Data Library FAQ 


Q: How do I start using this store? 

IRE members can login to the IRE site and go to the page of the database you'd like to buy; there you will be prompted to purchase and download the data. If you have never logged into our site before, register an account. Within 48 hours, the IRE Membership staff will verify whether you are a member or not.

If you are a journalist but not an IRE member, consider becoming one. There are many perks to being an IRE member, and cheaper data is one of them. 

Nonmembers should contact the Database Library at (573) 884-7711 or to buy data. 


Q:How do I place an order for data? IRE Members who register for this site may buy most of our datasets online, using the Library's online store.

The following datasets/orders are not available online yet:

  • Data for nonmembers
  • "State slices", or sections of our datasets that only cover one state. (Example: Housing loan disclosures for California only.)
  • Paying by check
  • Data files on CD
  • Some of the archived data

For those orders and everything else, you can either send in an order form or place the order over the telephone. When filling out the form, be sure to circle the name of the database and the appropriate price for the size of your news organization and the data slice you have selected. If you are requesting a particular year, write that in the margin. When completed, fax the form attention to the Database Library at (573) 882-5431 or (573) 884-5544, or send via mail to:

NICAR Database Library
138 Neff Annex
Missouri School of Journalism
Columbia, MO 65211

Call the Database Library to place your order over the telephone, (573) 884-7711, or email


Q: How do I pay for the data?

For online store purchases, you can use Visa, MasterCard or American Express. An invoice will be automatically e-mailed to the address you provided at registration. For special orders, you can also pay by Visa, MasterCard or American Express or we can send an invoice along with the data. The invoice must be paid within 30 days of receipt. If you have a purchase order system and need to have the PO number on the invoice, let us know when placing the order.

If you place an order by telephone and pay by credit card, we'll send the receipt along with the data.

You can also send a check via mail with the completed order form when placing the order.


Q: How will the data be sent?

For online purchases, you can download data directly from the site. For orders taken over the phone or via email,  the Database Library sends data via FTP. For shipping, we offer the option of UPS or regular mail. If using UPS, we ask you to provide an account number. See the order form for the costs of using the NICAR UPS account. Generally, we send "standard overnight" meaning it will arrive sometime the next day. We charge $5 for regular mail, however beware that it could take up to a week to arrive because of our mail system.


Q: How quickly will the data arrive?

For most orders, including for FTP delivery, the Database Library staff can send out the data the same day that the order is placed. Large orders are the primary exception. If you want the data to arrive the next day via UPS, orders must be placed before 3 p.m. Central time.


Q: How frequently is the data in the NICAR collection updated?

Each database varies. Several are updated weekly, monthly or quarterly. Most are updated annually, usually the same time each year. Some, such as HMDA and FBI Uniform Crime Reports, depend on release of the data from the government agency. Call the Database Library at (573) 884-7711 to ask about a specific database.


Q: When is the Database Library open?

The online store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Also, staff members are available to take orders or answer questions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday.

If there is a large news event, such as an airplane crash involving numerous fatalities, staff may be available on nights and weekends. We will post messages to the NICAR-L listserv if we are available.


Q: If I'm not a journalist or an IRE member, can I purchase data from NICAR?

Yes. Prices for nonmembers are posted on each database page. Currently you must contact the Database Library to buy data; call (573) 884-7711 or email Journalists should consider becoming an IRE member before purchasing data. 


Q: Why should I purchase the data from NICAR rather than going to the government agency directly?

Put simply, it saves time.

First, we handle the Freedom of Information hassles in requesting and obtaining the data — we know who the custodians are and have spent years developing those contacts. Second, we transfer the data from various media and formats, and put it in database format that is ready to use. We also convert date and numeric fields out of their text versions so they are ready for analysis.

Finally, we make sure you have complete, detailed record layouts, codesheets and other documentation. We let you know about glitches or flaws in the data that we've encountered, and offer suggestions for story ideas and places to find stories that have already been done using this data.

Our goal is to eliminate the headaches that are typically involved in the process of making data ready to analyze.


Q: What format is the data stored in? Can I use it in Microsoft Access?

For now, we primarily provide the data in CSV or DBF formats. CSV (or "comma-separated values") is a flat text file. DBF is a basic database format that is easily imported into most spreadsheet or database manager programs — including Microsoft Access. We can provide specific directions for importing these files.

Admittedly, DBF's have issues and are not a perfect form for data storage. However, importing a DBF into Access, rather than a CSV or other type of delimited text file, saves you the time of having to create the table's record layout by hand.

In the future, NICAR hopes to provide datasets in other formats.


Q: Can I see a sample of the data or a record layout before purchasing?

Yes, a 100-record sample and record layout for each dataset is available on each product's page, in ZIP format. Sample tables are provided in Excel and DBF format.


Q: Can I purchase data from the Database Library and stories from the IRE Resource Center at the same time?

Yes. We can arrange joint invoicing and shipment of materials from both the Database Library and the Resource Center.


Q: Can I hire NICAR to convert data from magnetic media to CD-ROM?

Yes. NICAR can convert the following media and transfer the data as raw text or DBF tables to CD-ROM.

    9-track tapes (or reels) 3480, 3490e cartridges Zip disks

We may have equipment for other media. Call the Database Library Director at (573) 884-7711 to check.

We charge by the hour, according to the size of your news organization.

Each transfer job is unique, making it difficult to estimate the amount of time it will take in advance. This is more easily done if you can provide a record layout in advance.

Please contact us in advance to arrange for this service. When you mail us the data please include the record layout, the code sheets, and the contact name of the person who gave you the data, in case we have any questions.

Ordinarily, we work with data which journalists acquire, and send us, but occasionally, we can work on getting the data for you and arrange a payment system. We do not do data entry.


Q: Can NICAR analyze data for a news organization?

Yes. The Database Library will provide analysis services on a case-by-case basis. Arrangements must be made in advance with the Database Library Administrator, including the submission of an indemnity letter clearing NICAR of any liability. Call the director at (573) 882-1982 for more information.

Our services include:

  • Mapping locations for you
  • Performing queries on complex datasets
  • Ethical Web-scraping


Q: Where can I find tipsheets on using this data or stories others have done?

Search the IRE Resource Center tipsheet and story databases to find information that may be useful in analyzing the data you purchased from the Database Library.

Call the Resource Center to order copies, (573) 882-3364.


Q: Where can I get training on computer-assisted reporting?

IRE and NICAR provides numerous training opportunities each year, in various parts of the country. These include week-long, intensive bootcamps in Columbia, Mo., that offer hands-on training in spreadsheets, database managers and Internet searching.

Trainers can also do custom sessions at your news organization, and some training sessions are offered at IRE and NICAR conferences.

See the IRE Training page for more information, including schedules and costs.


Q: How is the Database Library supported?

The Database Library is partially supported by The Florence and John Schumann Foundation.