Statistical resources

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According to Sweetland (2001), sources of statistics are "collections of numeric data" (386).

The Library of Congress (2004) defines statistical compilations as "collections of numerically expressed observations tht have been organized, described or summarized, and possible analyzed using sophisticated statistical methods."


Relevance to Reference Librarians


The necessity of statistical resources in the library has been evident for over a century amongst American librarians such as Dunkin Van Rensselaer Johnston and Isadore G. Mudge (Richardson, 1995).

Though reference librarians may not be overwhelmed with statistical questions (Grogan, 1987), it is important for them to be aware of the resources available and the most affective approach to take in assisting the inquirer. Sweetland (2001, 387) identifies three major reasons reference librarians should be concerned with this topic:

  • Reference librarians are called upon to locate data as well as interpret it
  • Every discipline reflects increasing use of statistical representation
  • Reference librarians may expect an increase in the amount of research they themselves will do, requiring a knowledge of statistics

Sweetland (2001) has also compiled a list of useful sources to aide the reference librarian in the task of dealing with statistical source retrieval.



Understanding Inquirer Needs


In 1944 Margaret Hutchins identified the need for statistical resources when she categorized reference material as: bibliographical, biographical, historical and geographical, or current information and statistical sources (Richardson, 1995). Using the common practice of a reference interview, the librarian may get a better understanding as to what type of resource he or she will refer the inquirer to.


Richardson (1995 p. 163) provides a useful set of rules in this identification:


Once the question is established to be statistical in scope, it is necessary to determine exactly what is needed. Sweetland (2001, p.391-392) offers six questions the reference librarian should ask:

  • How accurate should the data be?
  • Exactly what data is wanted?
  • How the statistics are to be classified?
  • Are comparisons wanted between data sets?
  • What time span is wanted?
  • What format is desired?


Richardson (1995 p. 174-175) addresses the same issue with this diagram, used to identify the subject, time period and geographic concern of the statistical reference question at hand:





Subjects commonly covered by statistical resources generally fall into these categories:

Agriculture Ethnic Groups Population & Housing
Averages Forecasts Public Opinion
Cost of Living Government Activities Religion
Crime Health & Welfare Social Conditions
Economics & Business Libraries & Publishing Weather
Education Occupations Women



Working with Statistical Resources


Helping inquirers with statistical resources requires the ability to categorized questions (as shown above) and know what sources to use. The reference librarian should be aware of indexes, prefaces and notes that accompany many statistical works. This is important to keep in mind when viewing electronic sources, as they may omit vital notes. In addition, many compilations that are occupation or industry specific may use uncommon terminology (Sweetland, 2001).


Selective List of Popular Titles:


  • American Statistics Index
  • Encyclopedia of Statistical Sciences
  • Statistical Abstract
  • Statistics Sources
  • UN Statistical Yearbook
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census


Online Sources


Many statistical resources are now available online. Online and electronic sources are beneficial because of the small amount of physical space they take up. Sweetland (2001, 410-411) identifies some drawbacks go online resources such as vulnerability to manipulation, authoritative issues, and software/hardware issues.


Selective List of Online Resources:



Other Types of Resources


Almanacs Statistical Yearbooks Atlases
Historical Compendia Dictionaries of Statistics Handbooks




Grogan, D. (1987). Grogan's Case Studies in reference work: 2 Encyclopedias, yearbooks, directories and statistical sources. London: Clive Bingley.


Library of Congress, The. (2004) Library of Congress, Collections Policy Statements, Statistical Compilations. Retrieved November 17, 2006, from


Richardson Jr., J. V. (1995). Knowledge-Based Systems for General Reference Work: Applications, Problems, and Progress. San Diego: Academic Press.


Sweetland, J. H. (2001). Fundamental Reference Sources. Chicago: American Library Association.


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