Searchable records, data collection challenge federal agencies

The National Archives and Records Administration will publicly release all records from the 1940 census on April 2--closing a major record digitization and management project for the agency.

The records will be available for free at 1940census.archives.gov, but from a searchability standpoint, citizens will likely have more luck accessing information elsewhere. According to a National Archives FAQs page, census data will only be sorted by enumeration district citizens lived in at the time of the survey. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch have both announced plans to index the census data after it opens, however.

As NARA wraps up its battle with big data dissemination issues, the Census Bureau is looking ahead to the data collection challenges it will face in the 2020 census, when the projected population will be 341.4 million. The agency is hoping to modernize its data collection strategies, according to a Census Bureau press release.

The 2020 Census will be "nearly paperless" and have use "multiple modes." The bureau plans to use mail, telephone, Internet, face-to-face interviews and other electronic response options to gather information. Until now, the Census Bureau has not used the Internet to collect data; however, countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have done so.

The agency will also be updating its Master Address File and its map system called TIGER. It's also looking to modernize IT in the field; "staff will use electronic devices rather than pens and paper," says the agency.

During the 2010 census, the Paper-Based Operations Control System went offline regularly for maintenance. Although the system was meant to handle more than 7,000 simultaneous users, nervous bureau officials restricted the number of users who could logon to just three or five per local office. Nationwide there were only about 1,500 to 2,500 users on the system at any one time.

Following the 2010 census, Chief Information Officer Brian McGrath said that the agency is pursuing cloud solutions. Given that the bureau scales up computing significantly every 10 years, the agility provided by cloud computing solutions would be a logical fit.

For more:
- see the NARA 1940 census website
- see the Census Bureau press release

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