Introduction to the NCES/IMLS Data

The U.S. government through various agencies been involved in the compilation of library data since before the legendary 1876 publication: Public Libraries in the United States of America [common title: 1876 Report.] This is a large publication and this link is to a large file but the interface allows paging through the contents.

Continuing the tradition, the largest portion of this archive comes from two agencies of the U.S. government: the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The NCES-sponsored program behind the collection and publication of the public library data was known as the Federal State Cooperative System (FSCS). See this useful timeline of this program for more information. Having watched this effort from close up, I can say it was an impressive organization that functioned. When the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science closed, the federal library data collection was split with IMLS taking on non-academic data collection, that is public libraries and State Library Agencies (that is, state libraries.)

The publications here were collected from a number of sources. Most came from the NCES Web site over time. It is a curiosity of working with library data that publications with data and reports about libraries derived from those data tend to disappear—in the old days to musty library shelves but these days, often, the memory hole. One might suppose that librarians who house, organize, and archive the world’s publications might treat their own data similarly but that is not the way it is. Moreover, government agencies often do not archive data for very long. As a former Webmaster at a federal agency, there was always the worry about having obsolete information which might mislead someone. In any case, this Archive has copies of digital publications that in many cases took effort to locate and also the cooperation of many people.

When this work began, public library data for 1987-1991 were no longer on the NCES site and, as indicated, came from other sources, largely from Kim Miller then at NCLIS who had collected almost everything. Similarly, a number the older data publications such as documentation and reports had gone missing and ferreting them out took some time and effort. Early NCES publications that had been scanned—mostly by the good folks at NCES—and were sent to me are also included here. Special thanks to Barbara Holton and Elaine Kroe of NCES for their help.

As mentioned, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has taken over the collection of the public library data and state library data from NCES. There is page for IMLS’s Public Library Survey effort and for the State Library Administrative Agency survey (SLAA) will have current information on this series. Publications about this latter type are not currently included in this Archive. Those data presented a daunting set of problems that frustrated attempts to recompile them. But I will include them eventually.

Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research

Another source of data was The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research ICPSR, a part of the Institute for Social Research, is located on the University of Michigan Campus. ICPSR maintains an archive of social science data. A number of files of library data in the PLDF3 file came from ICPSR, which processed them on behalf of NCES. When I was looking for the early years of the FSCS data, these were available on the ICSPR site and I collected them. I also discovered other data on other types of libraries, particularly historical academic data files and these data are available here, also. A spreadsheet lists all the files from ICPSR.

November 30, 2022
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