Stand Up and Be Counted

The 2020 U.S. Census is around the corner, and the constitutionally mandated enumeration (see Art. 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution) will bring another big dump of data into the world. Your public library (and specifically, of course, St. Louis Public Library) provides access to historical and current census data as well as other types of facts and statistics via a number of different media, including print, digital, CD-Rom (really! - see the bicentennial edition of Historical Statistics of the United States on CD-ROM - though you may need to access via a 1997-era machine/operating system to access anything other than text files) and/or microform. At the Library you can also find information about how to collect and convey information in a meaningful, understandable, compelling way, as well as some fabulous images from the early days of data visualization.

Your St. Louis Public Library card gives you digital access to a wealth of census and other data through tools like DemographicsNow, American FactFinder, HeritageQuest, and by going to the SLPL website and navigating to A-Z Resources (note: some resources like Ancestry are only available at the Library, while many others can be accessed remotely). Browse the Genealogy department blogs to learn about ways to explore and learn through census records, and visit them at Central Library (they are on the 3rd floor, and are open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.) for some in-person tutorials. There you can also find census data on microform for Missouri and surrounding states - and if you have not worked with microfilm and/or microfiche for a while (or ever), know that you are in for a treat - viewing technology has come a long way since the last millennium, and the machines allow you to print, capture images to flashdrives, and email PDFs to yourself and others.

Headings from 1930 U.S. Census form, accessed via through St. Louis Public Library (available only at SLPL, not remotely)

Old census data can give us insight into and valuable information about the past, and at the Library you can find some pretty remarkable examples of early, innovative data visualizations that bring the census and other data to life.

A collage of data visualizations from Graphic Facts about People in St. Louis and St. Louis County (1947), W.E.B. Du Bois's Data Portraits (2018), and Florence Nightingale-The Making of an Icon (2008)

Above we have information found in the 1947 book Graphic Facts about People in St. Louis and St. Louis County, some of the stunning visualizations prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois and his team for the 1900 Paris Exposition, as collected in the 2018 book W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits, and an image of Florence Nightingale's "coxcomb," a visualization that she created to show the causes of mortality in the Crimean War, from Florence Nightingale - The Making of an Icon (see plate 36).

To learn how to collect and organize data, as well as how to show that data in ways that are impactful and illustrative, you may want to sign up for some Gale Courses or see what is available through - both platforms are available for free with your St. Louis Public library card, and both can help you polish your Excel skills or learn some graphic arts tools, and also offers a variety of data visualization "learning paths."

The Library continues to receive new books (of course we have to mention the books!) about the collection of data; recent acquisitions include Questionnaire (part of the quirky, informative Object Lessons series) and Designing Quality Survey Questions to "elicit rich, nuanced, and ultimately useful data." For more books on all things data, check out our list, a virtual representation of the book display compiled to promote the recent SLPL Grants & Foundation Center program, "Stop the Measurement Madness" with Sarah Buek of The IllumiLab. Visit their website and check out their newsletter for some non-library resources on the topic of data representation; sign up to receive it regularly if you like what you see.

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