Researching U.S. Census data during a government shutdown during the 2013 government shutdown

On October 1, 2013, the federal government partially shut down, taking with it the U.S Census, Library of Congress, and other government websites. 

If you've been caught in the middle of an intensive research project that depends on Census data, viable alternatives do exist for the short term:

Most Census data is accessible through the Wayback Machine

1) Accessed cached Census pages through The Internet Archive

You can browse the vast majority of the Census website and embedded PDF report files by visiting the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and typing in into the search. Choose the September 30 snapshot to view a cached version of the Census website the day before the Oct 1 shutdown. Most of the navigation links, such as Data, should work.

Protip: Google the exact Census data you're looking for, e.g.

census 2000 "educational attainment" income race

then copy and paste the Census URL ( into the Wayback Machine. 

2) GIS fanatics: National Historical Geographic Information System

NHGIS is run by the University of Minnesota's Population Center. Quoting the website: "The National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) provides, free of charge, aggregate census data and GIS-compatible boundary files for the United States between 1790 and 2012."

This includes decennial census data through 2010 and the American Community Survey 1, 3, and 5-year estimates for 2010 and 2011. The website has a data selector tool that likens the American Fact Finder, which allows you to find tables and output into a variety of formats. Free registration is required. 

3) Casual statistics: CensusReporter

This project is funded by the Knight Foundation, and aims to make Census data easy to visualize. Great site if you're looking for casual Census statistics with beautiful data visualizations.

4) Hardcore stat monkeys:

Also funded by the Knight Foundation, this website lets you download Census datasets in bulk. You can download any table for any geographic location (except the entire USA) from the 2000 Census. 2010 data is accessible through a Javascript call. Beware that you will need access to the SF1 data dictionary, which can be accessed through Social Explorer if accessing the Census version through Wayback Machine doesn't work.

5) ($$)

This is probably the best U.S. Census resource, short of the Census itself. But unless you're comfortable only researching Census 2000 aggregate data, it's not free! A local college or university library may subscribe to it, otherwise it's $149 for 3 months.

Other government data shutdown sites of potential interest


    Kickstart your institutional repository with content from publishers

    I’ve developed a Google Spreadsheet script to help libraries gather information to tackle their greatest challenge regarding institutional repositories: recruiting scholarly content.

    Publishers vary in their copyright policies. Some grant no public re-use rights to the published PDF, while others permit authors to upload the published PDF to an institutional repository. Mashing up a list of those publishers against articles written by your faculty would normally be time intensive.

    This script leverages Google Scripts and the SHERPA/RoMEO API to automate looking up publisher copyright for individual faculty articles from your institution. 

    Get started

    Grab the code at Detailed implementation instructions are included in the comments. You can also watch this short installation screencast below.

    #ACRL2013 poster session materials

    PDF of #ACRL2013 poster handout

     ACRL2013 poster handout

    Further reading

    The Code4Lib Journal - "Using XSLT and Google Scripts to Streamline Populating an Institutional Repository" (2013) - by Stephen X. Flynn, Catalina Oyler, Marsha Miles

    Library screencasts should be beautiful

    I've spent many hours the past few weeks working on this.

    Background: 2012 is the first year all College of Wooster seniors are required to submit their Independent Study Theses (IS) digitally to the library. We have prepared on many fronts for this occassion. On the technology front we developed a DSpace instance through OhioLINK to preserve the ISs. On the policy front our library director successfully lobbied the faculty who voted for a new policy that compels student to make a digital submission. On the marketing and outreach front, we placed posters around campus, trained all library staff and Research Help student employees to be able to answer questions, and created both print and screencast instructions to guide seniors through the process.

    How the screencast was made: I teamed with several library colleagues and one student employee. We created a script in Google Docs, the student recorded the audio using an Olympus LS-10, and I recorded the screencast using Screenflow on the Mac. While recording only took a few minutes, the editing was a tremendous undertaking. More hours than I can count were spent ensuring that the video was as concise and beautiful as possible.

    Screencasting tips:

    • Use beautiful software. Screenflow/Camtasia on the Mac, and Camtasia on Windows are both powerful and easy to use, and fairly inexpensive compared to Adobe. Stay away from Jing, Screencast-o-matic, and other free solutions. You get what you pay for.
    • Don't waste the viewer's time. Start your screencast with a bang. Don't introduce yourself, don't spend more than 10 seconds saying what the screencast will cover. When was the last time someone told you, "I loved waiting for that!!"? Never. Nobody likes waiting. Just get right to it. 
    • Edit, edit, edit. Cut one second here, and one second there. Cut a half second here and there. If you can take a 5 minute video and cut it down to 2 minutes, while covering the same amount of content, you have saved your viewer 3 valuable minutes. Multiply that by 1,000 views, and you've saved the human race over 2 days.
    • Don't make the viewer squint. Constantly stay zoomed in to the relevant area of the website you're showing. You'd be amazed at how few people fullscreen a web video, so if you stay zoomed out, the viewer won't be able to see anything. Also, liberally apply call-outs, highlights and annonations in your screencast. If you click on a link, it should be clear.
    • Add music as long as it isn't too cheesy.

