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Reference Book of the Week: Statistical Abstract of the United States

This post is the first in a series of posts that will be entitled "Reference Book of the Week." The idea is to highlight reference books in our collections. I am hoping to tell you what the book is, what it does and why you might want to use it. If an item has other formats, such as an online version, I will note that as well. The first book for this feature is the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Back in the day when I was an instruction librarian, I would often tell my undergraduate classes about this book. This book, which is actually a federal government publication (librarians often call those "government documents" or "gov docs" for short), is one of the best places to get statistics on just about any topic you can imagine. You can find statistics on education, economics, housing, crime, etc. The Statistical Abstract of the United States is compiled by the Census Bureau. From the book's preface, here is the official description:
"The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published since 1878, is the standard summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States. It is designed to serve as a convenient volume for statistical reference and as a guide to other statistical publications and sources."
The preface also says:
"This volume includes a selection of data from many statistical source, both government and private."
In other words, this book collects statistics from various government agencies as well as private institutions. Not only that, but the book tells you as well where they got the numbers from by clearly identifying their sources in footnotes under the various tables. So, how can you make this book work for you? Here is the easiest way:
  • Open the book and go to the back of the book. Find the index.
  • Find the topic you are interested in. For example, say you want to learn about magazine reading habits. Looking at the index, there is an entry for "Magazines." Under that, there is a heading for "reading" with a number.
  • Now, here is the trick. In this book, that number is not the page number. It is the number of the table in the book. So, for "reading," you can find that information on Table # 1098.
  • Just flip through the book to Table 1098. There, you find a table with the title "Media Usage and Consumer Spending: 2000-2010." The table tells you that for consumer magazines (i.e. Time, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, etc.), in the year 2000, people spent 135 hours reading consumer magazines.
  • You do have to look at the notes to see how they figured out the number. At the bottom of the table, you will find where the Census Bureau got the numbers for this table.
You can also browse through the book. The book is divided into 30 broad sections with topics such as health and nutrition, elections, manufacture, agriculture, information and communications, and foreign commerce and aid. The Statistical Abstract of the United States is also available online. The online version can be viewed as a PDF, which would be an electronic version of the book. The other viewing option is to browse the sections and then you can view the data as EXCEL tables, which you could download. The print copy for the library is kept in the Ready Reference shelf under call number HA 202 .U5 S7 2008. The latest one is the 2008 edition, and a new edition comes out annually. Previous volumes can be found in the third floor stacks. As a reference book, it is not available to check out. You can consult it here or online. When it comes to statistics, this is definitely a good place to start.
Published by root on 14 Feb

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