Census 2020 is approaching, and this time, libraries are taking an important role.
For the first time, people can respond to the census online or by phone as well as by paper or meeting with census-takers. The why of the census is fairly straightforward: It’s required by the Constitution, it determines representation in the House of Representatives and census results direct where federal funds are distributed for certain programs and services.
The first census was taken in 1790. It has been taken every 10 years since as specified in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, as secretary of state, was the census director.
For equal representation, an accurate census count is key. I find it interesting that in spite of continued population growth, House seats are set at 435 by federal statute. The relocation of people and changes in population can cause the number of representatives for a state or district to change.
One of the most important impacts is in regard to planning and distribution of funds for many agencies and services. Because census results determine where federal funds are distributed for programs important for children, an accurate count can shape a child’s future for the next decade and beyond. This piece has great impact on planning for infrastructure, education, health services and much more.
Libraries are specially poised to assist our patrons with responding to the census. There are a number of barriers to completing census questionnaires. Homelessness or alternative housing situations, mistrust of government, language barriers and limited access or poor internet service can affect people’s ability to complete the census. Just as we believe in a library’s value in a democratic society, we believe it is important to inform and educate the public as to issues, effects and the importance of government actions such as the census.
At Ignacio Community Library, we’re planning to help educate, answer questions and have a dedicated computer for patrons to fill out their census online. We’re a safe, neutral space where there is access to internet, questions can be answered and help can be found.
Marcia Vining is director of Ignacio Community Library.