Census helps libraries plan for future

For Shelby County libraries, the U.S. census contains invaluable information that can help library staff members plan for the future.

Barbara Roberts, executive director for the Shelby County library system, said because of information gleaned from the census over the past few decades, Shelby County libraries are prepared for an influx of senior citizens in upcoming years.

“When you look at the census from 1980, 1990 and 2000, you can begin to see trends projected. It’s projected that in the 2020 census, we will see a huge increase of senior citizens,” Roberts said. “As the average age increases, the library and every other county and city service provider will have to address those changing demographics.”

She said the increase of senior citizens is particularly important for libraries because seniors tend to rely heavily on libraries for recreation and entertainment.

“Libraries typically are an agency that senior citizens use heavily, so the prediction will be that there will be a greater demand on libraries in the future because of this increasing senior population,” Roberts said. “The census is a tool for planning.”

Population counts recorded in the census can also be the difference when it comes to state or federal funds, Roberts said.

All public libraries in Shelby County receive supplemental state aid for public libraries, which is based on population. Also, applications for federal funds require information about population numbers.

“So, if we are undercounted, then that’s money we’re losing for public libraries,” she said.

However, even though Shelby County’s population has risen significantly since the 2000 census count, Roberts said she isn’t expecting more funds just yet because the state is in prorations due to the down economy.

State aid for libraries is currently at $0.89 per capita, down from $1.12 per capita only two years ago.

“Even though you’ve got more people, you might not have more money coming for the libraries,” Roberts said.

All public libraries in Shelby County are actively encouraging patrons to participate in the 2010 census. The census forms are currently arriving in mailboxes across the county.

The U.S. Census Bureau is asking for forms to be returned by April 1, 2010. After that date, census takers will begin visiting households that did not return the form by mail.