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Visit your actuarial library: New to SOA.org!

by Tia Goss Sawhney, Director of Data, Analytics, & Research – Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services; SOA Hickman Scholar

You may not realize it, but the SOA has managed to put an actuarial library onto www.soa.org.  The SOA is to be congratulated for this significant enhancement in website usability.  These changes allow unprecedented access to actuarial knowledge resources.

I know when this transformation of the SOA website started.  I was there, as an SOA volunteer and member of the Develop Knowledge Team (DKT).  For background, the DKT had worked with the Board, before I joined the team, to identify various changes the SOA needed to make to improve its ability to provide intellectual capital – the raw knowledge of actuarial science and its practical applications – to its members.  One key item for improvement was in the ability of members to find knowledge resources on the SOA website.

As a doctoral student routinely using SOA resources,  on a conference call with the Society in the fall of 2009 I walked my fellow DKT members and SOA staff through my frustrations with using the website to access knowledge resources, including being unable to find specific resources, even when I knew the resource’s title, date and/or author.  I showed how some sources, once found and printed, lacked any indication of title, author or date.  I showed how similar resources were inconsistently named and how one could easily find one resource without finding any of the other.  Other DKT members also showed their frustrations in working with the site and using the search function to find content they knew was there.

The Society staff, other DKT members and I then compared and contrasted finding resources via other knowledge websites.  The Society staff listened, asked questions, took notes and recorded the details of the examples that we presented.  The DKT and staff developed recommendations for the Board and, with the Board’s approval, invested in the content management software – the technology platform behind the new features.

The Board also agreed to invest in the construction of taxonomy – a topical classification system that we can apply to our content to make it easier to organize and find. It’s a way to create “virtual groups” of content that have similar themes. The taxonomy was carefully constructed and tested with members in focus groups held in three cities in the U.S. and Canada as well as with international members.

As the final step, the Society contracted actuaries to catalog each piece of the Society’s web-based knowledge inventory by topical area, publication, date and all the other parameters that are all searchable.   They also provided a description of each piece of content they catalogued.

We now have a true actuarial library, accessible at www.soa.org .  It will grow, improve, and benefit generations of actuaries, future actuaries, and members of the public.  This is great work!

If you are a volunteer who develops content for the SOA, you will likely be called upon to identify appropriate terms within the taxonomy that match your content. This extra but critical step will only take just a few minutes to help ensure that your content can be found on the website.

I urge all actuaries to take a moment and give it a test drive.  You should look up a topical area, a speaker from your last conference or even your own name!  Try out the new browse by topic feature to see how the taxonomy works.  I am sure you will be impressed.  If you are not, you should send your critical feedback to webmaster@soa.org.  The SOA is really good at listening and improving.  If you are impressed, I hope that you will both send positive feedback to the SOA and spread the word to your colleagues.

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