Skip to main content

Getting Started - a Guide to How the Library Works: Data

Step-by-step information about getting research done in the library (or wherever you happen to be).

Digging Deeper

You may well want to dig in a little deeper by seeking out statistics or maps or even by doing your own field work. Stop by the reference desk to talk about your options.

Unique Primary Sources

 you want to do research using actual historical documents? The College and Church Archives located on the upper level of the library is a place to get your hands on the raw materials of Gustavus history. But since these materials are one-of-a-kind, you have to handle them carefully, and you'll need assistance from the archives staff. This means planning ahead and making an appointment. 

You can get a sense of what's available by browsing the digital collections.

Finding Statistics

Numbers may look like pure facts and are often presented as irrefutable proof, but they are shaped by the methods used to gather them. Whenever you use statistics, pay critical attention to who gathered them, how, when, and for what purpose.

The federal government provides a vast amount of data, summarized in the handy little book The Statistical Abstract of the United States (shelved behind the reference desk). This is often a good place to start.

The following Websites are good sources for demographic and social statistics.

American FactFinder
US Census
Internet Crossroads in Social Science Data

Federal agencies often track information and have their own statistical bureaus. Examples are the National Center for Education Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Opinion polls

Gallup Polls annual summaries are in the reference collection (Ref HN 90 .G29). Another source for raw opinion poll data is the Harris Vault, particularly useful for comparing public opinion on issues over time.

For a more global approach to opinion polling, check out the Pew Global Attitudes Project or the World Public Opinion polling site.

 

Using Maps

For maps you can pore over, check out the atlas case behind the Hasselquist room where you can find world, national, and historical maps. Online, map software and global positioning technology are being fused with data in interesting ways.

Easy to use map sites

Google Maps - for road maps, satelite images, and both. Google Street Views lets you visualize streets, block by block.

More sophisticated mapping tools

National Map - from the US Geologic Survey.
Atlas of Canada - from our large and geographically-sophisticated neighbor to the north.

maps that show data

Social Explorer - a source of ready-made maps of demographic data
Worldmapper - shows world "cartograms" on a variety of topics - resizing countries to demonstrate different data sets.

localized public map sites

City of Chicago GIS - an example of a municipal mapping service; others include New York and Minneapolis.

Collections of maps online

National Map: Historical Topographic Maps
Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection - from the University of Texas, but covering the world.

Conducting Fieldwork

You may have the opportunity to conduct original research by interviewing subjects, conducting a survey, holding focus groups, or recording systematic observations at a study site.

This may require approval from the Institutional Review Board, a committee that ensures the college complies with rules for research with human or animal subjects. Check with your teacher about this step before distrubing a survey or conducting other research involving people.

It can be time-consuming to recruit subjects and devise a means of gathering and interpreting your results. See The Everyday Writer for more informaiton about conducting fieldwork.

Ask Us!

Librarians are here to help!

  • Visit or call the reference desk: A librarian is generally at the desk or "on call" Monday-Thursday 10:30-4:30 and Friday 10:30-2:30 (Fall & Spring) (507-933-7567)
  • E-mail a librarian: folke@gustavus.edu (please include your name and the best way to contact you)
  • Schedule a consultation: online request form
  • More information: Visit the Ask Us! page
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License