The U.S. government’s March 2011 announcement that budget cuts would cause the termination, after 133 years, of the Statistical Abstract of the United States brought howls of anguish from librarians, researchers, journalists, and others who depended upon “StatAbs,” as it is affectionately known, to aggregate statistics on almost any topic imaginable. It now appears the howls were heard and acted upon by ProQuest. Deeming it a “rescue” action, ProQuest announced on March 22, 2012, that it would publish the next edition of this statistical icon in conjunction with Bernan Press, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. Bernan will be responsible for printing, marketing, and distributing the book. ProQuest will handle collection, indexing, and digital publishing.
ProQuest is well-positioned to pick up where the U.S. Census Bureau left off. Its acquisition of the Congressional Information Service (CIS) from LexisNexis on Nov. 30, 2010, gave it not only licenses for a wide range of statistical data but also highly-trained editors fully cognizant about the data. (See the Related Articles section for more information.)
The Statistical Abstract has an online presence at the Census Bureau website, but it is a static page, just a PDF version of the printed book. ProQuest promises to include monthly updates, deep searching down to the individual line items, facets to narrow search results, images, and spreadsheets. To be fair, the Census Bureau also offers spreadsheets, but that is the extent of its adaptation of the printed page to an electronic product, other than links to provider sites, which ProQuest also will supply. The added functionality that ProQuest will bring to the statistics should delight researchers, as it makes the data much more useful and valuable. Being able to manipulate the data and having it more current is a huge improvement.
The announcement came in the middle of the Computers in Libraries conference in Washington, D.C., where ProQuest had a booth. Librarians at the conference were surprised that ProQuest didn’t capitalize on the timing of the announcement with on-site publicity. ProQuest was at least demonstrating its Statistical Insight and Statistical DataSets products. StatAbs will be integrated into ProQuest Statistical Insight and will be available on a stand-alone basis.
Librarians also worried about the pricing, which was not announced. StatAbs at the Census Bureau’s website is free, although the print book had a price tag, and ProQuest says that both online and print editions will be available for presale in April. The actual product should be published in the fall of 2012.
U.S. government data is, to some extent, aggregated at some free websites, notably www.data.gov and www.fedstats.gov. Individual government departments and agencies also maintain websites replete with statistics. For a large compilation of data that goes beyond what the U.S. government offers, it’s hard to beat StatAbs.
The Statistical Abstract, weighing in at more than 1,000 pages in print, aggregated statistics from both government and nongovernment sources. A full list of sources—including trade and professional associations; research institutes; commercial publishers such as Dow Jones, Euromonitor, Information Today, Inc., and Standard & Poor’s; international organizations such as the United Nations, International Labour Organisation, OECD, World Trade Organization, and World Health Organization; and even the Boy and Girl Scouts—is searchable at the StatAbs website. ProQuest claims more than a million tables in its Statistical Insight product and says its book will contain “roughly the same number of tables as in past editions.” Will they be exactly the same? Probably not, but I’d expect it to be very close. In its 130 years of publication, the Statistical Abstract didn’t always carry the same tables, adjusting its data as needed.
More worrying is something over which ProQuest has no control. When the Census Bureau announced the elimination of the Statistical Abstract, it also said it would stop publishing the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book and the County and City Data Book. Although ProQuest has licenses for statistical data, it can’t create data out of thin air. If the Census Bureau “is terminating the collection of data for the Statistical Compendia program effective October 1, 2011,” as it stated, the data may not exist to be licensed.
It is admirable that ProQuest is offering librarians, researchers, journalists, and all data aficionados a revamped Statistical Abstract. Bringing the data to its platform to enhance searchability and working with Bernan to create a print version is a very worthwhile rescue action. The addition of StatAbs to ProQuest’s Statistical Insight and DataSets will benefit all those with access to the databases.