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.

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.

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.]

Another update on government information

Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia Branch

From Library Journal’s annual “Notable Government Documents” roundup:

Don’t count on the Census Bureau
In response to the President’s call for “an aggressive, Government-wide effort to curb non-essential administrative spending,” Census Bureau director Robert Groves eliminated the Statistical Compendia Branch (SCB) and, with it, the print and online versions of Statistical Abstract of the United States and other key reference works. Unless Congress funds the SCB, the 130th edition of Statistical Abstract—one of the most notable documents of all time—will be the last published.

This decision is troubling in part because the Census Bureau’s sole criticism of this heavily used source is invalid. In the “U.S. Census Bureau’s Budget Estimates as Presented to Congress, February 2011,” the bureau justified its decision with the following: “The availability elsewhere of much of the information in the Statistical Abstract has led the Department and Census Bureau to the difficult decision to terminate the program.” That this title’s content is available elsewhere misses the point. Statistical Abstract exists so that users can find frequently cited statistics in one source rather than hundreds. The process by which the Census Bureau reached its decision is also disconcerting. Put simply, the failure to involve librarians and users in conversation about the SCB and its publications is an affront to open government.

E-government sites

Although Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) claimed he could keep some e-government sites going after their budget was slashed by three quarters, the government’s own chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, says “No project will go unaffected.” Read his letter to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Library and Information Updates: Data.gov, Statistical Abstract, Special Libraries Association, INFOdocket

Data.gov and Other Sources of U.S. Government Data

Data.gov, USASpending.gov, and other web sources for federal government data saw the budget that funds them cut by more than three-fourths (from $35 million down to $8 million) in the FY 2011 budget deal. But Rep. Darell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he can save some of the sites.

Statistical Abstract

Meanwhile, librarians are fighting to save the Statistical Abstract, City and County Databook, and other compilations published by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia Branch. The Branch was zeroed out in President Obama’s FY 2012 budget. The American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries are asking Congress to restore funding. You can, and should, do the same. There’s also a group on Facebook and a petition on Change.org, but nothing is more important than writing your representative and senators.

Special Libraries Association

SLA has a blog going all this year, Future Ready 365, in which each day a different librarian writes about how she or he is ready for the future. You can read something inspiring everyday. And if you’re a librarian who feels ready for the future, you can tell the world about it. There’s also a Future Ready Toolkit with more resources.

Deb Hunt recently spoke about the web site: Revisit SLA.org, OR “I didn’t know that was there!”

Infodocket

If you’re like me, you follow the work of librarian/web maven Gary Price. And if you’re like me, you wondered why the formerly prolific posts on his site ResourceShelf suddenly slacked off earlier this year. It turns out that Gary, and his writing partner Shirl Kennedy, have started a new site called INFOdocket, where they write about news of the library and Internet worlds. They also have a site called FullTextReports, which is just what it says: full-text reports in the news.

Valuable sources of government data slated to go away, part II

U.S. Census Bureau to Eliminate Strategic Publications Including Statistical Abstracts by Barbie Keiser, Info Today, March 28:

It was felt that the popular Statistical Abstract of the United States—the “go to” reference for those who don’t know whether a statistic is available, let alone which agency/department is responsible for it—could be sacrificed. Staff will be moving to “Communications,” digitizing the data set. It is hoped that the private sector—commercial publishers—will see the benefit of publishing some version of the title in the future.

Statistical Abstract is a convenient and user-friendly resource to consult. In addition, this may be the original mashup. As an example, Table 663, Labor Union Membership by Sector, 1985-2009, indicates that while based on Current Population Survey, the source of some data in the table is a Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), the BNA publication, and research authored by two academics (their names, affiliation, and website URLs included). Published since 1878, the print and online version of this publication will cease with the 130th edition. Other publications getting the axe include:

  • Current Industrial Reports (CIR), “providing monthly, quarterly, and annual measures of industrial activity” for highly specific products. Among the CIRs most recently posted to the website include Fats and Oils, Flour Milling Products, and Inorganic Chemicals. Perhaps most useful is the fact that the individual responsible for each publication is named and a telephone number (direct line) provided. From the Budget, we learn that the Bureau “will expand the NAICS industry product detail for some manufacturing industries in the 2012 Economic Census to minimize the loss incurred through the cancellation of the CIR program.”
  • The County and City Data Book and State and Metropolitan Area Data Book will no longer be printed, but the data will remain available online. (Thankfully, the Census Bureau has a good help desk to assist those who find the online data tools confusing. For those who don’t believe that difficulties are encountered, try the 2010 Factfinder at http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml). Commercial publishers make a good deal of money compiling tables and ranking states/cities, so that the public may be able to purchase convenient presentations of this data should it find the books easier to use than pulling the data from the Census website.
  • Other terminations mentioned in the Executive Summary (page CEN-6) include Federal Financial Statistics, Foreign Research and Analysis, Demographic Call Center, Population Distributions.

Barbie goes on to point out some the illogic behind the decisions about what to keep and what to drop.

See also:

American Library Association action alert: Contact appropriators and tell them to oppose the defunding of the Statistical Compendia Branch!

Pegasus Librarian’s Statistical Abstract of the United States on the Chopping Block (includes a sample letter to Congress members)

Statistical Abstract to bite the dust, University of Michigan library

Valuable sources of government data slated to go away

The Statistical Abstract is zeroed out in the Commerce Dept.’s budget for next fiscal year. This is a valuable source of facts and statistics compiled by the government since 1878. Even if some of those facts are available elsewhere, the “Stat Abs,” as its fans call it, makes it so convenient to have them in one place and to have sources for all that data.

If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at the online version of the Statistical Abstract. Then do what you can to help save the Statistical Abstract.

Much more recent than the Stat Abs is Data.gov. This site allows anyone with the right programming skills to reuse government data. They can even use it to produce profit-making web sites. (You’d think conservatives would appreciate that.) However, it too is on the chopping block.

Tell your senators and representatives to fund these valuable sources of government information.