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Statistics Canada

Meeting the needs of an information age
By Brian Huggins

Volume 11 Number 3

NO ONE GIVES YOU AN ARGUMENT ABOUT the value of accurate, timely information. Radio stations, promoting their informational programming, call it the information edge. Philosophers, engineers, librarians, teachers alike can be heard describing the times as the information age. Information is part of the life-blood of the industrialized nations of the world. The possession of it and the zeal with which it is organized and exploited puts Japan ahead of West Germany, France ahead of Great Britain, Canada ahead of Italy.

But it's still a slippery customer: today's industry planning is only as good as yesterday's data; tomorrow's productivity stats may be the first give-away that somebody's data somewhere was deficient. No longer is it the fastest gun in the West who will save the day but the one with the fastest update. Statistics Canada specializes in this science: you can find all your socio-economic data with one-stop shopping. Data for today's decision-making can help you steer a winning course in a fast-paced world. For that and a thousand and one other reasons, Statistics Canada is at your service.

The information offered is diverse as teachers' salaries and soft drinks, steel ingots and public libraries, divorce and inter-library loans. More than 8,000 topics from academia to zinc shipments are listed in the 1983 StatsCan catalogue.

The census is the biggest operation mounted by Statistics Canada. At least 230 separate publications will result from Census '81. Being released currently are the results of the census questions asked on the "long" form, received by one in every five of the population. Canadians from all walks of life will find that their personal information edge can be given a fillip by updates on nuptuality, fertility, households and household possessions, occupations, labour force activity and mobility, place of work, official language and home language, shelter costs, incomes, immigration, religion, and ethnicity.

Updates on Canada

A major expansion of the work of the analyst was encouraged by the Chief Statistician of Canada, Martin B. Wilk, on taking of office. One new source of information that resulted was a publication called Current Economic Analysis. It has taken off like a rocket, gaining seventh rank in circulation demand -- out of an annual list of 1,400 publications -- in less than two years. Its circulation is heavy with economic analysts in various institutions, federal government departments and agencies, provincial governments, banks and other financial houses, labour unions and consulting firms, plus the media. Teachers of economics, says Darryl Rhoades, director of the current economic analysis division, show up strongly: "We attempt to tie theory to the current situation, so they (teachers) can illustrate the kinds of theories they're talking about with data." Each month the publication carries three regular features: the integrated analysis or Index of Leading Indicators, the actual data releases, and a summary of major news events that would be useful in reading with the analysis. On an irregular basis, special studies appear that examine some sector of the economy or some technique of analysis. The index has two leading indicators: a filtered and a non-filtered variety. Adding filtering reduces the error rate from seventeen per cent to two per cent. The tradeoff is that lead time in trending falls off from seven months to five months.

The enormous amount of information contained in the publication Current Economic Analysis or any one of the welter of other titles that come out by the month is not necessarily wanted by everyone. Those whose needs are served by far less bulk can buy a subscription to one or both of two newsletter type of publications, one issued five days a week, the other issued every Friday. The first is simply called The Daily and costs $75 a year: the weekly, Infomat, is $25 a year. Both publications carry not only summaries of such key economic indicators as Consumer Price Index, Gross National Product, Retail Trade, Wholesale Trade, Housing Starts, Labour Income, Labour Force Survey (unemployment), Unemployment Insurance Payments and Farm Cash Receipts, but often the material constitutes advance released information. In other words, Infomat and The Daily amount to a window on the future for forthcoming interesting releases. They can truly be taken as harbingers of an information edge for their news may signal?? a timely availability of materials that are pertinent to the subject matter of a planned conference, convention, or seminar.

On a monthly basis, summaries of monthly and quarterly figures for the most recent two years are available in the Canadian Statistical Review, sold at $35 a year. Weekly updates in the form of a supplement come free with this subscription. A supplement issued annually, at $6, contains historical records of all the series in Section I of the Canadian Statistical Review, back to 1946 or when first available.

Studies for Teachers, Librarians

Of special interest to teachers and librarians will be the specific surveys Statistics Canada conducts in their fields. The Education Price Index has proved extremely useful to both education and library administrators. Covering the elementary level and secondary school levels, timely reports on price changes are available annually, and published in Education Statistics Service Bulletins. The 1981-82 edition of Salaries and Qualifications of Teachers in Public, Elementary and Secondary Schools has been issued . The latest annual edition of Education Staff of Community Colleges and Vocational Schools will be out by early May. At the university level, there are Salaries and Salary Scales of Full-time Teaching Staff at Canadian Universities, for which a June update is planned, and Teachers in Universities.

For general reference, Selected Statistics Canada Publications for Canadian High Schools should not be overlooked, the latest, March, edition being available through regional of offices as well as headquarters.

In the libraries' domain, Statistics Canada carries out an annual survey of public libraries. School libraries are surveyed biennially, as are university and college libraries in alternate years. Data are available in these areas since the early seventies. Survey data show that forty-seven new public libraries opened in the period 1979-81. In 1979,959 libraries were reported, in 1980, 981, and in 1981, 1,006. The biggest growth has taken place in Quebec. The survey of school libraries was revised and expanded in the 1981 -82 academic year. Instead of focusing on an inventory of school libraries, the survey concentrates on the media services offered by the library and school board resource centres. The questionnaire also asks whether the school library has a policy on the acquisition of Canadian and controversial materials, plus the provision of books for exceptional students. Data from this survey should be available in May. The third survey covers Canada's three hundred university and college libraries. The most recent data are for 1980-81, the 1982-83 survey will be mailed out in May. For a much more thorough analysis of the surveys, inquiries should be directed to J.R. MacDonald, Director, Education, Science and Culture Division, Statistics Canada.

Electronic Information Services

If the tabulations or other kinds of information that you need are not available through any of Statistics Canada's "off-the-shelf" products, data will be retrieved and manipulated on a custom basis to suit the particular requirements of teachers and librarians. Many of the standard publications are on microfiche and microfilm for easy storage and retrieval, and librarians and teachers with access to computers have also found magnetic tapes to be a sound investment. More than 325,000 time series of electronic data are maintained, plus retrieval and analysis programs. A separate, cross classified bank of socio-economic data, including census information, permits the flexible use of statistics on health, education, science, culture, and justice.

This electronic library, called the Canadian Socio-economic Information Management System (CANSIM), has just been "married" to Telidon, benefitting the information age immensely. The breakthrough came from two years of experimentation. Previously Telidon's colourfully graphic presentation of easy-to-retrieve data had been exploited but only to a limited extent: each graph, chart, table, or other depiction had to be put in manually. With the advent of the TELICHART service, the potential for truly becoming an electronic publisher has been dramatically and excitingly improved. Martin Podehl, director of the CANSIM division is the Statistics Canada officer through whom all inquiries should be made on the state of this art.

It is probably safe to assume that most libraries and educational institutions are still evaluating how best the Telidon technology may be of value to them. Some provincial governments have collaborated with Communications Canada in Telidon field trials and some of those governments have involved their public and institutional libraries in these trials. Librarians and educators will also be well aware of the promise held out for Telidon by their involvement with experiments developed by the National Library and the National Museum of Science and Technology. Statistics Canada is only yet on the verge of going operational with TELICHART. With StatsCan being Canada's biggest, single information provider, however, and libraries of all kinds probably constituting its biggest client-user, it behooves both parties to be watchful about spotting all circumstances where a collaboration would improve service to the public.

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