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Census Data Resources: Make Maps, Reports, and Data Extracts

Subject Guide for Census Data Resources

Your Librarian

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  • Social Explorer
    Make reports and download demographic data tables from 1940 to 2010. Create maps in an easy-to-use interface (see their how-to videos). Maps can be exported as PowerPoint presentations or as images. GIS users: see the instructions below for help using this data in ArcMap.
  • The National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS)
    Over 12,000 aggregate census tables and 430 GIS shapefiles spanning the entire United States from 1790 to 2010, available for free download.
  • Census Map Services from ArcGIS
    Open these map services directly in ArcGIS desktop software or in ArcGIS Explorer Online.
  • ArcGIS Explorer Online
    Web-based mapping application useful for viewing Census map services from ArcGIS Online.

How to Evaluate Which Tool to Use

Social Explorer is the easiest tool to use but other tools may be more appropriate in certain circumstances.

  • What year do you need? American FactFinder has only the most recent years of its surveys; Social Explorer has all.
  • What geography do you need? American FactFinder has all available geographies (except block groups for ACS data); block groups are available in Social Explorer and DataFerrett*
  • Which variable(s) do you need? American FactFinder has all available variables; Social Explorer doesn’t have variables that involve some suppression.
  • Are the pre-fabricated tables sufficient or do you need to create your own? Only DataFerrett* allows you to create your own.
  •  Do you need to download GIS-ready files (shapefiles)? Only National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) allows this.
  • Do you need to make a map without using GIS? Social Explorer and American FactFinder both have this capability; American FactFinder is harder but has some variables (from current surveys!) that Social Explorer does not.
  • Do you need microdata? Have to use public use microdata sample (PUMS) through DataFerrett* (only available geographies are public use microdata areas [PUMAs], super-PUMAs or higher levels of geography, e.g., states), or apply to use un-anonymized microdata through the Atlanta Census Research Data Center* (which is a long-term process—six months or more).
  • What survey do you need? American FactFinder has most of the (current) Bureau surveys; Social Explorer has all of the decennial population surveys, 1790 to present; DataFerrett* has the Current Population Survey and a few other more “rare” surveys (SIPP, SAIPE, et al.), plus non-Bureau data like the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data; the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation; and much more
*If you need to use DataFerrett or the Atlanta Census Research Data Center, or need to map something in American FactFinder, contact the Social Science Data Reference Librarian