The U.S. Census Bureau, responsible for publishing the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Stats Abstract), announced in March 2011 that it would cease production of the Statistical Abstract after the 2012 edition, ( see Statistical Abstract of U.S. Going Away ? )
It had functioned as both as an answer book and source guide. It had been used by librarians and public patrons for generations to help answer a myriad of statistical inquiries with both government and privately gathered data. Even with widespread lobbying by users and librarians, the Census Bureau said it would not continue the Stats Abstract “due both to substantial budgetary constraints and the need to prioritize several new data gathering endeavors.” While government budgets are indeed tight, one wonders why such a valuable information tool would not also be considered a priority.
Sometimes private sector publishers have take over previously free government titles which they turn into commercial products that former users must then pay for access to. In the late 1990s several government publications became privatized including : “Significant Features of Fiscal Federalism”, “Handbook of Labor Statistics”, “Business Statistics of the United States”, “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” and “U.S. Industrial Outlook” . ( See Robert Oakley, Testimony Regarding S. 2288, The Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act Of 1998)
However, in this case, two private sector actors have come to the rescue of a valuable publication that the government has just chosen not to continue providing ! A fortuitous reversal of some past practices by private publishers.
ProQuest, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based electronic publisher and microfilm publisher and Bernan, leading distributor of essential government publications and publisher of reference works based on government data, have partnered to bring back the venerable “Statistical Abstract of the United States”, as a print and an online product. This partnership will ensure the continuation of a the premier reference source that was fist published in 1878.
The new commercial Stats Abstract volume will be an 8.5 x 11 in. hardcover and will contain approximately the same number of tables as previous government editions. Libraries around the country have a spot ready for the 2013 edition.
The considerable staff of statistical editors at ProQuest will handling the production of the online version of the Stats Abstract. According to the press release, “The digital version will include monthly updates to tables, deep searching at the line-item level, powerful facets for narrowing search results, image and spreadsheet versions of all current and historical tables, along with links to provider sites.” This is an advance over the format of the previous government online versions which are PDF reproductions of the print version.
Congratulations to ProQuest and Bernan for not only seizing a business opportunity but also serving the information needs of countless citizens who were left “high and dry” by the U.S. Census Bureau.