APLIC-International, The Communicator, Spring 1997, Issue #64


By Gera Draaijer, University of Texas, Population Research Center

[To Summary of Gera Draaijer's presentation on International Census Sources
By Sara Kolda, Assistant Librarian, Population Research Library, Princeton University]


The Population Research Center Library at the University of Texas began collecting population censuses in the early 1960s initially with funds from the National Science Foundation. The first five year core grant from the National Institutes of Health in 1971 enabled the Center to hire a full-time librarian to organize the collection. Since then the collection has grown to include 30,000 volumes either in print, microfilm or microfiche and recently in CD-ROM form. We estimate that about 85% of all known population censuses can be found in the Center's library. Only the Library of Congress and the NYPL have a similar universal coverage policy.


Collection development and acquisition always pose a challenge in purchasing censuses. Most of the time there are no publisher's catalogs with pricing and neat order forms to fill out. Since it is always certain that censuses never will make the New York times best seller list a limited number of publications is printed and volumes are all too soon out of print. The lack of a specific publication plan makes a difficult to determine when or if a set is complete. Even if you have a publication plan and pricing, it is still hard to estimate the ultimate cost of a set when you are dealing with foreign nations, especially developing countries with the value of their currencies rising and falling dramatically.

So how do we get a hold of these census volumes then?


So now the volumes have arrived which can be a miracle in itself. Some of orders take up to 2 years to arrive or will never arrive while the check has been cashed and that is the last time we ever hear from a particular country. This happened to me with Togo in the early 1980s, we never received our publications and despite several claim letters never heard from them again. Organization of census materials can be a challenge too. After looking into many classification systems, it was decided to devise an internal system. The call number for each volume consists of the name of the country, census year, and volume number, census volumes of one country and one census year are thus kept together as a set on the shelf. If there is a publication plan or volume numbering by the country this is maintained. In all other cases, the first volume in with final results, gets to be volume one in the main series. Separate numbers within a set are assigned for enumerator's manuals, preliminary results, definitions volumes, etc. The classification system also allows for volumes arriving "late" to fit right in.

Another major obstacle in treatment and use of the census report is language. While most are written in English or the language of the country and some English translation, several are only published in the language of the country. The majority of these remaining languages are French, Spanish, Portuguese and German which are within my reach. However, e.g., I recently received a number of volumes from the newly formed republic of Macedonia which were exclusively written in Serbo-Croatian. I am still working on trying to translate the title pages.

Until recently our holdings were still included in a card catalog. Under pressure from our grant givers, National Institute of Health, we needed to look for ways to replace the card catalog. The unique nature of census materials and our staff shortage made a more conventional on-line catalog an unlikely choice.

In order to get some sort of on line catalog devised as quickly as possible and with minimal tedious data entry, I decided to electronically scan the catalog cards for each country into a word-processing file and from there edit out any mistakes.

The country entries were then organized by continent, geographical regions based on United Nations classification, and by country. Each country file was converted into an html file and loaded unto the World Wide Web as part of the Population Research Center's library home page. This whole process took about 1 and years and was completed last December. This has taken care of listing the citations for the census volumes. However, contrary to monographs, censuses are almost never searched by author or title. What is important is contents and year. So we are still faced with finding a convenient way to search for contents of the volumes. For instance, if you wanted to do a comparative study on internal migration in Latin American countries, you would need to scan all tables of contents of all censuses you are interested in for all years you need to see if what you are looking for is included. One of the things I am hoping to look into soon is perhaps scanning in the tables of contents and somehow linking the topics in some sort of database.


This brings me to the type of data included in population and housing censuses. The very basics topics are total population, age and sex. Secondly, there are a number of topics in addition to the ones above that make a census really valuable. These are: marital status, country of birth, place of residence, occupation and industry, educational attainment, school attendance and number of children ever born. Cross-classified with age and sex gives you a pretty good chance of dealing with a decent data set.

What will you not find in a census: vital statistics such as number of deaths, births and marriages. Income is only included in only 40% of national censuses, religion is not very common either. Finally, in the censuses we collect you will not be able to trace your forefathers since we are mainly dealing with statistical tables not containing personal names.


In the past it was mainly demographers who used census data. In recent years, however, census data are being used more and more by the general public. Questions for population data can range from a person wanting to set up a day care center in a small town in Texas and needing demographic statistics for that area to GTE who would like to expand its operations into the newly opened markets in Eastern Europe.


Since the establishment of the Library core in 1971, no conservation plan has been developed for the International Census Collection. Many of the materials, some dating back to the 1700's, are in desperate need of conservation. Several cannot be picked up without literally falling apart in your hands. The plan is to replace the fragile materials with microfilm. I would also like to investigate finding an electronic format which will improve access to these materials for demographic research as well as preserving the data.

As was mentioned earlier, much of the information in the censuses still in print version can only be mastered by personally scanning the table of contents for each volume for each year for the specific country. This means the researcher or staff member must spend considerable time searching through each publication in order to acquire a full understanding of the material. I would like to explore the possibilities of facilitating access to the census data still in print version. I welcome anyone who has any suggestions.

Finally, future censuses, at least for the developed countries, will most likely be exclusively in electronic format. Some of us are familiar with the entire 1990 US census made available by a commercial vendor on one CD-ROM. I also recently purchased the 1989 Soviet Union on one CD-ROM. It remains to be seen, however, if most of the developing countries can afford the high price of this technology or if libraries can afford the high price of electronic media. Population data are also beginning to appear on the Internet. Several organizations such as the Census Bureau and the Population Research Center have established links to those countries that have a web page for their statistical agencies. Most of those web sites include the latest population estimates for their country.

In short, if most countries decide to publish their census data on the Web for free, the expenses of purchasing some data on CD-ROM may be offset by the free data on the Internet. It is, however, still too early to make budget judgements based on this.

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