    Why beautiful screencasts matter: Your library has a message. You want students to make the most of your online resources and databases. The more beautiful and well produced your screencast tutorials, the more your message will spread. A student is more likely to learn from an enaging screencast, and even share the link with a friend. Best of all, beautiful screencasts are a lot of fun. I've had a blast working with colleagues on developing ideas for new screencasts, recruiting library staff to be voice actors, and showing the end result to students. Screencasts can be used beyond library tutorials. Students could use screencasts to present their original research. I hope others consider adding it to their librarian toolbox.


    Open Cover Letters is a new website I created that displays real anonymous cover letters from hired librarians (and archivists). I came up with the idea during my recent job search (which happily concluded last month!). I strongly believe that humans learn effectively from imitating and emulating exemplars. As a child I taught myself how to play drums in part by watching jazz drummers at live concerts. We all become more effective writers when we read and emulate high quality writing. As a job seeker and cover letter writer, I tried to find good example cover letters. Many websites offer generic advice, but cover letter expectations differ from industry to industry. What library search committees expect slightly differs from other fields.

    Enter For the first time, library job seekers can get an idea of what library search committees and hiring managers expect. That's because every single cover letter on that website was written by someone who got an interview and eventually won employment in a library.

    The hiring process is unfortunately, but for legitimate reasons, shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows who their competition is. Nobody except the search committee knows why one candidate was favored over another. Open Cover Letters is my attempt to open up the process a little, and I hope it becomes useful to future librarians.

    Using screencasts to transfer organizational knowledge

    Screencasting is usually viewed by libraries as an innovative tool to teach patrons how to use the library's services. What if rather than instruct patrons, screencasts were used by an outgoing employee to explain their work and train their replacement in absentia?

    This Friday I will depart the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library for a new position. I've done a lot of work on the Plain Language Medical Dictionary iPhone app. I know a lot about the inner workings of this project. With limited time I couldn't write a manual of everything that I know with screenshots. Instead, I've chosen to create a series of screencasts where I informally explain how to install the developer tools, update the app and submit the changes to the App Store.

    I captured a one minute excerpt of one of my screencasts so you can see what I'm doing.

    Rather than being one to many, this is a one to one screencast. It's meant to be viewed by the future graduate student assistant that will replace me. I speak and use the computer as if the person were sitting next to me. I didn't write a script or cater to a general audience. For the sophisticated and highly technical tasks of updating and maintaining the Plain Language Medical Dictionary, there is probably no better way to transfer my knowledge. Written manuals are dense and time consuming to read and write. After 30 minutes of watching the series of ~5 minute screencasts that I created, the future employee will have a sufficient orientation to continue my work.

    While training an employee in person is probably the best way to communicate and transfer organizational knowledge, for situations where an outgoing employee worked alone, screencasting is a wonderful way to ensure the smooth transition and continuation of special library projects.

    Questions you should ask about a publishing contract

    I attended the workshop "Publishing Contracts: What Authors Need to Know" by Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer at the University of Michigan Libraries. Part of her talk involved looking at sample author contracts.

    Here are some of the questions we raised during the workshop: 

    • What does "timely fashion" mean with regards to manuscript submission deadlines? 
    • Contracts usually indicicate that the author will be responsible for submitting manuscripts for updated editions of the work. What if after so many editions, you simply don't want to write a new edition? What does the contract indicate?
    • What comment or input would you have on the design of the cover? Some covers for academic books can be hideous or bland. You as an author may want a say in your work's cover.
    • How long do you have to make corrections to proof sheets? When you submit a manuscript, the publisher will send you pre-publication proofs. What will your deadline be, and what fees will the publisher assess if you submit changes after the deadline?
    • Would it be possible to license rather than grant your exclusive rights to the publisher? While the move would be largely symbolic, you would still end up owning the copyright to your own work. If the publisher owns the copyright, you have absolutely no say in how your work is used.
    • What does "net" mean in a phrase like "net receipts?"
    • How often will royalties be paid and an account statement be sent?
    • What does the contract say about legal fees in case a lawsuit is brought against your work?

    The most important advice Melissa offered: If there is anything in the contract you don't understand, ask.

    Four technical tips for creating a conference poster

    I attended the workshop today titled "Creating Professional-looking Conference Posters" taught by Rob Pettigrew of the Digital Media Commons at the University of Michigan. I learned the basics of Adobe Illustrator, specifically for the task of creating a conference poster. Rather than write up yet another intro to Illustrator, of which you could find dozens online, I'll convey four technical tips that should be taken into consideration.

