U’s census data center expands on the West bank

The center’s database is one of the largest census databases in the world.

by Cati Vanden Breul

The University’s Minnesota Population Center had the grand opening of its new facility Friday in Willey Hall.

Following a nine-month renovation funded by the College of Liberal Arts, the center is now located in the old Katherine E. Nash Gallery space.

Before the move, the center was located on the West Bank in Heller Hall and the Cedar-Riverside People’s Center.

Staff members said the lack of space and the separation between employees was difficult.

The staff has grown from approximately 10 to 100 members since its development in 2000, said Trent Alexander, a research associate at the center.

“There was no big battle with CLA. Once our staff started to grow, they found the space,” Alexander said.

The center has one of the largest census databases in the world.

“One of our goals is to distribute census data to researchers worldwide,” Alexander said.

Researchers can connect to the center’s free online database and access original U.S. Census microfilm dating back to 1850.

The center takes original census data, including information from outside the United States, and makes it easier to interpret, said Evan Roberts, also a research associate at the center.

“The classification of certain (census) variables, like jobs, doesn’t remain the same every year,” he said.

The center makes the classification for each census consistent, Roberts said.

Staff members also code all the census data so researchers can search for specific demographic information without having to search through each entire census, Alexander said.

This makes it easier for researchers to focus on specific topics, such as jobs or birth rates, or groups of people, such as married men, or women who have jobs, Roberts said.

“We customize the data so they don’t need to look at the whole group,” he said.

Once the census data is entered into computers, the center will donate the microfilm to Wilson Library, which will give the library one of the largest collections of census data at a university, Roberts said.

The center, one of 14 population centers in the United States, receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.