Saturday, July 3, 2010

Answer - What's happening with employment in California?

When I asked "What's happening with employment in California?" I was purposefully framing the question in a way that someone might think of it.  That is--I did NOT prime you with the search term [ unemployment ].  

If, however, you managed to see your way through that obstacle, you might have done a query like this:  

[ California unemployment rate

Which would bring up a Google shortcut result in position one, like this:  

This is the "Public data" result, which leads you into a marvelous compilation of public data that's been collected and organized by the same Google team that's brought you the bubble charts in Google Spreadsheets.  

From our perspective, though, it's a single-stop for comparing unemployment rates by county within California (or any other state).  In particular, we can simply answer the question I asked earlier (that is, compare the employment rates between Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties).  

With three mouse clicks, you can select the data from Santa Clara and Santa Cruz (and deselect all of California) to produce this graph: 

(Teachers:  A good question to ask is "Why is Santa Cruz county so much more variable than Santa Clara county?"  The answer has to do with what each county does economically--Santa Cruz is much more agricultural, hence the seasonal swings as ag-workers are employed or unemployed.)  

Note that you can hover over a particular data point to drill-down to specific dates. 

In this particular case, the data is supplied by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (which you can discover by clicking on the link in the lower left of the graph).  As always, you want to verify that the data comes from a reputable source.  

Is this just a trick?  I've had some people complain to me in the past that queries like this are "just tricks... there's nothing methodical about it, you just have to know a lot of stuff." 

And, to a certain extent, that's true.  But this is the nature of expertise--to be a real expert at something takes practice and knowledge.  The wonderful thing about reference librarians is that they already know a great deal about how the information in the world is organized.  They know what resources exist and what's possible to do with them.  

My deeper point in this post is to recognize that sometimes you can stumble across resources (such as the Public Data shortcut I've shown you here).  When this happens, take note. Knowing where the data is kept and how to access it really is a fairly important part of becoming a great researcher.  

You can learn more about the range of shortcut results at the Google Helpcenter page Explore Google Search.

And, to learn more about the other kinds of public data that's organized by Google, see the Public Data Explorer site, which will connect you to data about World Economic Development, birth rates, unemployment (US and EU), cancer causes, and many other wonderful data sets.

Special note for teachers:  These datasets are great for teaching concepts about statistical analysis.  

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