Public Libraries

In 2020, the Census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. Like past e-government efforts, this will likely impact libraries and libraries' technology resources as staff work to assist people in participating in the Census. The 2020 Census also presents an opportunity to increase public awareness and use of Census data.

Prepare for increased use of library computers and the internet - Library workers can prepare for an uptick in need for these resources by considering how to speed up technology access for non-library card holders and how to handle peak demand—perhaps by designating one or more computers or mobile devices for “express” use or temporarily dedicating a device specifically for census response.

View Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census (from ALA).

Key Roles for Libraries

  • Partners in E-Government: In 2020, the Census Bureau for the first time will encourage residents to complete the Census questionnaire online, starting in March 2020. Like past e-government efforts, this likely will place additional demands on library staff and technology resources to enable people to complete the Census questionnaire. (Other response methods will also be available.) Libraries can use their experience partnering with government to assist their communities in achieving a fair, accurate, and inclusive count.
  • Education and Community Outreach: Libraries have the opportunity to educate their communities about the Census. In the 2010 Census, more than 6,000 library locations hosted Census Bureau outreach activities.
  • Reaching Hard to Count (HTC) Communities: Prioritize hard-to-count communities to get more accurate counts for the 2020 Census. View Mapping Hard to Count Communities, presented by ODL's Government Documents Librarian Susan Woitte.
  • Public Spaces: Census Bureau field staff often utilize community rooms in libraries as affordable temporary workspaces, such as for staff hiring and training. Other community stakeholders may also use library meeting rooms to host events related to the 2020 Census.
  • Recruitment for 2020 Census jobs: The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting thousands of people across the country to assist with the 2020 Census count, and they need your help. Consider inviting Census representatives to local job fairs. Encourage people in your community to go to to apply. See more resources on how your library can increase awareness of 2020 Census hiring.
  • Count All Kids campaign. Libraries are vital partners in promoting a complete count of young children in the 2020 Census. Children under age 5 were the most undercounted age group in the 2010 Census, with more than 2 million estimated to have been missed. To learn more about what libraries can do, read ALA’s new tip sheet (PDF).
View the report

The Census Bureau Wants You to Know...

This short video, Census Help, from ODL’s Census Solutions workshop features Haley Ashcom explaining what libraries and literacy councils can and cannot do to help patrons and students complete their questionnaire.

Paper forms – New information shows that libraries will not have paper copies of the questionnaire to distribute.  People who prefer to answer via paper (and who do not get one in the mail) will be able to call and request one.  The number will be included on all mailing materials and Census 2020 websites. It is good to remember that, in addition to offering online access to the questionnaire, we should also be offering phone and paper options when that works best for someone.

Counting people in Group quarters – The Census Bureau uses a different method to count people in group living situations, called “group quarters,” such as college student housing, prisons, military barracks, and nursing homes. In some of those cases, the facility administrator will work with local 2020 Census office staff to collect the information for the people residing there; those individuals will not respond directly to the Census Bureau.

Going to where the people are — Census employees in your area provide an extra layer of protection for everyone who participates in the Census. They have taken an oath that comes with heavy consequences for disclosure. Whenever possible, invite Census partnership specialists in your community to sit with you at library booths at any events or meetings to help answer questions. Under no circumstances should you send library staff or library volunteers door to door.

How will the online response option work?

Almost all households will receive an invitation letter in the mail with instructions for responding to the census online. The invitation will include a unique identification code called a Census ID or User ID. Using the Census ID helps the Bureau keep track of responses and prevent duplication. However, the Census ID is not required in order to respond online or by telephone. If respondents don’t have their Census ID handy, they can use their address instead.

During Census season, you should turn off the time limit on your public computers. Patrons filling out the 2020 Census will not be able to save their work and come back to it later. The entire online survey must be completed in one session. The Census website has no time limit to complete the form. However, for security purposes, if there is no activity for 15 minutes, the respondent will be logged out and have to start again. All data submitted online are encrypted. A confirmation page will be displayed after submission; there will not be an email or text message confirmation.

The online questionnaire will be available in 13 languages (Arabic, Chinese [Simplified], English, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese). If respondents have questions about the online form, they can contact Census Questionnaire Assistance for support in the same 13 languages. Respondents can also complete the questionnaire over the phone when they call.

What about people who don’t live in a household?

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