Blogger Advocacy and Legislation Committee

Libraries Can Help Their Communities Count in the Census

You may know that the 2020 Census is almost upon us, but did you know that Youth Services library staff members can play an essential role in their communities? We can answer questions and share information about the Census, helping to make sure everyone is counted.

Public library staff are already trusted members of their communities and are in a unique position to interact with people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. We can use the relationships we have built to encourage participation in the Census and to correct disinformation and fears surrounding responding. 

For instance, while there is no question on the Census about citizenship, many people still believe there is and do not want to divulge their status. Many also are afraid that information they give while answering the Census will be shared with other government agencies such as ICE, or with landlords or employers. However, the law requires that the Census Bureau protect all personal information collected and forbids them from sharing this data for any reason, even to law enforcement agencies.  

As Youth Services library staff, we also regularly interact with families with young children, a critical group; children, especially children of color, are greatly undercounted. During a storytime, simply mentioning that everyone should be counted in the Census, even little ones, is an easy way to spread the word.  Stories, songs, games, and activities about counting can link this message to caregivers with learning opportunities for their children. Passive programs such as guessing jars and scavenger hunts are other fun and easy ways to spread the word that everyone counts. 

We can also let our patrons know why the Census matters and why taking the time to complete it can help the entire community. The information collected in the Census is used to determine fair representation in the House of Representatives, as well as how many federal resources are allocated to state and local governments – and there is a lot of money at stake. 

For instance, where I live in Alexandria, Virginia, for each person not counted in the Census, the City will lose $1,200 in federal funding per year. For every one percent of our population that is missed, the City will lose more than $18 million in funding over ten years. This funding supports a large array of programs that directly benefit members of our community such as Head Start, children’s health insurance, foster care, child and adult food programs, highway planning and construction, and even libraries.

Remember: every person counts in the Census, and every library staff member can make a difference!


(Links updated 2/24/20)

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: 1. Commitment to Client Group; V. Outreach and Advocacy

Diana Price is a member of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. She is the Central Library Youth Services Manager for Alexandria Library in Alexandria, Virginia.

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