Newark Public Library Exhibit Traces and Documents History of Census

by | Jul 26, 2010 | 0 comments

In 1890, when U.S. Census takers canvassed Newark neighborhoods, they discovered the number of residents who rented their homes outnumbered those who owned their houses. More than 100 years later, surveyors discovered the ratio of homeowners to renters had not changed much.

These two demographic tidbits are among the charts, maps, photographs and other historical documents on display in an exhibit about the history of the U.S. Census at The Newark Public Library. The exhibit, America by the Numbers: A Look at the Census Bureau, “Factfinder for the Nation,” is currently on display in the third floor gallery of the Main Library through September 25.

“Since the 2010 Census was taken this year and it was on people’s minds, I thought the exhibit would demystify the Census,” said the Library’s Regional Depository Librarian Laura Saurs, who organized the display, using materials from the Federal Depository at The Newark Public Library. “I wanted to help people understand the Census and why it was going on.”

Wilma J. Grey, director of the Library, said the exhibit is illuminating for those who want to learn more about the Census or for residents who enjoy examining changes in demographics.

“These documents and maps offer insight into the progress and growth of our country and its citizens,” said Grey. “The exhibit also seeks to educate the public about the role of the Census and why the data is important to our society, for both historical and practical purposes.

Part of the exhibit is devoted to the origin of the Census, which was mandated in the Constitution by the country’s founding fathers. The Constitution called for a decennial population count, but over time, the need for more detailed information about demographics became needed and useful. Today part of the data is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This year, the United States is in the midst of its 23rd Census. By law, the population count must be delivered to President Barack Obama by December 31, 2010. Skepticism about the count has remained constant throughout the survey’s history, as seen in cartoons in the Library’s exhibit. The exhibit also features photographs of how Census takers carried out the first Census in 1790 by jotting down information on slips and scraps of paper and a photo of a machine that was used to tabulate the results in an original 1880 issue of Scientific American magazine.

Maps offering a snapshot of the country’s aging, health issues and employment from each decade are also part of the display. Saurs juxtaposed data from historical Censuses with present day numbers to show how things have or have not changed in Newark and statewide. The Library will also display tract maps of Newark from the 1950s and 1970s.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. The Newark Public Library is located at 5 Washington Street in downtown Newark. For more information, please call 973-733-7793 or log on to

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