Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where Does It Count? Census Data and the News

I am a self-described "news addict" so needless to say, I spend a lot time on news websites. In the last few weeks, I've noticed more and more news stories about population shifts on local papers' websites. For example, today in the Baltimore Sun, we have one about "white taggers" -- the people who have moved up I83 to Pennsylvania but haven't changed their license plates yet.

So what is the reason for all these demographic stories? Beginning this month, the US Census Bureau is releasing the data from the 2010 Census. You can see the release schedule here and given the schedule, it looks like we are going to see many more news stories based on Census data in the coming months.

As a researcher, I welcome all these news stories because they give us one more access point for Census data. Anyone who has worked with government information knows that it can be difficult, if not impossible sometimes, to find the data you need because they are often buried in a maze of hyperlinks on government websites. Also, even if you do find the right data, it's not unusual to encounter broken links and this too can make finding old data difficult. Thanks to the hard work of librarians though, news stories usually get stored in a searchable archive.

So 50 or 100 years from now it will probably be a whole lot easier to find out how many people moved from Maryland to York, PA between 2000 and 2010 using the Baltimore Sun news database than it will be to try and search a government website for that same data.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you are looking for Census data, it doesn't hurt to search the Census' website, but you may also want to check out the library's news databases like LexisNexis or the Baltimore Sun Historical too.