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By Africa S. Hands


Last year a bill was passed that, in effect, reduced the U.S. Government Printing Office’s budget. As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau would cease data collection for the Statistical Compendia program. The Nebraska Library Commission through its NCompass Live weekly online series, presented a webinar with James Shaw, “Learning to Live Without a Statistical Abstract”.


Last year a bill was passed (PDF) that, in effect, reduced the U.S. Government Printing Office’s budget. As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau ceased data collection for the Statistical Compendia programme. This was a huge blow to the information community as many professionals regularly consult the Statistical Abstract of the United States. The Abstract is an essential resource at reference desks in public, academic and special libraries, providing quick access to quality, mined data presented in relatively easy-to-read tables. Along with the Statistical Abstract, other significant publications were discontinued: the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book and the County and City Data Book.

Users are now directed to the individual resources referenced in the source notes of each table in the Statistical Abstract; information taken from countless sources including many private organisations and agencies – information sometimes found behind paywalls that information professionals must now access by other means or pay a hefty fee.

Last month, the Nebraska Library Commission, through its NCompass Live weekly online series, presented a webinar with James Shaw called “Learning to Live Without a Statistical Abstract”. Shaw presented alternatives to the Abstract with a reminder that we must be creative in seeking data and information, keeping in mind the question: “Who cares?” Who or what entity would care enough to have the necessary data?

One interesting example of “who cares” is shopping mall leasing companies. On shopping mall websites there is usually a link to leasing information. Retailers considering opening a business in a shopping mall will want demographic data about the surrounding area and zip codes and information about other area businesses. A quick look at my local mall’s leasing information page reveals a quick facts report with historical demographic data, a household income map, and a business occupation report.

Other sources for statistical information include state economic development offices and state data centres often housed in universities. Of course, this means we will need to search multiple sources and tap our human resources (e.g. listservs) to pull together a complete picture for analysis, and the information probably will not be organised in the data tables to which we’ve become accustomed. Shaw’s handout lists a number of federal and state-level resources. Sources we’ve come to rely on are being discontinued but this allows us to flex our research creativity muscles and find other suitable sources for our information needs.

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Africa S. Hands is an independent librarian with a focus on helping professionals understand and utilise social media and search engines through one-on-one tutorials and small group workshops. Africa tweets (@africahands) on resources of interest to information and higher education professionals.

Africa can be reached at

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