    1. Stick with vector image formats

    Vector images (.eps, .svg), as opposed to bitmap (.jpg, .gif, .png, .tif), can be stretched to large sizes without giving up any quality. Bitmap images are the type that you download from Google Image search. A more detailed discussion of the differences between vector and bitmap can be read here.

    2. Create graphs in dedicated graphing applications

    Following the discussion of vector vs. bitmap, you definately want to create your graphs in vector format. That means don't create a graph in Excel and then copy and paste it into your poster! Excel has problems with copying and pasting into Adobe Illustrator, as I learned today. If it works at all, it exports bitmapped images that can't be stretched without looking pixealted. Instead, use SPSS or other graphing software that your department owns.

    3. Know RGB vs. CMYK

    Without getting too geeky, RGB is the color space used in computer displays and projectors, while CMYK is the color space used in printing. Converting from one color space to the other can lead to colors you didn't expect. For example, if you tried inserting a color gradient in your poster, don't be surprised if the printed version has color bands. 

    Stick with CMYK in your poster and keep your colors relatively simple. No gradients!

    4. Use the right software

    Today I used Adobe Illustrator. I'm sure other software packages would do a fine job as well. PosterGenius seems highly regarded in the scientific community. Old heavyweights like Quark and Adobe InDesign are also good choices. Probably the best advice is to seek help from whatever instructional technology support infrastructure exists at your institution.

    How to use Scopus to prepare for a job interview

    As a University of Michigan student (not after April 30!) I'm lucky to have access to hundreds of incredibly powerful online resources such as Elsevier's Scopus. I will show you how to use Scopus to research the scholarly output of a particular library, so that you can use that research to improve your performance at a job interview.

    Scopus is probably my favorite literature searching database for the following reasons:

    • It indexes 42.5 million articles. All of MEDLINE is indexed. Most library journals are indexed. Any non-grey literature you could find indexed on Google Scholar, you will probably find indexed in Scopus.
    • Unlike Google Scholar, you have complete control over your search. Proximity searches, boolean, truncation, etc.
    • Citation indexing and analysis.
    • Affiliation searching in Scopus actually works.

    That final feature will be the key to scoring points in the job interview. You need to be prepared to talk about their institution. Whether it's a formal question during the "do you have any questions for us?" stage, or something you incorporate into conversation, knowing the institution will do wonders to demonstrate your preparation for and interest in the position.

    How do other databases search Author Affiliation?

    Proquest Research Library (via Proquest)

    Proquest indexes Author Affiliation.

    proquest author af.png

    To search that field, type AUA("organization"). I had to look it up in their Help section. It's not an option in the record field drop down menu. 

    proquest authaf search.png

    LISTA (via EbscoHost)

    Ebsco also supports Author Affiliation.

    ebsco auth affil index.png

    But if you want to search Author Affiliation you'll have to manually type in AF("organization"), like so:

    ebsco auth afill search.png

    LISA (via CSA)

    On the surface it appears that CSA indexes affiliation.

    csa auth affil.png

    Unfortunately there's no option to search that field. AF isn't actuallly listed as a field on the LISA info page. What a shame.

    Library Literature (via FirstSearch)

    According to its corresponding DIALOG Blue Sheet, Library Literature doesn't index Author Affiliation at all.

    Affiliation searching in Scopus

    Scopus has the best of all the above worlds: combined search history, an advanced search box, citation count, and most importantly, powerful Author Affiliation searching.

    First you must access Scopus via your library website. If you're at the University of Michigan, click here. For others, you might also be able to access Scopus directly if you're within your campus network by going to

    Click the Affiliation search tab and enter the institution of your choice.


    Select every variant of your institution and click Show documents.


    108,780 articles written by U of M affiliated authors.


    Since I'm interesting in library positions, I'll filter those results down to articles with the base word "library" in the title, abstract or index terms.


    I'm also filtering out results that Scopus doesn't consider to be social science. This will eliminate the dozens of scientific articles that discuss genomic libraries.


    143 results, sorted by citation count. You get a sense of the highest impact U of M articles that write about libraries.


    However as you examine the results, you'll see that many of them are not actually written by librarians, like this article from the School of Education.


    By searching within the results to ensure the word "library" appears in the Affiliation field, we've cut the number of results by almost half, from 143 to 73.


    Only 74 articles produced by U of M librarians since 1823? Indexing isn't perfect. Perhaps many articles don't include "library" in the affiliation field.

    I'm only scratching the surface on what is possible. If you're applying to a subject liaison position, you could add keywords from your discipline to an abstract search. If you're applying to a position at the U of M Taubman Health Sciences Library where I currently work, you could search the affiliation or abstract fields with the words "taubman" or "health sciences" or "medical."

    Once you've identified and read relevant literature, download the PDFs and save it to your e-reader, iPad or print them out and read them. I plan to write an article explaining how I've used my iPad to keep up with the literature.