News & Noteworthy

The 2020 Census Starts in Two Weeks — Are Your Computers Ready?

Because librarians believe that everyone counts. American Library Association #LibrariesTransform

Post courtesy of Gavin Baker, ALA Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, Deputy Director, Public Policy and Government Relations

On March 12, millions of American households will begin receiving mailings inviting them to respond to the 2020 Census. To get an accurate count, everyone has to respond – if they don’t, our libraries and communities will lose needed funding.

As the mailings arrive, patrons may come to your library with questions – and, with a new option to respond online, to complete the questionnaire using the library’s computers or internet. To help you prepare, ALA has a new, two-page tip sheet, “Libraries and the 2020 Census: Responding to the Census,” that provides key dates, options for responding, and advice for libraries preparing for the 2020 Census. For instance, the tip sheet explains these important facts:

  • Ways to Respond: Households can respond to the Census online, by phone, or by mail from March 12 until July 31.
  • Mailings: Between March 12 and 20, the Census Bureau will send letters to most households that explain how to respond online or by phone. The Census Bureau will follow up with several reminders in March and April.
  • Paper Questionnaires: In areas with low internet connectivity, the first mailing will also include a paper questionnaire. Between April 8 and 16, the Census Bureau will send a paper questionnaire to every household that has not yet responded.
  • Household Visits: Beginning May 13, households that have not responded will receive visits from a Census Bureau employee.
  • Questionnaire Languages: The online and phone questionnaires will be available in 13 languages.
  • Online Devices: The online questionnaire will be accessible from smartphones and tablets, in addition to laptop or desktop computers.
  • Security and Confidentiality: Responses in the online questionnaire are secure and encrypted, and the confidentiality of all responses to the 2020 Census are strictly protected by law.
  • Information for Respondents: The Census Bureau provides video and written guides in multiple languages that libraries can share to assist patrons completing the Census.

In addition, the tip sheet offers suggestions for preparing library networks and computers in advance of the 2020 Census. To expand access to the online Census questionnaire, libraries can

  • Provide guest or “express” internet access for census respondents without a library card number.
  • Temporarily add or dedicate devices for 15-minute user sessions to reduce wait times for patrons completing the census.
  • Leave your Wi-Fi on in March and April when the library is closed so users can access it from the parking lot.
  • Whitelist and in the library’s firewall.
  • Make mobile devices available to complete the census at bookmobiles and other outreach efforts.

The upcoming Census is also a good opportunity to do a check-on the security of your library’s network and devices. To learn more, see LITA’s Library Privacy Checklist for Public Access Computers and Networks and Cybersecurity Best Practices from Census Counts.

With just weeks to go before the Census begins, ALA’s tip sheet can help your staff prepare. For additional resources about libraries and the 2020 Census, visit