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ALA urges Commerce Department to reject Census citizenship question

The American Library Association (ALA) has joined 144 groups in opposing the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form. ALA is a signee of a letter submitted August 1 by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the US Census Bureau.

The comments submitted by the coalition elaborate on the harm that would result from adding such a question to the 2020 Census, including diminished data accuracy, an increased burden of information collection, and an added cost to taxpayers. The submission also points to the US Census Bureau’s own January 19 technical review, in which Associate Director for Research and Methodology John Abowd concluded that adding a citizenship question would have an “adverse impact on self-response and, as a result, on the accuracy and quality of the 2020 Census.”

The technical review also stated that using existing administrative records instead of asking a citizenship question would provide more accurate citizenship data at lower cost to the federal government.

“Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would suppress Census response, distorting the statistics and making them less informative,” says ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo.

ALA has participated in previous coalition efforts to prevent the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, including a January 10 letter opposing the proposal. The Association is engaging with the US Census Bureau and other stakeholders to keep libraries informed of and represented in the 2020 Census policy discussions and planning process, with the goal that libraries may be better able to support their communities.

The US Census is a decennial count of all US residents required by the Constitution to determine Congressional representation; district boundaries for federal, state, and local offices; and allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding to states and localities, such as grants under the Library Services and Technology Act. Libraries across the US provide access to the wealth of statistical data published by the US Census Bureau and help businesses, government agencies, community organizations, and researchers find and use the information.

“As partners in providing access to and supporting meaningful use of Census data, libraries promote the highest possible quality and completeness of the data,” says Garcia-Febo.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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