The NY Times reported yesterday that the USDA has reversed a decision to end farming reports. Evidently, when an industry group(s) complains, the US Govt listens. So why hasn't the Census Bureau changed their decision on killing the US Statistical Abstract?
In an abrupt about-face, the United States Department of Agriculture has decided to reverse a decision to eliminate dozens of long-standing statistical reports on a wide range of farming activities, including beekeeping, hop growing and flower farming. The agency’s statistics service said in October that it was forced by budget constraints to cut the reports and that doing so would save $11 million a year.
That led to an outcry from farm groups that said the information collected by the agency was essential. Farmers rely on the reports to decide how much to plant and how many animals to raise; they use the information to persuade bankers to lend them money and to advocate for other types of government support.
So now the Agriculture Department has reinstated most of the reports that had been given the ax. Saved are the reports on trout farming, catfish farming, floriculture, sheep and goats, bees and honey production and mink farming, among others.
Mitt Walker, director of the Alabama Catfish Producers, said the sudden switch was probably “a result of the outcry from the affected commodities,” a reference to farm trade groups.
A new article in LLRX:
- Learning to Live Without a Statistical Abstract: Thinking about Future Access to Government Information, By James T. Shaw, LLRX (November 20, 2011).
Please do not get your hopes up, or at least not very much. There is no truly good alternative to the Statistical Abstract in terms of providing both convenience and breadth.
The 2012 files are now available at: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/
Direct to 2012 Edition PDF Files: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012edition.html
Direct to Earlier Versions: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/past_years.html
I've heard that librarians are beginning to receive canned responses to letters to Senator Feinstein and they have not been good. Feinstein's response to concerns about the shutting down of the Census Bureau's Statistical Compendia Branch and killing of the Statistical Abstract have been thus:
Dear Mr. ________________:
Thank you for writing me to express your support for the U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States. I appreciate hearing from you and apologize for the delay in my response.
As you may know, the Statistical Abstract is data on the social, political, and economic organization of the Nation released by the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau publishes the information as well as making it available online for the public.
In February 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released its tentative fiscal year 2012 budget breakdown, which includes a provision to terminate the Statistical Abstract. I understand your concerns with the Census Bureau's proposal. According to the Census Bureau, in order to fund higher priority programs within the agency, it is recommending that certain programs be terminated or have their budgets reduced. You might be interested to know that much of the information available in the Statistical Abstract is available at university and library resources, particularly the Federal Depository Library.
Please know that I recognize your concerns and appreciate the information you have provided about what this cut could mean. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind during the 2012 fiscal year appropriations process. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to share your concerns directly with the Census Bureau at: 1-800-923-8282.
Again, thank you for writing. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.
United States Senator
Particularly disheartening is that she references libraries, ignoring the fact that it is LIBRARIANS who are writing to her! We KNOW that much -- but not all! -- of the data are out there and in our stacks. But we also KNOW that the Statistical Abstract, because it is the aggregation of many data sources and data points across the .gov domain and beyond, is one of the most useful tools that librarians have to serve the public. The Statistical Abstract is the defacto Google for .gov statistical information. THAT'S why we're so concerned that the Statistical Compendia Branch is being cut. Feinstein's statement misses the point completely.
Thanks to a tip from Kevin McClure, a librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law, I contacted Jean Mullin, section chief at the Statistical Abstract. Ms. Mullin's quick and helpful response confirmed the amount of copyrighted material in the Statistical Abstract. She noted:
"100 of the Abstract's private sector sources contribute roughly 179 tables to the book, meaning that almost 13 percent of what's published in the book is copyrighted. All but a few of those tables are approved for the on-line and CD-ROM versions. There are also several tables in the Abstract, which are special tabulations produced by government agencies for the Abstract and can not be found anywhere else on-line. If one were to reproduce them, they would have to send a request to that agency for the data."
Kevin, in this thread on govdoc-l and working off the same information Ms Mullin gave him, extrapolated the information and stated:
"... I think assurances that we can rely on other data sources are even more off the mark than they sound at first. The Preface to Stat Abstract says that both government and private sources contribute to its mix of data. I checked on what that would mean if we lost the publication, and found out that about 100 of those private sources, which contribute to 179 tables in the book, require copyright permission, meaning that almost 13 percent of the tables in the book are copyrighted. All but a few of those tables are approved for the online and CD-ROM versions.
So the suggestion in Sen. Feinstein's response that we could reassemble much of the data in Stat Abstract with things in our SuDocs stacks and online, on top of being daft and irrelevant in so many irritating ways, also fails to account for that large chunk of data that will no longer be publicly accessible by any means. The resource is literally irreplaceable, because no one outside the Statistical Compendia Branch is capable of collecting it all without re establishing all those arrangements -- that is, without doing what the Statistical Compendia Branch already does, and does so much better and more efficiently than anyone else could. I think that is a point worth emphasizing as we continue to talk to our representatives about preserving the Statistical Compendia Branch."
I hope that readers will use this information as added context in their responses (really just shrugs of their shoulders :-| ) to their Senators and Representatives.
As Paul Krugman recently wrote, “Killing the publication for the sake of a tiny saving would be a truly gratuitous step toward a dumbed-down country. And believe me, that’s not something we need more of.” Google will not and cannot help the public and librarians access that copyrighted data. Without the Statistical Abstract, NONE of that data will be available to the public and the finding by citizens of .gov statistics will be unnecessarily obfuscated beyond reason.
