It’s safe to say that the Statistical Abstract of the United States has not only been a staple but also a favored and dependable source for librarians and information seekers across the entire spectrum of library types for more than a century.
When the U.S. Census Bureau integrated the current edition into its website and digitized the historical volumes, we were very happy. When the budget for statistical compendia was cut in 2011, we were extremely unhappy [See Barbie E. Keiser’s NewsBreak for detail of the budget cuts; newbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/US-Census-Bureau-to-Eliminate-Strategic-Publications-Including-Statistical-Abstracts-74588.asp. – Ed.]
ProQuest has made us happy again by not allowing this trusted resource to cease publication! Not just that, it has made some key improvements to the web-based version of this iconic reference source by updating data more frequently, adding interesting tables, indexing the content, and making it searchable.
ORGANIZATION AND USABILITYProQuest Statistical Abstract is visually appealing. The landing page shows a large map of the U.S. filled with, in tag cloud fashion, familiar U.S. Census nomenclature such as births, establishments, employment, and educational attainment. However, this map is not clickable. I expected to be able to select one of the terms or choose a state and then see related data, but the map is not hyperlinked. Fortunately, on the top left is a search box, and, in the left-hand column, there is a table of contents of the 30 sections plus appendixes and an index. The structure and section headings are familiar, but whereas the U.S. Census website alphabetizes the sections, ProQuest keeps them in numerical order, consistent with the print volumes.
The left-hand column takes on a different function once a search has been performed or when a specific section is selected to browse. The table of contents is minimized, but it can easily be restored using the down arrow to change the selection. A range of filters allows narrowing of results by date, source, geography, agency or demographics, and subject. This arrangement, including a date slider, is very familiar to users from article databases and discovery services, lending the Statistical Abstract a contemporary look and feel and constituting a huge value-add.
The platform is not ProQuest’s; it’s from Conquest Systems, Inc. (under its Data-Planet brand), which also provides the technology for ProQuest’s Statistical Insights and Statistical Datasets (data-planet.com).
FINDING TABLESTo find the statistical tables, use the search box or browse the table of contents. Search results are presented as a list of tables sorted by relevance; this can be changed to display by table number. Clicking into a section from the table of contents offers the chance to download a PDF of the entire section or select individual tables for viewing. A view icon (magnifying glass) enables a quick view of the table; clicking on the title opens up the document.
Tables have the familiar look and feel of the printed Statistical Abstract and included helpful additional items such as index terms, last update, citations in APA and MLA formats, a permanent URL, and detailed source information. Depending on the complexity of the table, there may be multiple links back to the original data sources. However, it is quite annoying that the document display is an image of the page, not the PDF. The image isn’t big enough, the print can be hard to read, and I didn’t find any obvious document tools to enlarge it. Choices presented are to export the table to a spreadsheet, a feature that works very smoothly; to view the “source document PDF,” which is the entire section the table is in, necessitating remembering which table you were viewing; or to print the page. Sometimes printing the page doesn’t result in a printout of the table and its associated information but, instead, just prints the database landing page, a strange glitch. You can also right-click and save, email, or copy the image.
There’s also a print option from the results page that enables printing – but not downloading – of single or multiple tables. Note that, while the tables are updated as new data become available, the PDF version is updated only annually in order to maintain parity with the print edition. Thus, when the option is presented to view or download the PDF of an entire section, the data in that section will not necessarily be the most up-to-date available. To obtain the most up-to-date tables, you need to download them into Excel one by one. An enhanced feature ProQuest brings to this, however, is that spreadsheets can show more years of data than the PDF since they aren’t constrained by the size of the printed page.
Just a minor issue: After completing a search, it’s not apparent how to clear the search results and proceed to a new search. However, clicking on the product name brings you back to the homepage. Also, clicking on the down arrow next to the table of contents expands it so you can readily make new choices by browsing.
VALUABLE CONTENTThe real value of this resource is the content, of course, particularly since the library community thought it might completely disappear when Census Bureau funding vanished. One of ProQuest’s value-adds lies in what has been added to the already-bountiful supply of demographic, social, political, business, and economic data.
The appendixes include a listing of new and deleted tables. Most of the deleted tables were replaced by new tables with similar – and sometimes expanded – content. Some of the new tables cover very timely topics, such as same-sex households, green goods and services employment by industry, and mean student load debt of households. Since not all data sources are public, some tables had to be discontinued, the explanation being “unable to reach agreement with source in order to continue covering content.”
Another considerable value-add is continual updating of tables as new data become available, ensuring that users can access the most recent information. Links to the original data sources make it easy to dig deeper for additional information.
SUPPORT FEATURESProQuest provides two different support features: Guide and Help. Guide goes to a libguide created by ProQuest that has very detailed directions on browsing, searching, viewing tables, emailing, printing, and saving, as well as information as to when tables were last updated.
The Help page provides links to the libguide, a guide to tabular presentation, a history of the Statistical Abstract, and contact details. There are no video tutorials or FAQs. While much of the product is intuitive, there are some details in the guide that should be highlighted more prominently directly in the resource, such as the difference in frequency of updates depending on format.
PRODUCT IN BRIEFIn summary, besides the obvious value the Statistical Abstract has always provided, the enhanced content in the form of timely updates to tables, inclusion of new data tables, indexing for efficient discoverability, and provision of permanent URLs and citation information, as well as the added search functionality with multiple filtering options make this a very worthwhile general reference resource. The inability to readily obtain a PDF of an updated table is mitigated by the ease with which tables can be exported to Excel.
Overall, ProQuest has done an excellent job of enhancing the online version of the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
By Patricia Berens
[This review originally appeared in Online Searcher, May/June 2013 issue. It is reprinted here with permission.]