Statistical Abstract, update 2013 #sla2013 #statabs

I saw a demonstration today of the new Statistical Abstract, as brought to us by Proquest. I have to admit it does look very cool. There are lots of ways to search within the tables, which you couldn’t do on the old online version. You can also get Excel spreadsheets of the tables, which, again, you couldn’t do on the old online version. I don’t know how much Proquest is charging libraries for this database, but I’m sure it’s more expensive than the old government one, which was free. I guess we should be grateful that it still exists, and if your library can afford it, you have access to it.

You can get a taste of what it looks like and how it works at Proquest’s Libguide for the product. You can view screenshots and a webinar of the new online Statistical Abstract.

Meanwhile, the print version is for sale at Bernan.

Update on the Statistical Abstract and a new threat to government data

I blogged last month that Statistical Abstract would continue in private hands. Among the unanswered questions were the content and the price of the printed edition to be published by Bernan. I received the following information by e-mail from them today:

ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States Update
As we announced in this newsletter last month, Bernan Press and ProQuest are teaming up to rescue one of libraries’ most valued reference tools by publishing the ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States beginning with the 2013 edition.
We have received several inquiries for details about the new version, and we will be using this monthly newsletter to provide information about the ProQuest Statistical Abstract as well as sharing updates on the progress of the 2013 edition.

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we’ve received:

Q: When will the 2013 edition be published?
A: We are working towards a publication date of late November. Of course, this is subject to change and it could be ready a little earlier or later, but we’re committed to maintaining the publication cycle established over the years for this important reference resource.

Q: What is the price for the 2013 edition?
A: The 2013 edition will have a retail price of $179. Please note that pre-publication discounts and multi-volume discounts are available-discount pricing will range from $143.20 to $161. Standing Order customers will automatically receive the pre-publication discount. Orders can be placed at www.bernan.com, by calling 1-800-865-3457 or emailing order@bernan.com.

Will the new edition contain the same tables as the traditional Statistical Abstract?
A: The 2013 edition will be as close as possible to previous editions, with roughly the same number of tables and valuable, detailed bibliographic documentation, an updated back-of-the-book index, and updated introductory sections. Each edition of the Statistical Abstract is unique, but like the versions previously compiled by the Census Bureau, the editors will adhere to the same methodology and utilize the same sources whenever possible.

Q: How will the new edition compare in the look and feel with the traditional version?
A: The new edition will be identical to previous editions of the Bernan Press Library Edition of the Statistical Abstract. Unlike the 6″x9″ traditional government edition, which came in both hardcover and paperback versions, the new edition will be 8 ½”x11″ hardcover with a sturdy binding designed to withstand heavy use and frequent photocopying in libraries. Importantly, the text and tables will be presented in an easily readable format with 25% larger type than in the previous government editions.

Be sure to read next month’s newsletter where we will address questions regarding the expertise of the editorial staff working on the publication, the integrity of the data and the sources used.

Sounds as if the book will be sturdier and have larger type. That’s nice. However, it will be far more expensive than the current hardcover published by the U.S. Government Printing Office ($44). Bernan’s price ($179 list) puts it beyond the range of the average person. Only libraries will buy it.

A New Threat

Information Today reports that an appropriation bill passed by the House of Representatives would eliminate the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The ACS compiles data from the so-called “long form” filled out by a subset of Americans. It also conducts the Economic Census in between the standard decennial censuses. As Barbie E. Keiser puts it:

By combining the demographic data with industry activity, government programs and businesses can plan how best to spend their funds. Insights on family structure, household and consumer spending habits derived from ACS forms, such as length of commute and mode of transport to/from work, drive new product developments and targeted marketing. The more accurate the data, the better the decisions made, particularly with regard to providing social services at the local level. Republicans, in particular, have disputed the validity of sampling, which may have been a factor in the mostly party line vote on the Census Bureau budget.

The Senate may reinstate ACS’ funding, but that’s by no means certain.

