The 2020 Census is upon us. After many months of controversy around which questions could or could not be asked (note: citizenship is not a question); come April 1st, 2020, every person living in the United States will need to be counted. As librarians, we play an important role to ensure the success of the census count.
Why is the Census so important? This is because the numbers and data that come out of the census every ten years are used for ten years to determine voting districts, federal dollars for social programs such as SNAP Benefits and Meals-on-Wheels, and even how much money the state gets to maintain its highways and bridges. Undercounting in a district means that, for the next ten years, their budgets will be funded based on bad data and they may have less voices in Congress to speak for them. For libraries, this means less federal funding, too; hence why an accurate count is so important for everyone.
This year the preferred method of counting is electronic. For some folks, the idea of a printed form is quaint; but for many people who have limited or no experience using a computer, this is a barrier. Folks whose first language is not English or who may have other physical or mental challenges are also undercounted. College students are another group because they aren’t clear on whether their parents are counting them or if they should count themselves. So where do these folks turn to get help? The library!
There are plenty of resources from ALA and the Census itself to help libraries familiarize themselves with the questions that may come up. In my mind the more we as information professionals can research and disseminate information to our patrons on the importance of the census, the better.
Public libraries can play a crucial role by identifying the homeless and work with their local census coordinator. Another area of need is elderly folks who are living in nursing homes or assisted living communities. Meanwhile, if you know people who are looking for work, the census is hiring and they are paying above-average hourly wages to ensure that they have an adequate workforce to do the door-to-door and phone counts to try and reach everyone.
Academic libraries can also get involved. By hosting events or putting up displays about the data that researchers use each day, all of which is coming from previous census. Asking students to fill out one more survey or form can be a tough sell, but if they can connect the numbers to the data and the federal dollars through education and outreach efforts, they will understand why they should fill it out.
Perhaps talking about the Census isn’t as scintillating as the new Star Wars episode, but maybe you can do a cool display or poster to get everyone’s attention. It matters.