ research data is searchable on a European search portal

In October 2019, it became possible to search through the Danish National Archives’ collection of research data via the European search portal CESSDA Data Catalogue, which also includes other social science datasets from European countries.

The Danish National Archives’ collection includes over 3,000 research datasets going back to the 1960s. The collection mainly consists of survey data – i.e., the results from questionnaires that came with the merger of the Danish National Archives and the Danish Data Archive.

In Europe, the collaboration between social science data archives is organised under a consortium called CESSDA (Consortium for European Social Science Data Archives), within which the Danish National Archives is naturally involved as a national service provider designated by the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education.

European collaboration on common standards for metadata

In CESSDA, the Danish National Archives participates in several projects concerning, among other things, the development of search tools and search engines that are highly visible to the users – yet it also collaborates on what is involved “behind the scenes” in ensuring that data is made searchable and used in new research and for educational purposes.

The Danish National Archives does not share data except with those who have applied for access and been granted permission. However, we do share metadata – which is data about data. That way, you can check if the dataset that you are curious about contains what you need. That is why it is important that the collection is described in detail, and it is just as important that the metadata formats that we use are the same on a European level. If it is not, it makes it difficult to share and search for metadata between countries. That is why there is a huge amount of “behind the scenes” work involved in terms of working with formats and standards.

Because the Danish National Archives has a collection which is described in such detail with standardised metadata, already in October 2019 we were able to allow the European search portal CESSDA Data Catalogue to now show the Danish National Archives’ collection side by side with the other European countries’ research data on social issues.

CESSDA – 40,000 datasets on social issues in European countries

The search portal contains over 40,000 datasets and is therefore one of the largest collections on a single field of research. The reason that CESSDA was able to succeed with such a large project is precisely because of the huge amount of work that all CESSDA countries invest in the collaboration in the consortium with standards and formats.

“Sharing data (metadata) sounds simple, as if you just have to push a button. However, the devil is in the details. The way the files are constructed needs to be completely uniform across Europe, and that takes a long time to achieve,” explained CESSDA coordinator Lea Sztuk Haahr.

In the project RDA Denmark (Research Data Alliance), they have made a presentation of the CESSDA Data Catalogue at the University of Copenhagen – and the researchers were impressed and excited about diving down into the collection and reusing data across national borders in Europe.

The future role of the Danish National Archives in CESSDA

“In the future, there will be many exciting search tools from CESSDA”, Lea Sztuk Haahr added. “Among other things, the CESSDA Data Catalogue will be expanded to include more search criteria in the future, allowing you to search in greater detail.”

In fact, the Danish National Archives is playing a greater and greater role in CESSDA; previously, we were very active in working with the IT and technical side of things, but now we have moved more into communication and training. Next year, the Danish National Archives will be leading the training team for researchers and CESSDA Service Providers across CESSDA.