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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.
Published inRandom Thoughts


  1. ConcernedLibrarian ConcernedLibrarian

    Since the very value of the Statistical Abstract, and other products of the Compendia Branch, is that they ARE compendia, it would almost seem as though the intent behind cutting funding for them is to purposely prevent access by citizens to factual data about their country! Thus enabling the vacuum to be filled by made-up statistics, which cannot be verified in any objective source. It is the ultimate victory for political spin-merchants, and we all know where they are located (hint: a big building with a dome, in Washington, D.C.).

  2. ConcernedLibrarian ConcernedLibrarian

    Have learned by consulting Facebook page “Save the Statistical Abstract” that it was the Obama Administration’s FY2012 budget which axed the Compendia Branch, not Congress. This changes my conclusion in the last post only slightly … now, the motivation seems even murkier. Please write or call your Congressman now!

  3. Geesh. The print edition is THE most used reference book in my collection. The past four volumes (2008-2011) have been used internally 17 times and have been checked out 3 times. This is for a tiny library that only started circulating books 18 months ago — and only has about 13,000 items — so it’s quite a lot of activity. I will include that in my letter to my congresspeople. It might help if others of us did that too — to show the great value this book has in libraries — if nowhere else.

    Thanks for the facts, Iris!

  4. in the interest of total honesty, it’s not THE most used reference book in my collection – that’s the AP Style Guide. But it’s definitely an Important Book. :-)

  5. I wish I knew the motivation behind this cut so that I could better decide how to argue against it. If it’s a political conspiracy to hoard power by hoarding information (which is what one commenter here worries about), that’s one level of outrage. If, on the other hand, it’s simply the result of incredibly difficult budget decisions coupled with having the people making those decisions so very far removed from having to find their own statistics and also so acclimatized to Washington that they don’t realize what a convoluted place it is for the rest of us, that needs another kind of response entirely.

    I know that in my case, I rely on the Statistical Abstract both for the actual statistics it contains, and also as a pointing tool that will lead me toward the agency or study or project that may have collected and published the information I need. Without that pointing function, I’m pretty much crippled, and so are the many students I work with, none of whom are familiar enough with inner workings of the various entities collecting this stuff to find the information they need without the aid of the Abstract.

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