Monthly Archives: August 2010

A Day in my Life, with Census Data

To follow up on my last post about census data, and a great conversation with some local librarians a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try to brainstorm the ways census data impacts my daily life. I’m not talking about how I or my colleagues might use it in research, but actual, concrete people, places and things in my day-to-day that would not be the same without good data from the long-form census. The hyperlinks below track to news articles or open letters to the government about the importance of the long-form census for specific reasons. Some of these links are PDFs.

I wake up in my housing co-op (built with support of gov’t programs for affordable housing, informed by data on income and housing).

Wave to my hearing-impaired neighbour and her service dog (supported by disability advocacy based on the census and the census-based Participation and Activity Limitations Survey).

Bike to my bus stop, on bike routes planned with information from the census.

Take transit to work – on an express route planned based on commuting time/mode data and housing density information.

If I arrive a few minutes early, I might stop by a coffee shop on my way in to the office. The store’s business plan was informed by census data, which helped the business owners know they had a market in that neighbourhood.

Arrive at work, which for me and over 12,000 others at my institution alone, is at a University.Universities rely on long-form data for planning programs and projecting enrollment.

Over lunch, read the news. Reporters frequently use publicly-available data from the long form census, as they did in this article this weekend.

Perhaps on the way home I visit some sort of health-care provider. It’s not unheard of. Health services planners and health care provider professional associations use census data to help plan efficient and community-responsive services and care. Medical researchers also rely on census data.

Pick up child at (French language) school and take him the public library (which has a convenient storefront location and services tailored for our community based on the census community profiles)

On our way out of the library/community centre, admire the new mural put in by local artists. Cultural councils and government arts programs rely on census data to provide information about cultural workers in Canada, who are often non-traditionally employed and under-represented in other types of counts.

Arriving home, say hi to our neighbours and admire their new foster-baby. They are foster parents, and the social work system depends on census data to identify and respond to community needs.

After dinner, attend a co-op meeting at which we discuss our federal grant application for energy-efficient upgrades to our building. Such programs for home renovations are generally informed by data about home repair needs and community housing needs.

Your day is different from mine. Perhaps during your day you interact with census data by visiting your religious institution. Perhaps you participate in an immigrant settlement program. Perhaps you are job-seeking or retraining after a layoff. Maybe you do unpaid work to care for an elder in your community or volunteer or eat at a soup kitchen.

To sum up, without good census data:

  • My house might not exist, or
  • might not be getting the needed repairs to the building envelope.
  • Disability advocacy would be set back.
  • I might not have bike routes or
  • convenient public transit in my neighbourhood or connecting to my workplace.
  • Local businesses would have less accurate business plans and thus be more likely to fail.
  • Universities would have a harder time planning for the future.
  • News reporters would lose an accurate source of information.
  • Health services would be less well-planned for my community’s needs.
  • Medical research would be set back.
  • We might not have so many French-language public schooling options in our predominantly-anglophone province.
  • Library planning would be a challenge.
  • Artists and cultural workers would be even less well supported than they already are.
  • Our social work system would be weakened.

And that’s just the things I can think of in one day of my little life.

What things in your life are impacted by census data?


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Filed under government, government information

Wanted: Catchy Census PSAs

Believe it or not, Rafe Mair brought it home for me in his recent Tyee article.  He boils down his response to:

I must say, without intending to hedge, that my opposition takes the form of simple questions.

Why do you want this information?

What specific purpose is it used for?

Right! The people who don’t use the census data on a regular basis don’t necessarily realize how their whole life is so essentially shaped by it. Thanks for the reminder, Rafe. We are so easily blinded by our own little experiences.

Reading along with the Census long form debacle, I have eventually come to realize that part of the whole problem here is that the federal government has done a really terrible job of PR around the census and its uses. Yes, there were political reasons behind the scrapping of the mandatory long-form data collection tool, but such arguments would have no toehold with a population that was by and large aware of the importance of good census data. People know this isn’t really about privacy (as the government claimed) or jail time (since no one has ever gone to jail over the census), but many people don’t know what the big deal about the census is. I mean, census data sounds kinda wonkish and boring. Until you realize how different your life would be without it.

