Disappearing Information

Let me be up front: I’m not a gov docs expert, but I do get irked when tax money that was used to collect Census info isn’t being used to make (or maintain) that information in an easily accessible manner to the public. It reminds me of last year’s debacle with the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

I’m talking about last week’s web conference on the recently re-designed American FactFinder from the U.S. Census Bureau. Basically, the issue boils down to this: American FactFinder will only contain data from the two most recent decennial U.S. censuses (currently 2000 and 2010). So once 2020 data is available, we can say “bye bye” to 2000, because then it will hold 2010 and 2020. This doesn’t make sense. You can find out more on this topic by looking at the GOVDOC-L discussion list archives from this month.

Researching trends with our populace over time is common among both social scientists and humanities scholars. You can’t tell me that a system can only “hold” data from two censuses. What compounds the problem is that the Census data is no longer released in a tangible format. So once it’s gone from the Census Bureau website, then it’s pretty much gone for good–at least as far as the general public is concerned. Now, the U.S. Census Bureau did say you could FTP to the older Census information, but that doesn’t boil down to easy access.

Our tax dollars go to support the collection of this information. We deserve to have this information (current and historical) displayed publicly, online, and in an easy-to-use format. Librarians have stood aside as the “gatekeepers” to information. Now we emphasize “access.” But we’re losing that now, too.