Reference from Coast to Coast – From SIC to NAICS?

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University’s Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.

Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Strategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.

It’s been a slow journey. Okay, we’ll admit it. It started with curiosity and collection development. With most everyone examining print collections for web replacements,often with a critical eye on dates, coverage and duplication, even reference collections are being questioned. And there’s really no need to keep that SIC Manual, is there? It’s over ten years old and it’s been replaced with the NAICS, so can’t we use that shelf space for something else, or better yet, use the web? And the answer is, of course, yes and no.

The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) was developed to provide standardization for government agencies who needed to track statistics and activities of industries. Businesses are assigned a four digit number based on the type of service or product they provide. The Census Bureau found it useful to lump like industries together while agencies, such as the Department of Labor and EPA, whose task it is to monitor industry, likewise found advantages in using categories of industry.

We researchers have found many other uses for this classification scheme and wonder if the same is true of its new persona, the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS, pronounced nakes). NAICS, with a detailed six digit classification identifying newer technology industries and processes, also provides a basis for the increased statistical demands of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new numbering system was developed by the joint efforts of U.S., Canadian and Mexican government agencies. The NAICS Association provides background as well as the opportunity to ask questions about this new system. The web site also provides a newsletter with helpful information and the responses to some of the questions received. Both the Standard Industrial Classification Codes and North American Industry Classification System are topics in Zimmerman’s Research Guide at LLRX.

What use can researchers make of the SIC or NAICS codes? Industry Analysis, a helpful guide from the James Madison University’s Carrier Library, illustrates ideas and reference sources.Those of us searching for precedents among the millions of pages of SEC documents would do well to remember to add an SIC code to our search if we want to see corporate documents from a particular industry. Any marketing research would not be complete without the use of SIC codes to identify companies within an industry. Search for pathfinders/research guides to industry or marketing research – and time and time again, there’s mention of the NAICS.

And therein lies the problem. According to the Economic Classification Policy Committee’s NAICS: Calibrating a New Economy, although the first official use of NAICS was in the 1997 Economic Census, “[i]mplementation by Federal agencies will be in phases. Some agency programs will convert to NAICS as early as 1999, others as late as 2004. Visit the Census Bureau’s NAICS Internet site for a detailed schedule.”For example, the Federal Trade Commission currently requires use (as of July 1, 2001) of the six-digit NAICS instead of the four-digit SIC for those concerned with mergers and acquisitions under Hart Scott Rodino Act. But, you may still search by SIC at the SEC.

So can you really use the NAICS when researching industry or marketing materials?Several recent articles discuss the use of NAICS in research: Suzanne Sabrosk’s NAICS Codes: A New Classification System for a New Economy, Searcher (November 2000); Jan Davis Tudor’s Nearer to NAICS, Econtent (April 2000) and Simone Friedman’s E-Commerce by the Numbers: Research Sources and Solutions, Searcher (September 2000) all available on the web via

We decided we’d take an informal look at some of sources we use daily to determine if NAICS were an acceptable search term. We selected company information sources as well as Lexis and Westlaw. The Directory of Corporate Affiliations provides corporate family information for public and private companies. The DCA offers both quick and advanced search options at their website. You can search by known SIC Code or Chapter or select an SIC Code or Chapter from a pop-up menu. No mention of NAICS. Dun & Bradstreet, D&B supplies a number of pre-formatted business/company reports available via the web and other data aggregators. D&B still uses SIC codes and is working to integrate NAICS into their reports. Both 10Kwizard and GSIOnline (LiveEdgar) have options for searching filings by SIC. No indication of NAICS. Lexis, in addition to having the NAICS and SIC online as searchable files, includes the NAICS in Business Reference, Company, Market and News libraries. Westlaw also provides both the NAICS and SIC as databases as well as industry related news databases from Dow Jones Interactive based upon NAICS. Interestingly enough, one of the available fields in these NAICS based industry databases is a restriction by SIC code. A caveat for researchers: the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also assigns numbers to insurance companies. Thus, when you search A.M.Best for insurance companies’ ratings, you are offered the choice of SIC or NAIC code. Don’t be fooled! This NAIC is the insurance association number and not the NAICS classification. You will see similar references in Lexis or Westlaw when searching an insurance library;file or database.

So, back to our initial question: can you rid your reference collection of the SIC Manual? No, not yet. But the choice of format, print or web, is up to you!

Links from this Article
SIC Manual

NAICS Association

NAIC Newsletter

Standard Industrial Classification Codes

North American Industry Classification System

Zimmerman’s Research Guide at LLRX

Industry Analysis

Hart Scott Rodino Act

Directory of Corporate Affiliations

Dun & Bradstreet


GSIOnline (LiveEdgar




Posted in: Business Research, Reference from Coast to Coast, Reference Resources