More than 1,100 (mostly) American averages have been culled from newspapers, magazines, government publications, and books for this compilation. Nearly every average is contained within a table, and all are referenced to their source (not necessarily the original source, but the one used by the compiler). The volume is divided into 15 broad subject areas such as Business and Labor, Consumption, Contemporary Life, Crime and Law Enforcement, Education, Health and Medicine, Pollution and Recycling, and Vital Statistics
The concept of a book of averages is not a new one; Feinsilber and Mead's "American Averages: Amazing Facts of Everyday Life" (1980) was a popular compilation. What makes "The Gale Book of Averages" unique is its large subject and numerical indexes found at the end of the volume. The latter index ranks averages by numerical value: money, weight, speed, time, etc. Even though the volume is reasonably priced, there are two problems with it. One, some of the collection is no more than a potpourri of trivial information. One wonders if anyone would be interested in such insignificant information as "time spent in checkout lines," "colds per year by age," "winners of Jeopardy," and "weakest tornadoes." The more useful statistics come from standard reference sources such as "Statistical Abstract of the United States" and other government publications that nearly all libraries already own
Problem number two developed when the editorial staff divided the original statistical tables into smaller, more narrowly focused ones. A table titled "Minutes Per Week Spent in Mathematics Instruction in Selected Countries" provides correct data, but it must be understood within the context of the table "Days Spent in School in Selected Countries." They were both originally published as a single table in the 1992 "Statistical Abstract"
Although the volume is easy to use (thanks to its indexing), lucidly straightforward, and well put together, it can be only recommended to those busy public library reference departments that deal with a plethora of esoteric telephone reference questions.