A new online service that allows researchers and the public to discover and use government data about California is now available
Taking advantage of Internet and digital library technologies, the service, named Counting California, enhances public access to the growing range of social science and economic information from government agencies.
In the first release of the service, researchers and the public can discover and interact with current and historical census data, almanac-style statistics, county business data, and a range of education, crime, election, and demographic information from nearly a dozen different sources. Searching can be done by topic, geography, title, and data provider. The University of California's California Digital Library developed and hosts Counting California with support from state and federal research grants.
Accessing the service through the Web at <http://countingcalifornia.cdlib.org>, a student or researcher interested in education statistics can search for information on education topics, and find, for example, statistics on school enrollment and attendance. Further exploration can show that information by county or city, or by ethnicity or grade level. Without need for a user's decision or intervention, relevant data is drawn from various sources or publishers whose statistics have been entered into the system. Finally, having selected the data of most interest, the student can ask the service to map it or produce a bar chart.
Government data is heavily used by private citizens, policy-makers and researchers. However, the recent trend of electronic distribution of the information has also created unintentional problems. What was once a stable system of print materials has given way to a constantly changing array of digital media, each using different formats and access methods. Counting California relieves the frustrations of constantly changing software and data revisions by providing stable, consistent Web-based search tools.
Preservation of historical data is similarly at risk. Government agency Web sites often mount new information, but may not plan to preserve historical data as each update supersedes the previous version. Counting California employs technology standards to aggregate and describe data across time, addressing this challenge as well.
The goals of Counting California -- providing flexible, user-friendly access to government information, insuring availability of both current and historical government data, and fostering data sharing between government agencies and researchers -- respond directly to these challenges.
The collaborators and supporters of Counting California share these goals. They include expert consultants from the California State Library, Yale University, the University of Minnesota, the Bureau of the Census, and the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Librarians, data service experts and programmers at three University of California campuses, with substantial leadership from the UC San Diego library and the California Digital Library (CDL), designed and implemented the service.
The project is funded by the CDL and the state-based Library of California. Additional funding for continuing development comes through a federal grant from the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the California State Library.
"Counting California embodies key elements of digital library services that have driven the CDL from the outset," said Beverlee French, interim CDL university librarian. "It allows broader and more flexible access to truly valuable information; information that is otherwise at risk of being underused or unpreserved.
"I'm also very excited about the successful collaboration upon which the service has been built. Here we have librarians from around the University of California, data specialists from outside the libraries, programmers, and government agency staff proving that shared goals and methods lead to significant new resources not only for UC students and researchers, but for the public as well."
Added John Jewell, chief of state library services at the California State Library, "Counting California is an excellent model of libraries and librarians organizing information to make it more useful. The site brings together statistical data from federal and state sources and makes it easily accessible for the general public, the student and the scholar.
"One can quickly bring up county quick facts, browse by topic from agriculture to health, business to transportation, or focus on data by city, county or region. And this is just the beginning as the California Digital Library, the Library of California and the California State Library help it evolve."
Since 1999, the CDL has been partnering with the 10 UC campuses and others such as the State Library in a continuing commitment to apply innovative technology to the management of scholarly information. The CDL regularly expands its content and services, many of which, like Counting California, are made available to the public.
As a digital "co-library," complementing the physical libraries of the UC system, the CDL uses technology to efficiently share materials held by UC, to provide greater and easier access to digital content, and to join with researchers in developing new tools and innovations for scholarly communication.
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