For a more political view of all of this, albeit with quotes from businesspeople and the mainstream media, see: this Daily Kos article.

New U.S. Water Quality Portal #waterquality

A new Water Quality Portal [waterqualitydata.us] was released by agencies of the U.S. federal government on May 1.

What is the WQP:

The Water Quality Portal (WQP) is a cooperative service sponsored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) that integrates publicly available water quality data from the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) and the EPA STOrage and RETrieval (STORET) Data Warehouse.

The EPA water quality data originate from the STORET Data Warehouse, which is the EPA’s repository of water quality monitoring data collected by water resource management groups across the country. Organizations, including states, tribes, watershed groups, other federal agencies, volunteer groups and universities, submit data to the STORET Warehouse in order to make their data publicly accessible. For more information about STORET, see the STORET Home Page.

The USGS water quality data originate from the NWISWeb Database. The database contains current and historical water data from more than 1.5 million sites across the nation and is used by state and local governments, public and private utilities, private citizens, and other federal agencies involved with managing our water resources. For more information on what data are available and how NWIS data are mapped to the Water Quality Exchange (WQX) format, visit NWIS Water Quality Web Services.

More from the USGS:

The Portal provides a single, user-friendly web interface showing where water quality information is available from federal, state, tribal and other water partners. It reduces the burden to data users searching, compiling, and formatting water monitoring data for analysis, and provides scientists, policy-makers, and the public with a single web interface to query data stored in STORET and NWIS.

Data users can choose from a variety of filters including geographic and sample parameters, to narrow down the dataset by state, county, organization, watershed, and sites of interest. Downloaded data can be served out in comma-separated, tab-separated, MS Excel, Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) file formats.

The Portal utilizes the common nomenclature known as the Water Quality Exchange (WQX) to retrieve data from NWIS and STORET and publish it in a consistent format. The Portal is designed to support additional data sources that are integrated with the WQX template. EPA offers a web-based data entry tool called WQX-Web that enables data owners to upload their data for use by the Portal.

Future enhancements to the portal include the development of the Portal’s interface, web services, and compatibility with popular mapping tools.

Statistical Abstract to continue in private hands

Information Today is reporting that the Statistical Abstract is being “rescued” by major database publisher ProQuest. (Full disclosure: I, like many other librarians, am a customer of ProQuest in my day job.)

The good news:

  • Someone will continue to compile the most important statistics from the federal government and other organizations in one convenient place
  • There will be a print version available from Bernan Press, but we don’t know yet how much it will cost. (The 2012 edition costs $40 in paperback from the Government Printing Office, $44 in hardback.) This is important for smaller libraries, as I will explain below.
  • The new electronic version will be more interactive than the current flat PDF and updated more frequently (monthly vs. annually). Current web site (Census Bureau)

The bad news:

  • The electronic version will not be free. Right now, anyone can get access to the web version and find statistics collected by the federal government. In other words, we (as U.S. taxpayers) paid for this data to be collected. Why should we have to pay again to get access to it? After the changeover, ProQuest says, it will sell Statistical Abstract as a stand-alone subscription and as part of a larger statistical database. Maybe Stat Abs will be cheap enough that every public library in the country can subscribe. But maybe it won’t. Maybe you will only have electronic access to it if you are affiliated with one of the academic or public libraries that are able to afford it. Otherwise, you will have to go to your library and use the print edition (assuming that’s still reasonably priced). Or you can buy your own copy of the print edition. These were our choices in the pre-Internet days.

It’s better than seeing Stat Abs go away, but there are some real potential down sides here.

Update, April 16: I’ve been thinking about this some more since yesterday. Yes, the federal government collected these statistics with our tax dollars. (And you could probably find them for free on several hundred different dot-gov web sites.) But that’s not what’s so valuable about Statistical Abstract. The valuable thing is that it compiles these statistics in one place and tells you where to get more information. To the extent that ProQuest and Bernan are taking over that function, they deserve to be paid for their work. However, I still worry that we could be getting a pricey database, available in relatively few libraries, in place of the free web site we have now.

