You Matter! Make Sure You Count!

Access, Advocacy

By: guest contributor Kristin Anderson & Lisa Hoover, Intellectual Freedom Round Table members

Probably everyone knows by now that the 2020 Census is coming up! The census is required under Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution once per decade to count the population of the United States. 

Census data is used to determine how many congressional seats each state has and distribution of funding for community needs like transportation and placement of new facilities like hospitals. Census data is also critical to research endeavors throughout the United States. 

Changes to this year’s census 

In 2020, the census is going online. The idea is to help increase self-response, but as librarians we understand the special challenges this may create for some of our patrons. 

According to, the government also plans to use existing government data to answer some questions without requiring in-person follow up, as well as automating some operations to reduce staff time. 

Kristin’s Experience

Filling out a survey form.

I had the honor of being a census worker for a special census in my college town.  The town had decided to do a special census since college students were not counted in the initial census, and they made up a good portion of the town’s population when school was in session.  

I found the whole thing endlessly interesting.  The census workers had several days of training where we learned the hows and whys of what we were doing.  We learned fun words like enumerators (that was us!) and respondents. We received official documentation to make sure community members knew we were part of the official census.  

Since this was a special census, not every question that is normally on the regular census was present.  They were just interested in race, gender, and number of occupants. Even with this shortened census, it was a taxing amount of work to canvass several city neighborhoods, and to fill in and secure everyone’s answers.

As a census worker, it was my job to walk from door-to-door in my assigned sections of the town to try to get residents to fill out the census survey.  There would be the occasional person who would refuse, or say they were already counted elsewhere, or question why some information was needed.  

And remember: Your answers on the census are completely confidential!  The surveys are sealed and are only used for statistical purposes. Since the census will be online this time ‘round, it will be interesting to see how it will all unfold.

What we can do

I doubt we need to convince many librarians of the importance of the census. Given the ties to Congressional representation and funding, the census is critical for all libraries and our patrons. Public libraries may be the only internet access some of our patrons have, which may be critical with this year’s census being conducted primarily online. For academic libraries, we can play an important role in making sure our students are properly counted; says college students “living away from their parental home while attending college in the US” should be counted at the on or off-campus residence “where they live and sleep more of the time.”

Regardless of library type, we can focus on providing access, particularly safe access, by helping our patrons make sure they are accessing the correct website.  

For more ideas on how your library can help with the census, visit the American Library Association’s 2020 Census page. Help make sure your patrons’ voices are counted this census.

Composed by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Publications & Communications Committee. Follow us on Twitter @IFRT_ALA.

Lisa Hoover

Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora and Nyx and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.

Kristin Anderson

Kristin Anderson is the Public Services Librarian at Lewis University in Romeoville, IL.  Throughout her library career she has worked in both public and academic libraries. She is very passionate about intellectual freedom, and wants to make sure that everyone has the chance to have access to whatever they desire to learn.  Kristin lives with her family and two cats Mina and Lrrr in the western suburbs of Chicago.

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians; serves as a channel of communications on intellectual freedom matters; promotes a greater opportunity for involvement among the members of the ALA in defense of intellectual freedom; promotes a greater feeling of responsibility in the implementation of ALA policies on intellectual freedom. 

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