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Competences: 23 Things Reference - Thing #6


Many of the reference questions we get have to do with statistics. Sometimes, the questions seem overwhelming. However, there are a bunch of websites with authority that can answer many of these questions with just a few mouse clicks! These questions will be asked by all kinds of patrons - students working on papers, adults working on "proving" a fact, businesspeople trying to make a sale. No matter what the question, there are legitimate sites out there - many of them run by government entities - that can answer the question. The key is being able to navigate the sites and knowing which sites contain which information. We'll be looking at 9 sites that you should know about. Take a look around these sites and become familiar with what they offer.

And remember...statistics are cool!

American Factfinder

American FactFinder covers information about population, housing, economics and geographic information. The site offers a "Guided Search" that will make a search less intimidating. You can visit the Guided Search here.

American FactFinder is a part of the U.S. Census Bureau, but has a different way of presenting facts, which is why they are separated from the U.S. Census website.

CIA World Factbook

The CIA World Factbook consists of U.S. government profiles of countries and territories around the world. If, for instance, a student is doing a report on Germany, they can find information on the country, including a photo of their flag, their government structure and more! Another use of this would be if a patron is traveing to another country and wants to get information on things like currency, language, etc.

The CIA World Factbook is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices!


Fedstats provides access to the full range of official statistical information produced by the Federal Government without having to know in advance which Federal agency produces which particular statistic. WIth convenient searching and linking capabilities to more than 100 agencies that provide data and trend information on such topics as economic and population trends, crime, education, health care, aviation safety, energy use, farm production and more, Fedstats is your one location for access to the full breadth of Federal statistical information.

Basically, Fedstats is the middleman for government agency information that may not be easy to find. Using the site, you can narrow down the information you are looking for and find out which agency collects and reports on that information. This may take a few steps out of your search if you do not know where to start.


Gallup delivers forward-thinking research, analytics and advice to help leaders solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 75 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of the world's constituents, employees and customers than any other organization.

Gallup consultants help private and public sector organizations boost organic growth through measurement tools, strategic advice and education.

Take a tour of the Gallup site and become familiar with the types of information they provide. This could be a valuable resources when providing reference services, particularly to students looking for current event information.

Question for Thing #7

A patron comes up to the desk and shows you a rash on their arm and asks what could be wrong with them.  What do you do?  Your answers should be sent as an email attachment to

U.S. Census

The U.S. Census Bureau's goal is to provide the best mix of timeliness, relevancy, quality and cost for the data they collect and the services they provide.

From my experience, this is not the easiest website to navigate, but it does provide excellent information. Some of the data they collect cannot be found elsewhere. The Census offers regular online trainings which are extremely helpful. You can view upcoming trainings here. There are also many tutorials for different functions of the website available on YouTube. You can view them here.

The content of this website seems endless, but there are several places where you can find information that may be part of a reference question answer.

Easy Stats: Easy Stats gives you quick and easy access to selected statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau through the American Community Survey. Detailed demographic and economic statistics are available every year for the nation's community and their people. This interactive tool provides the latest statistics about where people live. You can search geographies including states, counties, incorporated places (towns/cities) and census designated places. With this tool, you can view detailed racial, age and gender breakdowns and much more.

Interactive Population Map: These profiles provide more subject detail than the 2010 Census redistricting data files. Profiles provide data details about race and Hispanic groups, age, gender and housing status.

QuickFacts: QuickFacts include statistics for all states and counties, and for cities and towns with more than 5,000 people. In addition, the Census Bureau offers Student State Facts designed specifically for younger students.

Population Reference Bureau

Population Reference Bureau Informs people around the world about population, health and the environment, and empowers them to use that information to advance the well-being of current and future generations. One of the convenient things PRB does is create short educational videos that people can use to either present the information or get ideas to create their own presentations. The video below is an example of an educational video you can find on the website.

Unlike some statistical website, PRB does not present an unbiased opinion. It is quite evident if you visit the site that the organization has a deep concern about overpopulation and other core themes with which the organization deals. The organization's goals include:

Inform: PRB analyzes complex demographic data and research to provide the most objective, accurate and up-to-date population information in a format that is easily understood by advocates, journalists and decisionmakers alike.

Empower: PRB's commitment to putting information into action is what sets them apart. PRB builds coalitions and conducts workshops around the world to give key audiences the tools they need to understand and communicate effectively about population issues.

Advance: PRB works to ensure that policymakers in developing countries and in the United States rely on sound evidence, rather than anecdotal or outdated information, when creating population, health and environmental policies.

PRB's Core Themes: PRB focuses their work around these core themes: Aging; Children and Families; Family Planning and Reproductive Health; Gender; Global Health; Inequality and Poverty; Migration and Urbanization; Population and the Environment; and Youth.

While you may find PRB's presentation to be somewhat biased, you can assume that their information is correct. They often take information to a higher level and actually interpret it for the website's users. This can be advantageous, but may leave you feeling like they have an agenda. In my opinion, the site gives fair evaluations of the data and makes it possible to just find data and not sway the opinions of those visiting the site.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is the principal Federal agency responbile for measuring labor market activity, working conditions and price changes in the economy. Its mission is to collect, analyze and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision making. As an independent statistical agency, BLS serves essential economic information to support public and private decision-making. As an independent statistical agency, BLS serves its diverse user communities by providing products and services that are objective, timely, accurate and relevent.

Occupational Outlook Handbook

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor and Statistics that includes information about the nature of work, working conditions, training and education, earnings and job outlook for hundreds of different occupations. The Handbook also gives job search tips, links to information about the job market in each state and more.

Your Assignment

  1. A student comes to the desk and asks for assistance finding information about how many men have HPV. Using the Population Reference Bureau, find the article that discusses this issue. Your answer should be the URL of the article
  2.  Using American FactFinder's Guided Search, find out how many families in Lancaster County live on an income of $10,000 or less. Your answer should be the actual number AND the URL where you found the information.
  3. Using the CIA World Factbook, find a picture of the flag of Aruba and download the file. Attach the file to your answer email and include the URL where you found the picture.
  4. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Databases & Tools), download the spreadsheet of the unemployment rate and attach it to your email response. Also include the URL where you found this information.
  5. Using the Occupational Outlook Handbook, find the 2010 Median Pay for a librarian. What is the Median Pay for a high school teacher? To answer this question, give the answer and the URL where you found the information.

When you have completed the questions, email your answers to