Life after the Statistical Abstract – ALAMW discussion summary

The following is a summary of:

RUSA/CODES Reference Publishing Discussion Forum: Life after the Statistical Abstract.

What will the proposed demise of the Statistical Abstract mean for reference librarians and library users?  Now in its 130th annual edition, Statistical Abstract has played a central role in guiding users to statistics since before we were born.   Since finding statistics can be challenging under the best of circumstances, what are our strategies for dealing with this loss? Are there new services and products we would like to see from commercial publishers?

Alesia McManus, owner of the “Save the US Statistical Abstract” Facebook page, moderated the discussion.  About 50 librarians, publishers, and vendors attended.

Alesia McManus, Dan Coyle from ProQuest and Bruce Samuelson from Bernan Publishing all spoke briefly to start the session.

Alesia’s comments:

The Stat Abstract (SA) is often a librarians favorite reference tool and a go to source for statistics.  She started the Facebook page in an effort to get the word out to others about the demise of this long time source. Alesia said people from other fields (non library science) were picking up on the news.  Alesia did several interviews for mainstream media outlets.

Dan Coyle from ProQuest said:

All of the public domain content (90%) of the content, is received at ProQuest.  They ingest the data and use it in a variety of publications.  Their product, Statistical Insight offers a variety of content.  Why don’t we take on the continuation of the SA?  They might.  They have done analysis on the content to determine the source of the information.  Most of the tables in the SA don’t come intact.  Most of this data comes from multiple sets of information and is tabulated together (labor intensive). They reject the argument that content aggregation doesn’t have value today.  Dan compared the SA to a nice bottle of cognac and said, we have access to the vineyard now but would love to be able to offer the cognac.

Bruce Samuelson from Bernan Publishing

They publish the SA, 2nd largest title they have sold over the years. The SA has generated the most discussion at the Bernan booth at all of the conferences they have attended in 2011. Moving forward, Bernan is looking to publish it themselves.  He agreed with Dan, it’s a much more challenging task because it covers so many topic areas.  The SA has 3 great virtues – comprehensive data in one location, footnotes for further information, and low price.  They are only looking at a print solution.

Online vs. print

So many different variations of what online could be, the print is so simple to use.  What is the cost to develop print vs. online. Bernan is only looking at print, ProQuest is looking at online and would price as affordable as possible, based on an FTE model.  An online solution from ProQuest would include some deeper indexing of the tables (not just a PDF of the print). Most of the comments on the Facebook page were in favor of the print copy due to the ease of use. Attendees expressed an interest in the simplicity of an online interface, not wanting to sort through data sets in an online product. There was caution against making the product too complicated (overheard: we need the “playschool” version).

Compendium role

It’s not as much about the sophistication of data analysis, but as a way to find out sources of data. The SA offers that.  Statistics are thought by many patrons to be such a simple question, but in reality, they can be the most complicated.  The SA offers the simplicity.  Keeping track of time series (tracking data over time) is another important role of the compendium. It was an alert to librarians that some agencies ceased collecting/publication of certain data. Used the SA as a breadcrumb trail.  Not necessarily the data in the SA that is important, but knowing what agency produces it and being able to follow up on their site for more info.  The tables in the SA are also compilations of various tables, so other agencies are often identified as sources of information.

Is our concern deeper than the existance of the SA?

Is the data reported in the SA also in threat?  Will the Superintendent of Documents support the ongoing collection of data. Some feel the SoD didn’t do enough to support the continuation of the SA. Lobbying can’t be done by the SoD but should be done by the ALA.  Many would like to see the ALA Lobbyists to be more active in this discussion (silent applause by many here). Is this just the beginning?  Will other government information also cease?   A lot of the data collected into the SA also comes from private entities.  Will these private companies give the data to someone else? The publisher may have to pay a licensing fee to those companies for getting the data, which in turn must go into the cost of the book.

Open Access/Grant Funding

There is a potential user group that haven’t used the SA.  They might be interested in this data if there are no barriers.  What mechanisms are there to discovery of the content on google back to the source of the info (at the library) to grow the use of the product.  Is there an opportunity for an IMLS grant to support the continuation of the SA?  The discussion again turned to the complexity of collection the data and creating custom tables from a variety of sources. This requires a lot of editorial work.  A grant will help you for one year, but it’s not sustainable.

What’s next?

Statistics Canada-Great model, which is a private/public partnership. Can we use this as a benchmark for the future?

What would be an annual cost of producing this publication each year? The 2.9 million in funding (which was cut) supported more than the SA.  Would this cost publishers as much? They already have a workflow in process which could cut down on the cost.

Can librarians create a wiki that crosswalks the type of data sets with the original source.  This wouldn’t require the actual production of a SA.  Can we compile a list of resources?

Should we continue to foster this conversation in a forum other than facebook?  Where can we go to connect about this topic?  Alesia will look into creating some type of website for this, but needs help with the content.

FedStats website?  It hasn’t been updated in ages, but we should go to the site and request updates, show our interest.

What can we do to get ALA more active in advocating for this issue?   What is the right channel?  What can members do to get the lobbyists working for this?  We should all feel free to contact the ALA Washington Office.

What committees are represented here at the meeting that we could collaborate with?  BRASS, RUSA, GODORT, Federal Documents Taskforce (not here, but recommended to contact them)

CapWiz – provided by ALA, it’s a legislative action center within ALA.  We could be using this outlet.

Alesia will continue to maintain the Facebook page.  She will look into establishing an ALA Connect group.