Retired Reference

A few days ago, I was looking over the Hopewell Branch reference collection with a coworker. The collection has decreased in size over the years—partly because of online resources and databases and partly because we have found that circulating some items that were traditionally library-use-only better serves the community. I reminisced about the “old days” of purchasing imposing multi-volume sets of books on a wide variety of subjects, contrasting that with today’s leaner, focused collection. In the midst of it all, I thought about three books that I had referred to often when answering patrons’ questions and how all were available now for free online: the CIA World Factbook, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Each contains a wealth of interesting information.

The CIA World Factbook
The CIA World Factbook is a one stop shop for country information. I have referred to it often to answer my own questions, as well as library patrons’, about different areas of the world. Their description says it all—“The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. Our Reference tab includes: maps of the major world regions, as well as Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, a World Oceans map, and a Standard Time Zones of the World map.” Often we have heard of a country but do not really know much about it. The most recent example of my searching was to find more about where a mystery I was reading took place—Kyrgyzstan (A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan).
A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan
The Statistical Abstract of the United States
The Statistical Abstract of the United States is also a type of one stop shop. The actual Statistical Abstract ceased publication through the Census Bureau in 2012 (Bernan is now the publisher). The Abstract was a way to find all sorts of statistics about the United States—for example, when you see the television show “Deadliest Catch” advertised and hear about the perilous fishing industry, you could find out exactly how dangerous being a fisherman was for a certain year. Unfortunately, there is no one place to find the same information free online but, in learning how to look up the statistics I was interested in, I discovered new sources just as helpful. The Abstract compiles statistics from many government statistical bureaus and organizations, including the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Education, United States Department of Justice, United States National Center for Health Statistics, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Each entity has searchable data online so you become your own Statistical Abstract. I have found that I go to a site to find one statistic and end up looking at many more topics.

Occupational Outlook Handbook
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is also involved in my last resource—the Occupational Outlook Handbook. I have used the Handbook often to help patrons find out about jobs. It is also great for when you hear about an interesting job and want to know more about it. The Handbook gives you a job description, what education you would need, the median salary, and its projected growth rate. The Handbook is a great place to start your research when evaluating career choices. Another feature of the job entries is “similar occupations”—if you find you are not interested in the job you have searched, you may find what you are looking for in this list. Going back to that fishing example, I can find out a commercial fisherman makes about $28,000 per year, does not need a specific level of formal education, and the job outlook has not changed much over the last few years. In this case, the Handbook also goes into detail about on-the-job training.

—Andrea at the Hopewell Branch

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