Climatological data will be free starting Monday

I received the following e-mail this week from the National Climatic Data Center:

If you are receiving this email you are a current online subscriber to Edited Local Climatological Data (Edited LCD) publication, Climatological Data (CD) publication, Edited Local Climatological Data – ALL stations, ASCII files only, or the Edited Local Climatological Data, Annual Summary – ALL stations, PDF files only.

Major changes are in the process of being implemented to our online publications and subscriptions access systems. Beginning on Monday, February 13th, publications will no longer be available for subscription purchase. Each of the major publications available from our Imaging and Publications system will become available to all users at no charge. If you are a current subscriber, you may continue to access your data via the subscription access system, however, it is not necessary. You may simply visit the Images and Publications (IPS) web page for access – http://www7.ncdc.noaa.gov/IPS/

Online ordering of certification for the Edited LCD publication will continue to be available for purchase through the online store and a link for this will be provided via the IPS system.

These changes are part of NCDC’s ongoing effort to provide more of our online data to all users at no charge.

This is very great news (and probably about time). When I would renew our subscription every year, I would be amused by the question asking where I had heard of Climatological Data. I can’t remember not knowing about it! Every library I have worked in has had a subscription to Climatological Data for our state. It’s the basic record of weather and climate data for as long as such data have been kept.

This is especially good news when the federal government is considering not keeping or not publishing some very basic statistics that it has long provided.

As long as I’m feeling all utopian and all, maybe I can wish that a freely accessible source of authoritative data could bring some agreement to the climate change disputes. Probably not, but I can dream.

The Statistical Abstract’s fate gets some attention from mainstream media

Finally, the possibility of the Statistical Abstract being killed is getting some attention from people other than librarians.

Don’t kill America’s databook, Op-Ed by Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, Aug. 21:

It can be argued that much of what’s in the Stat Abstract is online somewhere. True — but irrelevant. Many government and private databases are hard to access and search, even if you know what you want. Often, you don’t. The Stat Abstract has two great virtues. First, it conveniently presents in one place a huge amount of information from a vast array of government and private sources. For example, the National Fire Protection Association tells us that 30,170 fire departments fought 1.45 million fires in 2008. Second, the footnotes show where to get more information.

Save the Statistical Abstract, blog post by Paul Krugman, New York Times, Aug. 22:

I don’t usually find myself in hearty agreement with Robert Samuelson, but he’s right about this. The Statistical Abstract is a hugely important resource; experts in a particular field may not need it, but it’s invaluable to non-experts in need of basic information.

Killing the publication for the sake of a tiny saving would be a truly gratuitous step toward a dumbed-down country. And believe me, that’s not something we need more of.

Policy experts howl over stat abstract’s death sentence, Reuters, Aug. 24:

A cost-cutting plan by the Census Bureau to kill off its Statistical Abstract was under fire this week from pundits and policy experts who rely on the annual collection of census data.

Published since 1878 and now nearly 1,000 pages, the abstract summarizes key metrics — some weighty and some just interesting — on the social, political and economic shape of the United States and beyond.

Census Bureau Wants to Kill Statistical Abstract, Science magazine, Aug. 31:

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a free, fact-filled compendium of miscellaneous data that has been published by the U.S. Census Bureau annually since 1878. But it appears headed for the trash heap.

[Note: It's free online, but if you want a printed copy, it'll cost you $39 for the paperback, more for hardback, less for CD-ROM.]

Congressional hearing on e-government

Reps. Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings — two members of Congress who don’t agree on much — both agree that e-government web sites need to have their funding restored. They expressed their support at a hearing Tuesday.

H/T InfoDocket

In other news, the White House says the federal government has too many specialized web sites, but they weren’t talking about USASpending.gov.