While clearly many people and organizations are aware (as of this morning’s Census Watch tally lists 10 individuals & organizations on record against the mandatory long-form census and over 300 on record in favour of keeping it mandatory), many other people are like Rafe Mair – suspicious of the government, and unaware and uninformed about the actual uses of the census data.

Now, the current government may have ideological agendas driving the neglect of such public education, but past governments have been similarly neglectful.

It’s not that we don’t have the ability to do decent PR here: Canadians still remember the 60-year-old Swede outrunning the 30-year-old Canadian in the ParticipACTION ads from the ‘70’s. It’s only a lack of political will that has prevented similar census ads letting Canadians know why they must fill our their census forms.

Apparently the ad campaign for the US 2010 census was projected to save the government tons of money by improving compliance and reducing the need for door-knockers. Although the Tories are obviously not concerned about saving money, deciding to pay more for less with a voluntary census with larger mailout, for the truly fiscal conservative, such savings might be a selling point.

While nowhere near as catchy as the original ParticipACTION campaign, the US Census 2010 ads do a decent job of addressing common concerns (e.g., confidentiality, how do you know the person at your door is really a census taker) and tell people WHY the census is important with soundbytes like:

A proper count is vital in assuring your community receives proper representation, as well as the funding it needs for services like job training, schools, roads and transportation


By answering the questions, your residence will be counted, and you’ll be helping your community get its fair share of $400 billion in federal funds.

Oh! Legislative districts are drawn based on census data! Funding for job training, schools, roads and transit are also based on census data! That’s why the government wants to know this stuff!

Reading some of the 300+ the open letters to the Canadian government that oppose the census changes gives one a glimpse of the wide swath and diversity of Canadians who are concerned with this issue. Few other issues unite ethnic-cultural community groups with economists with librarians with the medical association.

Reading the letters also gives a nice picture of the diversity of uses to which the data is put, and clarifies exactly why the census does ask things like:

  • when you commute to work (for transportation planning),
  • whether your home is in need of repair (for housing renewal strategizing), and
  • whether anyone living with you has a disability (for health care as well as community accessibility planning purposes).

Some of the letters are linked from the datalibre Census Watch list, and I encourage you to go skim some. However, I recognize that not everyone has the time, interest, or ability to read a bunch of advocacy letters.

That’s why what we need in Canada is a Census PSA campaign that mashes up the 2010 US Census style clear information-delivery with the uniquely Canadian aesthetic of the old skool ParticipACTION ads.

Any takers?


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Library Schools: Developing Librarians of the Future – Moving beyond Professionalism

As a recent graduate of a MLIS program, and based on discussions with classmates/recent graduates from across Canada, I am a little distressed by the sense of confusion recent graduates have regarding what it means to be a librarian.  There seems to be a lack of clarity regarding a unified vision or mission of librarianship.

Over the past few decades university based library programs (for librarians) and community colleges (for library assistants) focus most of their attention on creating professional skill sets and identities.  While there is debate surrounding the concept of librarians as professionals, others are moving the discussion beyond professionalization.  Instead of the focus being solely on librarians, it is expanded to the communities librarians are meant to serve.

As discussed by John Vincent from the Network in the UK “unless one puts some values at the core of librarianship (such as fighting for social justice), then it’s just an empty box of gadgets – which is why, I think, people get so het up about challenges to their “usual” role – if you aren’t clear what your role is, so you construct one based on professional identity”.

As more and more public library systems across Canada are recognizing and  beginning to shift program and service development from internal processes to needs based library service and community led library service planning (e.g. Edmonton and Halifax) – library schools need to begin viewing these developments as fundamental shifts in the way that library systems are working with community.

For library schools, this shift should not be viewed as an add on, or an additional course – instead it should be viewed as a mainstream approach: impacting the way public libraries and their staff across job classifications do their work.  There is a huge potential for library schools to prepare future librarians and library assistants to do this work.  This gap needs to be filled.  It will either be filled by library schools or by library systems hiring staff.  Discussion in universities or community colleges on this approach will ensure that library staff can work with community to determine the role library staff can play when meeting community identified needs.

Ample literature has been developed, and one of the key outcomes from the Working Together project was the development of a university course – with content – which can be adapted by each library school to prepare students for the new realities of library work.  In addition, there are a number of publications – either publically accessible or soon to be published – which should become part of the core curriculum.  Some quick examples can be found here.

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Filed under community development, LIS education, public libraries, The Profession