Libraries and the census

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 8:15am

Many islanders use the Groundhog Day count to answer the question: how many people actually live on the island? We often reply to that question with answers like, around a thousand, or just under a thousand or the number itself, when we can remember the number and not confuse this year’s count with a number from years past. We are proud of this unofficial official count and regale the process to all who are interested.

At the library, we like the Groundhog Day number because we get asked that question a lot and it is great to have an up-to-date count and a story to tell — this year’s count was 921.

This year the 2020 U.S. Census, the decennial count of all U.S. residents, begins in March. This count determines congressional representation and the annual allocation of an estimated $1.5 trillion in federal funding, with $1 billion going to states for public libraries. While the form is short and can be completed in 10 minutes, the impact of who is counted or not counted lasts for 10 years.

Public libraries across the country are participating with state and federal census offices by providing support, training spaces, and recruitment centers for census workers. With both the application to become a census worker and the census itself available on-line this year, many libraries will be playing a more critical role than ever before. The Island Free Library has taken on that role on Block Island, and hosted members from the Rhode Island Census office for recruitment and application meetings. We will also be hosting two training sessions for hired workers on March 5th and March 12th.

It is extremely important to collect accurate, thorough and complete statistics, as state and federal governing bodies will use the census data to directly determine how to allocate $800 billion in federal funding for schools, libraries, governmental programs such as SNAP!, health insurance programs for children, school lunches and much more. A lack of representation of the true make-up of our community is a detriment to all, and we strongly encourage Block Islanders to participate in the census. The form can be filled out online, over the phone, or in paper at a time that works best for you.

To ensure comprehensive information is collected, the U.S. Census bureau adheres to the following best practices:

Strict federal law protects census responses. It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census information that identifies an individual or business. Census Bureau employees take a lifelong pledge of confidentiality to handle data responsibly and keep respondents’ information private. The penalty for wrongful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both. No law enforcement agency (not the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or any other agency) can access or use your personal information at any time. Data collected can only be used for statistical purposes that help inform important decisions, including how much federal funding your community receives.

Furthermore, the Census Bureau will never ask for a Social Security number, bank or credit card account number, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. Our robust cybersecurity program incorporates industry best practices and federal security standards for encrypting data.

That said, we also recognize that some community members may have fears relating to the data collected by the government and how it is used. Some may be hesitant to complete the census form because of questions related to citizenship, and we recognize those concerns as valid. However, we encourage everyone to complete the form and answer questions that you are comfortable answering. Each individual’s immigrant status will not be a question on the form. In fact, the census asks about whether the individual is a U.S. citizen or not. There are hundreds of thousands of non-citizens living in the U.S., and the census attempts to account for individuals by age group and need.

The librarians at the Island Free Library work to serve the ongoing and emerging needs of the Block Island community. The library staff strives to provide relevant information and enjoyable experiences, programs and events. We work with community partners, as well as off-island collaborators, to educate patrons and enrich island lives. To ensure that every member of our community feels welcome at the library and represented through the collection and our programming, we encourage everyone to participate in the 2020 Census. We want to shape our work to best fit our community, and the information provided by the census is an effective means to do that, but only when the information is accurate.

We all count!