There are rumblings, mostly among librarians, over the end of the Statistical Compendia branch of the Census Bureau, in 2012. The branch has produced the Statistical Abstract of the United States every year since 1878.
I couldn’t take the uncertainty anymore so I called the Census Bureau and spoke to Ian O’Brien who’s the Chief of the Statistical Compendia Branch. He said that the 2012 budget doesn’t include funding for his 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, etc.). No new editions would be produced in print or online.
And from the Census Bureau’s budget proposal for 2012, page 82 [pdf]:
The Census Bureau requests a decrease to terminate the Statistical Abstract program. The FY 2012 budget request is the result of a review of both ongoing and cyclical programs necessary to achieve Department of Commerce and Census Bureau goals and difficult choices had to be made in balancing program needs and fiscal constraints. The availability elsewhere of much of the information in the statistical abstract has led the Department and Census Bureau to the difficult decision to terminate the program.
This will be a $2.9 million cut.
The sense that I get from library science blogs is one of disbelief, but I’m not so sure that the move is that surprising. Government data has been growing more accessible via outlets like Data.gov and even via Census itself, and while they still need work, the Abstract still feels dated in comparison.
I’ve played with the data a little bit, and it’s all available in lots of tables in Excel and PDF formats. Keep in mind this isn’t the Statistical Atlas, so it’s not graphics or maps. It’s straight up tables, and as Infochimps notes in their entries from the Abstract:
The Statistical Abstract files are distributed by the US Census Department as Microsoft Excel files. These files have data mixed with notes and references, multiple tables per sheet, and, worst of all, the table headers are not easily matched to their rows and columns.
Plus, the data isn’t straight from the Census Bureau. It’s data from other centers and organizations in a centralized spot, which is what Data.gov is supposed to be working towards.
So while I think it’s too bad that a branch that has been around for so long is going away, it’s not so much a knock as it is a sign of changing data access and availability.