The 131st edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States (2012) was last published by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to its website, the Census Bureau terminated “the collection of data for the Statistical Compendium program” on Oct. 1, 2011. The program included the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, and the County and City Data Book. In bold red letters, the webpage refers visitors to the “organizations cited in the source notes for each table of the Statistical Abstract.” (There are 1,406 tables!) Those who were dreading the demise of this one-stop shop of the Statistical Abstract can now turn to ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States. The 2013 edition is available online now, and ProQuest promises monthly updates of tables as data becomes available; the print edition is published in cooperation with Bernan Publishing. For users of Statistical Abstract, the continued publication and update of these tables is an enormous time-saver: Once you find that the data you seek is in Stat Abstract, you know that it will always be there.
As we reported on March 28, 2011, every federal agency has been making tough choices to meet anticipated budget cuts. Statistical Abstract was not deemed to be a priority for the Census Bureau as all of the data reported was available elsewhere, if not conveniently. Response from a library community that views this go-to resource as essential was fierce, including the obligatory letters to Congress, videos, and even a Save the US Statistical Abstract Facebook group. Fast-forward to Dec. 6, 2012 and it’s official; ProQuest will save the day, rescuing this valued reference tool for the nation.
Preparing for Transition
ProQuest met with Compendium Branch staff while the work group was still intact to learn about the editorial practices and policies Census had developed through the years to create and update Statistical Abstract. What the group did not turn over to ProQuest was their contact file. As Dan Coyle, ProQuest statistical product manager described the process, “[W]e often had to play detective and find out who at the agency had worked with the Census Bureau staff in the past.”
Funding for some of the federal statistical programs that underlie these tables remains in jeopardy due to budget shortfalls. So, aside from dealing with many agencies to get the data for Statistical Abstract, ProQuest will have to deal with the fact that many of these programs may go away, preventing future updates using these data series.
The 2013 edition was not affected by any statistical program curtailments; more than 99% of the tables that appeared in the 2012 edition are in the 2013 edition, “fully updated if new content has been released.” The 2013 edition includes 1420 tables, 14 more than last year.
ProQuest faces additional challenges in dealing with 133 commercial publishers, not-for-profit organizations, and universities that contribute data to Statistical Abstract tables. For the 2013 edition, ProQuest had three outright refusals to share data, affecting nine tables (six of which were updated with replacement data series from federal agencies).
Lars Johanson, retired branch chief who had worked on Statistical Abstract for 35 years, was hired as ProQuest’s editorial consultant. ProQuest has 25 statistical editors at its Bethesda, Md. headquarters, five who have been working on Statistical Abstract full-time. Johanson took on the most challenging section of the 2013 edition to update, Population. The Statistical Abstract project team has “built a database that functioned as an acquisitions tool and document management system. It contains a metadata record for every table in the Statistical Abstract, along with tickler dates that alert us when new data should be available; notes on how a particular table was updated and should be updated in the future; links to the actual tables and to content providers; contact names and emails; etc.”
ProQuest’s Big Data Strategy?
Differentiation among online database vendors can be apparent in terms of specialization of content. Statistical Abstract may be ProQuest’s latest indicator as to its direction in terms of differentiation: data.
Two years ago, ProQuest acquired Statistical Insight from LexisNexis, a service “designed to help researchers find the statistical information they need quickly and easily” from federal agencies, states, business organizations, research institutions and international organizations. ProQuest Statistical Insight provides line-item access to more than 1 million individually indexed tables selected from major statistical compilations and special studies issued by the federal government, private research firms, state governments, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Up to 130,000 new tables are added each year. Since 2006, all tables have been available in both image and Excel formats. Every table is linked to an abstract, which in turn contains a link to the full-text source document. ProQuest’s advanced Search Tables functionality will also be available to users of Statistical Abstract.
Additional modules of ProQuest Statistical Insight are online collections of descriptive abstracts of thousands of statistical publications from federal agencies, state agencies and private sector organizations, and international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), including the following:
- American Statistics Index (ASI) indexes federal statistical publications dating from 1973. Full-text PDF documents are available from 2004 forward. ProQuest offers PDF versions of all documents covered by ASI since 2003—that represents more than 8,000 documents per year. Every ASI abstract published after 2003 links to the document described in the abstract.
- Statistical Reference Index (SRI) abstracts and indexes significant statistical publications of state and private sector sources in the U.S. dating from 1980. Full-text documents from licensed sources are available from 2008 forward.
- Index to International Statistics (IIS) abstracts and indexes key statistical titles from international intergovernmental organizations such as the U.N., EU, OECD, IMF, and World Bank, dating from 1983. Full-text documents are available from 2007 forward.
ProQuest Statistical DataSets is a web-based research solutions tool, fully integrated module to ProQuest Statistical Insight, providing instant access to more than 500 datasets (14 billion data points), permitting the user to compare data from different datasets and publishers, discovering data relationships that exist through highly interactive data visualization, including interactive maps, trends, and rankings. With ProQuest Statistical Datasets, users can easily view same-period-last-year comparisons, detailed maps, and track indicators across organizational units and for user-defined time periods. Viewing data in side-by-side tables and charts, with interactive graphing options offered to users, may be the next stage of development as an expected feature for researchers and analysts.
The U.S. is not the only country with a publication of this nature. Statistical Insight now covers the statistical abstracts of 15 countries; next year, ProQuest plans to cover 30. ProQuest provides PDFs to the publications and tables, and is using its online expertise to offer line-item access to the tables, and even spreadsheet versions so that users can manipulate the data as needed.
A comparison for accessing Statistical Abstract via the Census Bureau site and via ProQuest is inevitable. There are notable differences, including the frequency of updates (annually versus monthly, as data becomes available); narrowing search results (filter by data date, source, subject and type of breakdown, such as by age or state). The ProQuest site de-dupes search results and the user can arrange search results by relevance or table number. Perhaps the most significant bonus is the LibGuide ProQuest has developed for Statistical Abstract containing everything you’d want to know about the publication and its contents.
As we reported earlier this year, other compilations have been the subject of de-funding decisions and valued resources are likely to be discontinued if no one comes to their rescue, including, for example, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. Perhaps we can suggest to ProQuest how it might expand Statistical Insights ever more, now that it’s got Statistical Abstract sorted out. The process should be quite similar.