Getting Ready for the 2020 Census

Updates to 2020 Census information: 

Letters will begin arriving in the mail March 12 across the country inviting people to self-respond to the census. Depending on how likely your area is to respond online, you’ll receive either an invitation encouraging you to respond online or an invitation along with a paper questionnaire. In areas where 20 percent or more of the households need Spanish assistance, the invitations will be in both English and Spanish.

There are three essential resources from ALA:

  1. ALA’s two-page tip sheet focused on how people may self-respond (online, by phone, by mail or in-person with an enumerator)
  2. The complete Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, which includes FAQs on pages 13-15 and Census Bureau contacts and resources on pages 16-17.
  3. ALA’s complete 2020 Census resource page, which includes links to archived webinars, Census Bureau documents and resources, and a host of related materials.

Throughout our webinars and programs, most the of the questions we’ve received from library staff can be answered using the above resources.

Library staff also can reach Census Bureau staff with any questions at 844-330-2020 (English-language). Individuals may also use this number to complete the Census for their household, and phone support is available in 12 other languages (see p. 17 of the language guide in the second link above). Because the number can be used for self-response, there is a fair bit introductory information on the line; you can press 0 to get to a representative more quickly. The phone line will be open 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. EDT, seven days a week.

The online self-response portal opens March 12 at

Libraries cannot print the questionnaire for people who choose to respond by mail. Paper questionnaires will be mailed April 8-16 to every household that has not yet responded to the census. In-person follow-up will begin in mid-May.

As a final note, the work libraries and community partners are doing to support a complete count across the nation is one significant example of the work we do every day. Because the 2020 census data is essential to political representation and allocation of more than $1 trillion EACH YEAR in federal funds, it also provides an advocacy opportunity to make library roles more visible to public officials at all levels of government.


Why the Census is Important

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. To best position libraries to support our communities in the 2020 Census, ALA is engaging with the Census Bureau and other stakeholders to ensure that libraries are informed and represented in the policy discussions and planning process. ALA is advocating for a fair, accurate, and inclusive Census that recognizes the roles libraries will play in this vital civic effort.

  • Representation: The decennial count of all U.S. residents is required by the U.S. Constitution to determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College (known as reapportionment). This data is also the basis for drawing districts for federal, state, and local offices (known as redistricting).
  • Funding: The Census is key to the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding to states and localities (such as grants to states under the Library Services and Technology Act).
  • Information: Data resulting from the Census is widely used by researchers, governments, businesses, and other organizations (to, for example, plan for library services).


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.
  • 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.


Advocacy for a Fair, Accurate, and Inclusive Census


Learn More


2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force

To advise ALA’s efforts on the 2020 Census, ALA convened a 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force. Their charge is: "To advise the association on conducting outreach and education to inform library staff about potential impacts—particularly for public libraries—that may arise from the 2020 Census, gathering information from library colleagues about expected impacts and needs, and collaborating with the Census Bureau and other decision makers to best meet the needs of libraries and support an accurate Census."

The 2020 Census Outreach and Education Task Force consists of 10-15 members, appointed by the chair of the Washington Office's Advisory Committee and the PLA President-Elect, drawn from the membership at large, serving one two-year term and led by two co-chairs. The roster includes:

  • Erin Ackerman, R. Barbara Gitenstein Library, The College of New Jersey
  • Tom Adamich, Visiting Librarian Service
  • Patricia Ball, Cobb County (GA) Public Library System
  • Susan Hildreth, Aspen Fellow
  • Nate Hill, Metropolitan New York Library Council
  • Martha Hutzel, Central Rappahannock (VA) Regional Library
  • Jeremy Johannesen, New York Library Association
  • Sarah Kostelecky, College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences, University of New Mexico
  • Karen Mellor, Rhode Island Office of Library & Information Services
  • Janet O’Keefe, Flint (MI) Public Library
  • Ramiro Salazar, San Antonio (TX) Public Library
  • Jennie Stapp, Montana State Library
  • Tracy Strobel, Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library
  • Cecilia Tovar, Santa Monica (CA) Public Library
  • Kelvin Watson, Broward County (FL) Libraries Division


Staff Contact Information

Larra Clark
Deputy Director, Public Policy & Advocacy
[email protected]

Gavin Baker
Assistant Director, Public Policy & Advocacy
[email protected]

Information courtesy of the ALA