FRED’s Got Friends
By George Fortier
FRED in College
Students who take an economics class with Diego Mendez-Carbajo, professor of economics at Illinois Wesleyan University, will learn about FRED. And, more importantly, it means they will learn by using FRED. Mendez-Carbajo has been a strong believer in the St. Louis Fed’s economic database for most of his career, and he shares FRED with his students through lectures, in-class assignments and homework. “I started using FRED in my classes,” he said, “because it allows my students to gain insights into economics through its easy-to-use data visualization resources.”
Professor of Economics,
Illinois Wesleyan University
“With the FRED site, graphing the data is only the beginning.”
Mendez-Carbajo first learned about FRED when he was a graduate student in the late 1990s, when data began to migrate from printed yearbooks to the internet. “I remember the university library dedicated one computer station for us, including access to a subscription statistical database whose name I’ve forgotten,” Mendez-Carbajo said. “But I remember FRED!”
As FRED has matured into a much larger, multifaceted resource, Mendez-Carbajo has adapted his teaching to take full advantage: “To me, FRED’s ability to transform the data without downloading it first into a spreadsheet and the significant graphing flexibility were game-changers. And FRED’s ability to combine data series from different sources into one graph made me redesign all my assignments.”
FRED also fosters a collaborative environment for conducting and sharing research, including the research his students undertake. “When students come to me for advice on how to locate and gather data, the process always starts with FRED,” Mendez-Carbajo said.
FRED dashboards allow him to save his work for repeated use and share it with his students and colleagues. “I love talking about FRED,” he said. “Many series in FRED also can be mapped through GeoFRED. With the FRED site, graphing the data is only the beginning.”
FRED in the Library
Business and Data Librarian, California State University, Northridge
“I use FRED as a practical resource for data searching.”
Charissa Jefferson is another FRED enthusiast. As a business and data librarian at California State University, Northridge, Jefferson believes in the value of data literacy. “I use FRED as a practical resource for data searching and creation in the library instruction classroom,” she said.
Jefferson is a librarian, but she’s also an educator who instructs students in how to understand and use data to answer questions and solve problems. Because she is a data educator, she looked to the St. Louis Fed’s Economic Education team for resources. “One of the first FRED tools that exposed my students to FRED was '10 FRED Activities in 10 Minutes,'” she recalled. “This helped me learn about breaking down tasks in FRED in manageable steps and guiding the student from an initial data search through creation of a FRED graph.”
Since then, she has used more FRED tools to engage her students: “Teaching with FRED leverages my data information literacy instruction, because I can facilitate a discussion with it.”
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Michigan School of Information
“FRED’s tools are both accessible for generalists and powerful for specialists, adding real value.”
Kristin Fontichiaro is a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, teaching courses in information literacy, library and information science, contextual inquiry, and user-needs assessment. And, yes, she also uses FRED.
“Aspiring librarians, like those I teach, can be overwhelmed by the diversity of reference questions they receive and the challenge of finding reliable information quickly,” Fontichiaro said. “FRED is part of our [department’s] resource starter kit because it is one-stop shopping for a wide range of government data.”
Her librarian students study to educate themselves, as students typically do, but they also aim to educate and guide others in their own searches for content and resources. Many subjects—such as economics, sociology and history—tend to require strong data literacy skills.
“As their expertise evolves, these librarians recognize FRED's many other tools, like access to historical economic data, web-based visualization tools and economic simulations,” Fontichiaro said. “FRED’s tools are both accessible for generalists and powerful for specialists, adding real value to libraries and those they serve.”
FRED’s many instructional resources help these educators—and others like them—engage students in data-related conversations and research. But what about those who aren’t educators or students? Is FRED a valuable resource for professionals, too? The answer is yes.
FRED in the Office
Principal and Investment Strategist, Edward Jones
“FRED is one of the first places I look for economic data.”
Kate Warne has been an investment strategist for the financial services firm Edward Jones for more than 20 years and is a member of its Investment Policy Committee. Earlier, she taught finance at Washington University in St. Louis and lectured at Yale.
So, where does Warne turn when she needs credible, accurate numbers? “FRED is one of the first places I look for economic data,” she said. “It includes a wide variety of economic and market indicators, covers many years of history and is user-friendly.”
Warne interprets market conditions and makes financial recommendations for investors. FRED helps her collect and discern economic and financial information that she can then use in conversations about investing. “FRED makes it simple to create easy-to-understand charts, which is especially important because many people need to ‘see the whole picture’ to really understand the information,” she said, adding that she views FRED as “one incredibly valuable resource for the business community.”
FRED in the News
My Friend FRED
“It’s great, and keeps getting better: it now has the ability to do transformations on data … . So, if you want to make pretty graphs of U.S. data quickly, make friends with FRED.”
Meet FRED, every wonk’s secret weapon
“Today, FRED is more than a little bit famous, thanks to the public’s fascination with economic data.”
The 10 Most Popular Charts On The World's Most Amazing Economics Website
“The St.Louis Fed's 'FRED' (Federal Reserve Economic Data) database is arguably the most amazing economics site on the Internet.”
The Most Amazing Economics Website in the World
“There are two reasons we go to FRED just about every day. The database is amazing. … And the charting tool can't be beat.”
Why “Fred” Is the Best Friend of Economics Writers
“Every economics writer’s best friend is named Fred. … A big part of the advantage is simply that once you’re familiar with the interface, which is intuitive, you don’t have to relearn the data retrieval tool for each statistical agency every time.”
Fortier is manager of the Research division’s publications group at the St. Louis Fed. He oversees numerous publications including Review, Economic Synopses, Agricultural Finance Monitor, Page One Economics and the FRED Blog.