AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHICS: A KEY REFERENCE SOURCE
Who knoweth the secret desires of our hearts? American Demographics, for one. A magazine for marketers, whose content is available and searchable online (http://www.demographics.com/), it is chock full of information about who we are and how we live, above and beyond what the government collects. It's a repository of statistics garnered from government reports, polls, and surveys from groups like the American Toy Institute, the Travel Industry Association of America, and the National Frozen Pizza Institute.
American Demographics knows how many pet owners have taken days off from work to care for sick pets (53%), how many Americans took at least one business trip in 1996 (42.9 million, up 21% from 1991), how many households used their oven less than once a week (more than one in five), how many parents let their kids trick-or-treat alone (only 25% these days), and how many boys age 12-19 shower more than once a day (33% -- counterintuitive, isn't it?).
It knows that while 36% of us are afraid of flying, lots more of us are afraid of making a speech (56%) or going to the dentist (42%).
It knows that a state-of-the-art kitchen is important to 35% of women (only 22 percent of men), and walk-in closets to 34% of women (but only 18% of men). On the other hand, it knows that 22% of men want a workshop or studio (compared to 7% of women), and 15% want an entertainment center (compared to 5% of women). Do you wonder that, as American Demographics reports, new homes have increased by 450 square feet since 1975? It sure looks like men and women are inhabiting different parts of them.
American Demographics knows how many of us wouldn't care if the networks canceled their nightly news programs (45%), and how many of us wouldn't give up our TVs for a million dollars (one fourth of us). It knows that nowadays when we visit granny we're more likely to visit her condo in the west than to go over the river and through the woods, and that the only thing teenage boys and teenage girls are equally likely to read is TV Guide.
It knows that our diversity is reflected in the foods we eat: our consumption of spices jumped from 2 pounds per American per year in 1988 to 2.7 pounds per year in 1994; 63% of us buy salsa; 55% of us grind our own coffee beans; 68% of us buy "natural products" -- herbal supplements, vitamins, minerals, etc.
It's not only interested in who does what, but also in WHERE they do it. Thanks to American Demographics, we know which areas of the country are most barbecue-intensive (the south, followed by the north central), which cities have the highest percentage of their populations taking adult or continuing education courses (Minneapolis, Milwaukee and San Diego head the list), which counties' residents are most likely to treat themselves to a visit to a spa, which counties' moms are most likely to be employed outside the home, and what the average travel time to work is, county by county.
The interesting thing here is that American Demographics quantifies things that we would never think had been counted. And the numbers say intriguing things about us as a nation, such as lifestyle changes, our levels of social trust, our quest for self-improvement, the ways we choose to spend our time, and how all of those have changed over time.
So whenever you're looking for statistics, or want to understand how our attitudes and choices have changed in America in the past 20-30 years, visit the American Demographics web site. Better yet, for a continuing appreciation of America's amazing diversity and vitality, you might want to glance through the monthly issues as they arrive.
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OF CARS AND MOVIES AND ACADEMIC LIBRARY WEB PAGES
In a digital reference discussion, Calvin Boyer, Library Director of Longwood College Library, noted that among the topics college students willingly, nay, eagerly research, are cars and movies; he wondered why it was, therefore, that these topics were so rarely represented on academic library reference Web pages. It's a good question.
When I created Best Information on the Net, in 1995, our campus network was so rickety and our bandwidth so marginal that I didn't remotely consider adding things that were not only non-academic, but byte-intensive as well. For a long time, I even avoided perfectly good art sites because they took forever to download -- what was the point of recommending something that guaranteed user frustration?
But I had philosophic reasons as well. After all, students had no trouble finding the good sites for entertainment; those traveled by word-of mouth, and were recommended in the magazines students read. What they did have trouble understanding was what authoritative information in academic disciplines looked like. Our faculty, who WOULD recognize authoritative material when they saw it, didn't have time to sort through all the junk on the web to find it.
So I did on the web the same thing I did with books and journals -- looked for high-quality material that supported our curriculum and other demonstrated needs of students and faculty. Like our library's own physical collection, in fact, it was high on research and low on entertainment.
In the meantime, our campus network has become more capable and more reliable. Our library's connectivity was state-of-the-art in 1996. My former colleagues who are now in charge of the web site could expand it to include all kinds of recreational sites. Now, in fact, the only question is, should they?
There are at least two considerations: 1) do they have the same expertise in regard to cars and movies and pop music that they have in academic subject areas? and 2) do they want to change the image of the library to a hip sort of place where students can go for fun as well as academics? Is our current web page, in fact, helping to convince them that the library has nothing to do with their real lives?
Philosophical questions come first. What do my colleagues do if they want to serve students' recreational needs, but don't know a thing about snazzy cars, hip-hop, or slasher movies? One option would be to let students select the best recreational web sites.
If they did, other issues would come into play, concerns about library supervision, campus policies about sexy sites and bandwidth consumption -- you'd kind of have to say no to Napster, wouldn't you?
It's an interesting question Calvin Boyer raised. I wonder how other college librarians are handling the issue.
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I'm off to ALA this weekend. Hope I'll meet some of you there.
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People are beginning to understand that they can tell their stories on the web. They can self-publish; they can say what's important; they can show pictures of their pets and tell their war stories and remember Grandpa.
What's happening is that an alternative historical record is being built up. The ephemera of daily life is being preserved as never before. The Web, I realize, is a deeply conservative medium. It looks to the past, not to the future. It is a natural medium for memory.
"New Thoughts on the Last New Thing." Jon Carroll , in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 1997, http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/carroll/.
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.