U. S. Statistical Abstract

U.S. Statistical Abstract

Did you know that just about the most dangerous place you can be is in bed? Well, more people die there than anywhere else. Although the STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES doesn't contain this particular fact, it does contain an amazing variety of other Information which is almost as interesting. If you need numerical data about some aspect of the country, this book is always worth a try. The index and table of contents are good enough that you can determine quickly and with some confidence whether or not the abstract contains the information you want. Even if you don't find what you need, you may get clues about other sources to check. The footnotes and explanatory prefaces to the sections and tables are especially valuable in providing clues as to where more complete and detailed information can be obtained. And remember that despite the title, many world-wide and foreign country statistics are listed.

How to Find Things in the Statistical Abstract

Many entries in the index are very specific. "Florists" and "Cherries" are good examples. The editors have also included different forms of the same index entry. For example, both "Income, Farm," and "Farms, Income," are used.

No index, however, can anticipate every possible approach to information. In addition to the time-honored "think-of-a-synonym" gambit, there are a few other ways to look for something you haven't been able to find in the index.

One is to browse through the Table of Contents. There are few enough major sections that you can scan their titles quickly and perhaps find one that looks promising. You might try this approach if the specific topic you want can't be located in the index, or if you are interested in how the data is presented. Browsing through the tables in a general section might help you identify one with historic data, comparisons or percent of change.

Another is to check several general index headings that are subdivided in great detail. But unless you think of the right major heading, you won't find the subheading you want. A brief list of these heavily subdivided headings follows and could be slipped into your copy of the Abstract if you think it's worthwhile.

Heavily Subdivided General Index Entries in the U.S. Statistical Abstract

SUBDIVIDED

Special Features

The STATISTICAL ABSTRACT also has many special sections, including guides to statistics in other publications.

  1. State rankings-various statistics given for states and regions, with states ranked. In 1986 Alaska had the highest energy consumption per capita.
  2. Index to tables which update statistics presented in the Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957.
  3. Guide to sources of statistics. Arranged by broad subject headings.
  4. Lists of statistical sources (titles and agencies) for individual states and some foreign countries.

Problems

There are some frustrating things about the STATISTICAL ABSTRACT, but this is true of most reference books. For example, there Is data on the number of bicycles and motorcycles in the country, but none for bicycles alone.

Although there is some good explanatory material at the beginning of each section and at the head of each table, few of the statistics are defined and there is little discussion of how the data were collected. You must consult the source documents for more information.

Remember to check whether figures given in tables are a percentage or an actual number, and if they are expressed in thousands or millions.

Also, as always, check the date of the figures. Statistics appearing in a 2002 STATISTICAL ABSTRACT may have been gathered several years before. They may be the latest available but depending on the patron's needs, you may want to check for more recent information with your headquarters library or with your reference center, or contacting the agency listed as the source of the data.

Tables

Tables in the Statistical Abstract are complex and varied in type and size. Here are some hints on using these tables.

  1. Table number. Tables in STATISTICAL ABSTRACT are numbered consecutively.
  2. Title. Read carefully to see what main topic is, time period covered, etc.
  3. Units used. Very important.
  4. Column headings. Corresponds to several parts of title. Often divided into subheadings as in this chart.
  5. Body of chart. Includes vertical subject indicators and numeric data.
  6. Footnotes. Read from small numbers following a subject heading or letters in chart data.
  7. Source. Remember to point out to your patron the source of information given.

If you have the STATISTICAL ABSTRACT, you can read the Guide to Tabular Presentation for more help with symbols, averages, index numbers, and other terms used frequently.

Complete the U.S. Statistical Abstract Practice Questions.

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This page was last updated March 13, 2003.