Exploring Statistics and Demography Resources on the Web
Internet Reference Services Quarterly
1 Internet resources for statistics and demography have grown rapidly in recent years, but no place more so than the World Wide Web. The proliferation of available Web sites in these fields has reached the point at which megasites, or lists of lists of resources, have begun to appear.1 Yet despite this explosion of information, it does not appear to be well documented in the professional literature of librarianship. A recent search by the author in the Library Literature database for example,
... vealed virtually no studies of the multitude of statistics and demography resources now available in cyberspace. Many librarians are probably aware of the existence of Internet versions of Statistical Abstract of the United States2 and the CIA World Factbook3 but how many realize that these basic resources are just the tip of the iceberg when one considers just how much statistical and demographic data are accessible via the Web? This mushrooming of resources on the Web can thus be said to have created a twofold need on the part of librarians. First, there is a need to get a basic sense of what is available. Perhaps more importantly, it is important to winnow down the field and identify what appear to be the most useful resources, from the many sites that may be of secondary importance. It is the purpose of this study to try to accomplish both these objectives by not only trying to include only the most important resources, but by also trying to include as many of them as possible. To accomplish this, the author searched the Web using a variety of different search engines, including multisearch engines,4 and search terms. These searches produced literally thousands of Web sites and resources, which the author screened for suitability. The criteria for inclusion included such basic considerations as the number of 2 links present, how well they were organized, the authority of the source, and how well the links appeared to be maintained.5 One reason why there are so many resources available is that both statistics and demography are interdisciplinary fields. Statistics in particular is a field that is heavily used in many disciplines, including the social sciences, the physical sciences, business, and especially mathematics.6 Indeed, many of the resources currently available on the Web had to be eliminated from consideration because they appeared to be too esoteric in orientation. Sites that seemed to be primarily intended for specialists that were narrow in scope, and filled with professional jargon were kept to minimum. While valuable to the specialist, most librarians would likely find these resources of limited utility in trying to answer statistical questions. A few sites that appeared to be borderline and included both general and technical data were included. The author should make clear however, that this study is primarily limited to resources that are of general utility to the researcher. Overall, it may be said that using the Web as a source of statistical information offers considerable advantage over traditional paper resources. Generally, the data is more current and can be manipulated and customized at some of the newer, interactive sites. Not only is the ability to create customized data sites an enormous advance over paper resources, but the quality of the graphics is superior as well. Sophisticated threedimensional color graphics are of critical importance in the communication of statistical information, because they facilitate comprehension of complex relationships between multiple variables. Many of the more advanced Web sites now offer these capabilities,7 which paper resources can seldom match. 3 A parallel situation exists for demography. Some demography Web sites now offer powerful interactive features. These are particularly in evidence at points where demography intersects with geography and mapping. For example, at some sites users are presented with maps of a certain region or country. By clicking on an area of interest, the user may be able to view either a graphic depiction of population density, for example, or similar information in tabular form.8 Again, few paper resources can rival this kind of convenience and immediacy. The possibilities that both hypertext technology and computer graphics offer for the fields of statistics and demography have not been fully developed. In fact, they are only beginning to be realized. It is exciting to see that some of the sites mentioned in this study have devoted a portion of their resources to exploring some of the as yet untapped possibilities that information technology offers these fields. By visiting some of these sites, users can get a glimpse of some of the emerging possibilities, including various kinds of virtual models.9 Anyone with a little imagination can easily envision a point in the not to distant future when users will be able to rapidly construct a customized map or multi-dimensional model from raw data with a few clicks of the mouse. Until then, the Web sites listed below should prove useful for anyone in need of statistical or demographic information for most regions of the world. If these sites do not themselves provide information, it is likely they will offer a link to a site that does. Even users who may be unable to locate the data they are seeking at one of these sites will be surprised at the amount of statistical and demographic information available on the Web. Hopefully, the sites listed below will serve as a valuable starting point.