In the data and government information world there have been a lot of noise about the demise of the Statistical Abstract because of the planned termination of the Statistical Compendia Branch. Others have discussed this issue in much greater detail than I can do at this point. Below are their posts to help you make up your own mind about this issue.
Sources for more information
- Free Government Information (FGI): Good, pithy explanation of the situation. Jacobs has kept it updated constantly as new info rolls in. Also this post talks about the shifting of funds to a new data dissemination program and the problem with that.
- Save the US Statistical Abstract facebook page: Again, good place to join for updates
- ALA Legislative Action Alert: ALA is asking us to mobilize. Please do it!
I don’t do govdocs! Why should I care?
I have had questions from non-gov info or non-data librarians about the situation, and some of those have hinted at why they should care. Well, here’s my two cents (or rant if you prefer).
- Stats Abstract is the entry-level source for finding basic statistics. You can then use it to find more statistics from the collecting agency. I know non-data/gov librarians who use it this way, and I do so myself as well.
- At a school with a data/gov info nerd, they could stand in as a human Stats Abstract (ideally), but some schools and public libraries aren’t so lucky to have one of our kind. I know, I know, shocking, but true.
- Other commercial sources aggregate the same kind of information, especially ProQuest Statisical Insight, but at $16K a pop there is no way my library can afford it. Beyond that, should we expect this kind of information to come from commercial publishers? Do you want to pay a commercial publisher for information that is produced by our government (and paid for by taxpayers)? It seems ludicrous to me.
- This may be my closet conspiracy theorist coming out, but the Census Bureau seems to be on a wild tear to make it HARDER for our citizens to access data. I say this because of the Bureau’s decision to remove the quick Fact Sheets in the new American FactFinder. The new interface is great for a person accustomed to using data, but for a novice it is horrible. It throws so much information at you at once that I swear they’ve made it less usable (detailed tables anyone?). Every time I look at I dread the intern training I have to do in two weeks. Is this a trend for the Bureau? Concentrate on the data collection programs at the expense of the the compendium approach? If so, it is going to make people turn to easier to use commercial sources or, even worse, crap sources like NationMaster, which takes me back to point 2.
- On a purely selfish side, Katharin Peter and I just wrote a book meant to introduce non-data librarians to numeric data in all its glory. The goal of the book is to make numeric data easier for anyone working in reference or instruction. A key source in that book is the Statistical Abstract because of the reasons given above. I’m convinced the Census Bureau hates me.
Below is a sample letter for sending to your congress people (taken from FGI). Please spread the word! Write your Senators and Representatives!
TO YOUR SENATOR:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator ___________:
TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative __________:
Paragraph 1: Why you are writing and who you are. List your “credentials.” (If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.)
My name is __________, and I’m a librarian at INSTITUTION which has served the government information needs of the constituents of your Congressional district and state since DATE LIBRARY BECAME A DEPOSITORY. I’m writing because I and many other librarians are deeply concerned that the U.S. Census Bureau’s Budget Estimates for Fiscal Year 2012 calls for the termination of the Statistical Compendia Branch which would mean the elimination of the United States Statistical Abstract and all titles produced by that branch (State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, USA Counties, Quick Facts). The library community is deeply upset at the thought of losing access to this important program and urges you to take action to stop this program change.
Paragraph 2: more details about the situation.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually since 1878, is a key publication for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which provides free, public access to government information. Both the print and online versions of the “Stat Abs,” as many librarians affectionately refer to it, are on the FDLP Essential Titles list. It is the first place that many librarians, researchers, students and your constituents(!) look for statistical information, because it compiles a vast amount of information, some of it unpublished and not available anywhere else. The Statistical Abstract also provides a citation for the original source for each table, acting as a guidebook to a huge array of diverse government statistics. The Stat Abs (as well as all of the titles published by the Statistical Compendia Branch!) is a staple of reference librarians and the public for its ease of use, comprehensive content, and as a guidebook to federal statistical sources.
These long published titles — and the federal depositories that distribute it to the American public — are not an earmark, but are critical to the provision of social, economic, and political indicators to the American public and greatly benefit every American in every Congressional district. Without it, librarians, the public and your constituents(!) will waste much valuable time looking for statistics in multiple places and compiling longitudinal data.
Paragraph 3: Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title or number whenever possible.
Please urge the Department of Commerce to reinstate the budget for the Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia Branch and the essential, valuable titles that the Branch provides to the public. Many thanks for your time and your service.