Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1878-2012?

From the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Information like this may soon become harder to find.

We librarians love our collections. We don’t like to get rid of things (“Couldn’t that be useful to somebody?”) and we certainly don’t like to have them taken from us.

That’s why it’s so upsetting to hear rumors that one of the most useful and, frankly, most interesting titles to many a librarian may be headed for the chopping block. According to recent Internet chatter, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, “a summary of industrial, social, economic, and political data” published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau since 1878, may soon be history.

In fact, the Census Bureau’s own Budget Estimate for fiscal year 2012 clearly describes the Bureau’s decision to terminate the program responsible for producing the Stat Abstract (and several other titles):

The FY 2012 budget request is the result of a review of both ongoing and cyclical programs necessary to achieve Department of Commerce and Census Bureau goals and difficult choices had to be made in balancing program needs and fiscal constraints. 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. [see pg. CEN-79]

If I’m reading that right, the Stat Abstract not only wouldn’t be printed anymore, it wouldn’t even be compiled. Some observers suggest that Census is merely retooling and reorganizing–several other Census programs are also slated for termination, but their duties are being reassigned. It doesn’t look like the Stat Abstract is one of them.

The disturbing irony here is that the Census Bureau’s own description of the Stat Abstract (“serves as a statistical compendium [and] guide to other statistical publications and sources”) clearly articulates the Stat Abstract’s unique utility: it compiles a veritable universe of data into a single, easy-to-use resource that’s organized by subject, fully indexed, accompanied by footnotes and helpful introductory material, and–most importantly–is fully cited. Which is to say that it tells readers exactly who collected the data and where they can go for more of it.

So while the Census Bureau may be correct that the data is “available elsewhere,” the beauty of the Stat Abstract is that it obviated users’ need to know where “elsewhere” was. And that, as librarians know, can be (at least) half the battle.

–Michael Fry, Senior Map Librarian

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One Response to Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1878-2012?

  1. Chandler Christoffel says:

    Librarians at George Washington University’s Gelman Library have created a “Save the Statistical Abstract” video. Please share widely!


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