MU to create Census Bureau Research Data Center

Oct 9, 2014

The University of Missouri dedicated $1 million to the creation of a new Census Bureau Research Data Center. Housed at Ellis Library, the center will be used to give researchers access to millions of data files which are normally restricted due to the sensitive information they contain. MU’s office is a satellite location for the main Research Data Center, soon to be located in Kansas City, Missouri. The data contained at the center has more information than just the nationwide census taken every ten years – the Bureau of the Census also collects data on individuals, businesses and governmental agencies. Chris Wikle, a statistics professor at MU, says having a data center on campus will create more opportunities for researchers than was possible before.

“It really is an exciting opportunity and it really is the case the university is investing in this,” Wikle said. “I think they see the potential and see that this is going to allow more researchers to write grant proposals to federal agencies because it opens up the possibilities for the kinds of research we could do locally here.”

The satellite office will be one of fewer than 20 in the U.S., making it a huge boon for a research university like MU. Previously, if researchers wanted data from the Census Bureau, they would have to drive to Washington D.C. or Minneapolis to get it. The files are highly restricted because they contain sensitive personal data, and require a Census Bureau official to monitor anyone accessing them.

The $1 million, which comes from the university’s general operating budget, will go towards the salary of a Census Bureau employee, training programs on how to gain access to and use the data, and grants for projects which would require use of the data center.

Peter Mueser is the Co-Director for the new center at MU. He says that getting the center in Kansas City and the satellite office in Columbia have been a long time in the making, but will absolutely be worth it for researchers across the state.

“I do believe that it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” Mueser said. “Those of us who have been involved have been talking with people in Kansas City about this kind of an arrangement for several years, and all the stars aligned starting a couple years ago.”

Mueser says he hopes the office will open sometime in 2015.