The fine folks at Gelman Library, George Washington University have created a compelling video in support of the US Statistical Abstract. Please watch and share widely.
Remember, there are at least 2 things you can do to help save the Statistical Abstract:
There has been a lot of discussion and suggestions for action on GOVDOC-L and various library listservs and ALA Connect about the pending demise of the Census Bureau's Statistical Compendia Branch and along with it the elimination of the Statistical Abstract of the United States (aka Stat Abs) and all other titles produced by that branch (State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, USA Counties, Quick Facts). Here's the US Census Bureau's budget estimates for 2012 (PDF).
Librarians around the country are beginning to mobilize. Alesia McManus, the Library Director at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, has created a Facebook group “Save the US Statistical Abstract” to try to help spread the word and share information. ALA Washington Office has just announced a Legislative Action Alert opposing the defunding of the Statistical Compendia Branch.
Lastly, below is a sample letter that I hope all of our readers will send/email/fax to their Senators and Congressmen -- many thanks to Starr Hoffman at the University of North Texas, Hailey Mooney at Michigan State University, and Kevin McLure at Chicago-Kent College of Law for getting the letter rolling! Feel free to copy and/or edit the letter to suit and forward this post far and wide.
Here's an easy way to find the contact information of your Congressional delegation:
TO YOUR SENATOR:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator ___________:
TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative __________:
Paragraph 1: Why you are writing and who you are. List your "credentials." (If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.)
My name is __________, and I’m a librarian at INSTITUTION which has served the government information needs of the constituents of your Congressional district and state since DATE LIBRARY BECAME A DEPOSITORY. I’m writing because I and many other librarians are deeply concerned that the U.S. Census Bureau's Budget Estimates for Fiscal Year 2012 calls for the termination of the Statistical Compendia Branch which would mean the elimination of the United States Statistical Abstract and all titles produced by that branch (State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, USA Counties, Quick Facts). 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.
Paragraph 2: more details about the situation.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually since 1878, is a key publication for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which provides free, public access to government information. Both the print and online versions of the “Stat Abs,” as many librarians affectionately refer to it, are on the FDLP Essential Titles list. It is the first place that many librarians, researchers, students and your constituents(!) look for statistical information, because it compiles a vast amount of information, some of it unpublished and not available anywhere else. The Statistical Abstract also provides a citation for the original source for each table, acting as a guidebook to a huge array of diverse government statistics. The Stat Abs (as well as all of the titles published by the Statistical Compendia Branch!) is a staple of reference librarians and the public for its ease of use, comprehensive content, and as a guidebook to federal statistical sources.
These long published titles -- and the federal depositories that distribute it to the American public -- are not an earmark, but are critical to the provision of social, economic, and political indicators to the American public and greatly benefit every American in every Congressional district. Without it, librarians, the public and your constituents(!) will waste much valuable time looking for statistics in multiple places and compiling longitudinal data.
Paragraph 3: Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title or number whenever possible.
Please urge the Department of Commerce to reinstate the budget for the Census Bureau's Statistical Compendia Branch and the essential, valuable titles that the Branch provides to the public. Many thanks for your time and your service.
Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP): http://fdlp.gov
FDLP Essential Titles: http://snipurl.com/essential-titles
US Census Bureau budget estimate 2012: http://snipurl.com/census-budget-estimate-2012
This just in from the Census Bureau via GPO:
Sent: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:43 AM To: Holmes, Mary A. Subject: FW: Fw: Statistical Abstract and the Consolidated Federal Funds Report Dear Mr. Lansky: The just released 2012 budget does not include funding for the Statistical Compendia Branch which would mean the elimination of not only the Statistical Abstract, but all titles produced by that branch (State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, USA Counties, Quick Facts). No new editions would be produced in print or online. We have already started work on the Statistical Abstract 2012 edition and are still working on the local area products (highlighted above). We will continue to work on these products and have a contingency plan to have the Statistical Abtract 2012 out by the end of September, due to our uncertain future. Sincerely, Branch Chief Statistical Compendia Branch, ACSD U.S. Census Bureau
If you've been on govdoc-l over the last couple of days, you've no doubt read about the demise of the US Census' Statistical Abstract of the United States, published every year since 1878 and one of the most heavily used items in libraries across the US. According to the Department of Commerce's 2012 Congressional Budget Justification document (see pp 82-92), the entire Statistical Compendia Branch as well as the Federal Financial Statistics Program of the US Census is slated to be defunded. Not only will the Statistical Abstract no longer be published, but it also means the elimination of ALL titles produced by that branch (State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), Federal Aid to States (FAS) etc.).
Please write/phone/email/fax your representatives NOW and let them know how critical these publications are to an informed citizenry and to your daily library work. Congress.org has a handy page that will allow you to write all of your representatives at once. Please also forward this message to any library listservs to which you subscribe and send to your friends and family.
UPDATE 3/15/11: In reading further, this looks to be a decision by Census to shift funds to a new program that will use new ways to collect and disseminate data. But Census still seems to be putting the StatAb cart before the new data dissemination horse here. Census Bureau will first kill StatAb etc and *then* initiate a pilot project to see how this new method of disseminating data will work. The new program will not be in place for 1-2 years and in the meantime the American public will not have access to the easy to use and handy Statistical Abstract.