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Month: March 2011

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

On this, your 5th birthday, I’d like to thank you for introducing me to some of the people who are now my best friends in the world, for never backfiring on me too badly when I stuck my toes in the crazy, for never attracting the real crazy that exists out there on the internet, for helping me learn to be a librarian, and for helping me learn to be an adult. I started you on a whim and on another platform. I’ve fallen out of love with you and then realized that it wasn’t you, it was me, and this realization led me back to appreciating you again. And through it all, you’re still here, bursting with drafts that I may never flesh out, but here nonetheless. Happy birthday.



Statistical Abstract of the United States on the Chopping Block

I kept waiting until I had something really substantive to say about this, but my brain has been on the fritz lately so I’ll settle with a purely factual post for those who haven’t yet heard.

About 10 days ago, rumors started flying that the Census Bureau was going to discontinue the Statistical Abstract because of budget cuts. A few days ago, these rumors became more concrete when a member of GovDoc-L called Ian O’Brien, Chief of the Statistical Compendia Branch, and heard that yes, the entire Compendia Branch will be unfunded next year. This means that after more than 130 years of publication, next year there will be no Statistical Abstract (online or in print), and no other titles produced by that branch, either (including the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book and the County and City Data Book. (Here’s the full GovDoc-L post.)

I guess Congress feels that there’s no need to synthesize this information for the public now that the more raw data is out there for messing with. I completely disagree, since usually there’s very little way to tell which group might have collected the data into which dataset until you look at the source notes in the Statistical Abstract.

Several libraries (including mine) are planning to write letters to congress about this. Haley Mooney posted her version for people to use as a starting point for their letters, and I’ll repost it here.

Dear ____,

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Budget Estimates for Fiscal Year 2012 calls for the termination of the Statistical Abstract program.  The library community is deeply upset at the thought of losing access to this important program and urges you to take action to stop this program change.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a crucial source in the provision of social, economic, and political indicators to the American public.  The Budget Estimates document suggests that the Statistical Abstract is no longer needed due to the “availability elsewhere of much of the information in the statistical abstract”.  As a reference publication the Statistical Abstract is valued precisely for aggregating in one convenient location a variety of information sources available elsewhere.

The provision of private information not freely available elsewhere is also invaluable.  Published since 1878, this important resource is a staple of reference librarians for its ease of use, comprehensive content, and as a guidebook to statistical sources.

It would be a disservice to the American public to terminate the Statistical Abstract program.  A democratic society is only made possible by an informed citizenry.  The multitude of government statistical programs and publications can be difficult for many members of the public to understand and use.  The government must support programs like the Statistical Abstract that enhance the availability of information.

Many developed countries throughout the world publish Statistical Abstracts.

It is a standard government publication that is universally popular as a tool to understand the state of a nation’s social, political and economic functioning.  Terminating the Statistical Abstract program would lower the United States international standing as free and open society that values unfettered access to information.

Even in these trying economic times the Census Bureau must continue to support the mission of the Department of Commerce to “Improve understanding of the US economy, society and environment by providing timely, relevant, trusted and accurate data, standards and services enabling entities to make informed decisions.”  The Statistical Abstract program clearly supports this goal by providing a valuable directory to the wealth of statistical information produced by the US government and private sources.  We must not let short-sighted and ineffective attempts at lowering the federal deficit stand in the way of upholding the values upon which our nation was founded: a democratic society supported by an informed public.



UPDATE: The ALA Washington Office has issued an action alert with information about whom to contact and what key points would be most valuable for those people to hear from us. I’ll reproduce it here:

Contact appropriators and tell them to oppose the defunding of the Statistical Compendia Branch!

In the coming weeks both the Senate and the House Appropriations committees will be working on the FY2012 budget.  Please take the time to inform them about the importance of the Statistical Compendia Branch’s work.

When President Obama released his 2012 Budget Request to Congress, he included the U.S. Census Bureau’s Budget Estimates, which called for the termination of their Statistical Compendia Branch.

This branch compiles and releases such reports as the Statistical Abstract and the National Data Book that include usable data for the American public.  As the Bureau’s own Budget Estimate states, “the abstract provides a comprehensive summary of industrial, social, economic, and political data…of almost 300 government, private, and international agencies”.

Message to Congress:

  • Continue funding for the Statistical Compendia Branch
  • The Statistical Compendia Branch compiles and releases important reports such as the Statistical Abstract that provide understandable data to a wide swath of the American public.
  • This material is used by librarians, educators, students, private businesses, state and local government officials, etc.
There is no other existing location where this data can be found in a similar usable format.

An ebook plan by Steve Lawson and Iris Jastram

Steve Lawson and I were trying to come to grips with what an actual workable plan for ebooks in libraries might look like (something that doesn’t involve arbitrary and ridiculously low check-out limits, a la HarperCollins). And we hatched a cunning plan, which we’ve published over at Steve’s blog: An ebook plan by Iris Jastram and Steve Lawson

Here’s my favorite line, and the one that I think captures the entire plan in a nutshell (and which Steve wrote):

We believe that the publisher should publish, and the library should own, lend, and preserve.

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Remembering Toff


Toff the campus cat lived a charmed life here, sneaking into dorm rooms, sauntering up to the reference desk, or serving as greeter in the student union. His Facebook page was very popular, and he’d use it to tell us what he’d been up. Each year on his April 1st birthday the food service on campus would make birthday pastries to stock the dining halls and cafe, and the library would display Toff’s pick of books. He got elected to the student senate as a write-in candidate, and he probably attended more lectures on campus than I have, and he has his own video. And on Sunday he died of cancer.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran his obituary today, and his Facebook page has had over 11,400 hits since Sunday. The campus radio station is doing a “we found Toff’s iPod and will play selections” show tomorrow. He will be missed. But according to his last Facebook post he’s doing well:

Hey, you guys!! Thanks for all the kind words. Just to let you know that I got here safely, and this is some cool campus! Are there ever some awesome white birds flying around up here! I miss you, but just know that I am happy, really happy. And Pete has kitty treats! Toff

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