Not wishing to mix often inferior web resources with the high quality databases to which the library actively subscribes, we generally do not list "free" resources on our lists of Library Databases. (Although many useful general web resources ARE listed in our Library Guides.) However, we are making an exception for the extensive collection of data sources of the World Bank now freely available on a website called World Bank Open Data.
The World Bank has always produced a great deal of useful data about government finance, development, economics, and the interactions between the haves and have-nots of 200 national economies. But this data was usually packaged in print and CD-ROM form, and was sold to individuals and libraries. We bought much of it in book form, on storage media, or as ebrary ebooks over the years. See, for example, the variety of volumes and disks we have of World Development Indicators, which is just one of the publications included in World Bank Open Data.
The World Bank's new "open data initiative" will make matters much easier for us and for our researchers. As the World Bank indicated in their announcement, their website will provide "free, open and easy access to statistics and indicators about development. Visitors to the site can easily find, download, manipulate, use, and re-use the data compiled by the World Bank, without restrictions."
To use this website is relatively easy. From the homepage you can click into areas where you can sort through over 1200 specific indicators or get information on any of over 200 countries, or look at a list of topics (like Aid Effectiveness and Health), from either mid-page or the top border. The best thing to do is to browse. Some types of data have their own webpages, like the Doing Business site for global business information. And many of the "Data Catalog" offerings like our friend the World Development Indicators are also easy to spot from various links--including ones that we have placed in our own catalog (OPAC) records for the previous print and disc editions that we own.
It is especially useful when data is not presented in a static manner, but rather as a database, the World dataBank, where you set your own variables for research in statistics pulled from World Development Indicators and Global Development Finance. Other specific databases can be accessed if you start with a selection at this page. Data is customizable and can be exported to Excel after you produce the specific report you want.
So far, I have not spotted much in the way of User Guides for the website, but I did find this page, which describes things and bit more and links to specific areas.
World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick recently explained the importance of this shift towards open data: “I believe it’s important to make the data and knowledge of the World Bank available to everyone. Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty. They are now easily accessible on the Web for all users, and can be used to create new apps for development.” As the WB further indicated, "opening up the Bank’s data stores will allow individuals, groups, and organizations to create applications, programs, visualizations, and other tools that will help monitor and measure progress of various development initiatives and projects. Additionally, the data can be used to create new and innovative solutions for international development, helping with the World Bank’s mission to reduce poverty across the globe."
This is a very useful breakthrough in transparency and cooperation by this very powerful IGO. Remember to make use of this data when it suits your research needs.
[FIND World Bank Open Data on the "Database by Subject" Lists for both Social Sciences and Business. Or, since this is a free database, simply visit http://data.worldbank.org/ ]