No matter the subject statistics are limited by both time frame and geography.
Time: Are you looking for information about a single point in time? Do you want to look at changes over time? Do you need historical information? Current information?
Be prepared that the most current statistics may actually be a year or more old! There can be multiple year lags before some information is released depending on how often the information is collected, the time it takes to process and crunch numbers, and the public release schedule.
Geography: Geographical areas can be defined by political boundaries (nations, states, counties, cities) or statistical boundaries (mainly Census geography such as metropolitian statistical areas, block groups, or tracts).
Remember to define your topic with enough flexibility to adapt to available information!
A visual diagram to start the thought process for your statistics search.
Finding Aids are research guides, reference sources, and databases.
Not sure who might have produced the statistic you need? Look in one of these sources:
Ask yourself: Who might collect or publish this type of information?
Then visit the organization’s website and see if you're right! Or, search for them as an author in the library catalog.
These are some of the main types of producers of statistical information:
Look for statistics reported in journal, news, and magazine articles. If they report a source, be sure to follow it up!
By searching periodical indexes, you can determine if anyone has conducted research into your area of inquiry. You may turn up a journal article with statistical tables on your topic, or you may find out that you have chosen such a unique topic that little to no research exists in that area. Maybe you can be flexible with your topic and find a similiar substitute.
Think about where to search and which keywords to use.
Use the MSU Library Catalog to find books with statistical tables.
Statistical publications will always include the keyword "statistics" in the subject information about the book. For example:
Education -- Statistics.
Health insurance -- Michigan -- Statistics.
Michigan -- Statistics.
Knowing this, you can use a technique for limiting your search to statistical publications by doing a subject search for your topic.
Knowing when to call in reinforcements is important.
Keep in mind that one possible reason nothing is turning up is that the statistic you need was never collected! Be flexible and consider alternative measures.
Don't take statistics at face value. Consider the source and method used to create the statistic. Be a critical information consumer!
Check out the book Damned lies and statistics: untangling numbers from the media, politicians, and activists by Joel Best for more information about reading statistics with a critical eye. The website StatLit.org also has great information and resources about statistical literacy.