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Interested users must be properly informed about the existence and characteristics of the datasets available. Many potential users have very little if any information about the available datasets. Good metadata must be made available, preferably in the form of a searchable on-line catalog.

The objective of a microdata catalog is to provide easy access to data and documentation in a format most convenient for users. A survey catalog provides tools for:

  • Finding the dataset most appropriate to the user’s needs. This may be simple when the number of microdata files is small. But, as the number of files increases, a tool that can search data files at the variable level becomes essential.
  • Evaluating information that has been identified to ensure compatibility with the researcher’s needs, e.g., the universe, concepts, and definitions employed in the survey. This role is supported by the metadata used to document the file.
  • Accessing the data by involving an extraction and/or some type of delivery system. Commonly, such files can be delivered via a website/portal and an FTP server or such tools can be used within the NSO to make a CD/DVD to deliver the data.
  • Using the data. There is no such thing as a single tool for researchers to undertake their analytical work. Researchers prefer data available in a variety of formats so they can use tools of their choice. Typically, these include formats for SPSS, STATA, SAS, and ASCII.

In this section, we describe the main characteristics of a good data cataloging system, from the point of view of both the data user and catalog administrator, and describe free tools for developing and managing an on-line survey catalog.