Friday, February 21, 2020

Being Counted

Over the next week or so, you may notice library staff members taking notes about where our users are sitting (or standing, in the case of our sit/stand desks). It's no cause for alarm – we're conducting an assessment of library space usage, in order to identify patterns (such as the most popular places, times of day, and furniture types), and to help inform future space planning projects. No individually-identifying information is being recorded or reported, just tallies of where and when library visitors are using our space at certain times of day.

Consider our space assessment a warm-up, of sorts, to another important counting project taking place this spring: the 2020 Census. A decennial requirement from Article I, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Census data helps to determine such critical matters as congressional seats in the House of Representatives and federal funding distribution for public services.

Everyone living in the United States and its territories is required by law to respond to the Census. Invitations will begin to arrive in the mail in mid-March, with options to complete the form by mail, phone, or online. Form questions can be previewed online. Census-takers will visit neighborhoods in May to collect data from households that have not yet responded; the Census Bureau has tips about verifying a census-taker's identity for anyone concerned about potential fraud or scams.

If you're a current student who is not sure whether you should be counted at your local North Carolina address or a different "home" address, the Census Bureau Who to Count page has a helpful section of student information. Students (including international students) attending a U.S. college or university "should be counted at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time." U.S. students who are currently living/attending school abroad are not counted in the Census.

Last year's failed attempt to reinstate a long-dormant citizenship question on the 2020 Census (detailed in The New York Times) left many would-be respondents concerned about the privacy of Census data. The Bureau has an information page about how Census information is protected. Individual Census records are kept confidential for 72 years, after which point they are available for archival research purposes. (Want to see records from the 1940 Census or earlier? You can do so in Ancestry Library Edition, available to the Duke University community.)

Some historical background on the Census requirement can be found in the government publication The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation ("Constitution Annotated"). The 2020 Census website includes answers to frequently-asked questions and other helpful resources related to this year’s Census. Whether you're using the library during our space assessment or responding to the Census form (ideally both), be sure to be counted this spring.