ALA releases new Libraries' Guide to the 2020 Census

For Immediate Release
Wed, 05/15/2019


Shawnda Hines

Asst. Director, Communications

ALA Public Policy & Advocacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today the American Library Association released the Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, a new resource to prepare libraries for the decennial count of every person living in the United States.

“Next year, when people begin to receive mail asking them to complete the census, we know that many of them will have questions about it. ALA’s new Guide is to make sure library workers have answers,” said ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo. “Working to ensure a fair, accurate, and inclusive census aligns with our professional values and the needs of the diverse communities we serve.”

The U.S. census is required by the Constitution and determines congressional representation; district boundaries for federal, state, and local offices; and allocation of more than $800 billion annually in federal funding to states and localities, such as grants under the Library Services and Technology Act. Libraries across the country provide access to a plethora of statistical data published by the U.S. Census Bureau and help businesses, government agencies, community organizations and researchers find and use the information.

With support from ALA’s 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force, ALA teamed with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to develop the Guide, which includes:

  • basic information about the census process;

  • highlights of new components in the 2020 Census, such as the online response option;

  • frequently asked questions;

  • a timeline of key Census dates;

  • contact information and links to additional resources.

"Every day, library staff connect people with statistical information compiled by the Census Bureau,” said ALA Census Task Force Chair and Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library Deputy Director Tracy Strobel. “Libraries can help make sure that data is accurate by supporting a complete and inclusive count of all people in our communities.”

Public libraries are uniquely positioned to reach groups designated by the Census Bureau as “hard-to-count” because libraries serve everyone in their communities. Traditionally undercounted populations include young children, people of color, linguistic minorities and people experiencing homelessness. The undercounting of these groups can undermine their political power and reduce access to crucial public and private resources in the communities where they live. According to a City University of New York Graduate Center analysis, 99 percent of hard-to-count areas are located within five miles of a public library.

"We only have one shot every 10 years to get this right,” Strobel said. “I encourage library staff across the country to read the Guide and be fully prepared to meet this demand. The ALA Census Task Force is committed to supporting libraries in this critical national effort.”

In addition to the 18-page guide, ALA will continue to add resources to for library practitioners in the months leading up to Census Day on April 1, 2020. A panel of experts will discuss the Guide and census topics in a session at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibits on Sunday, June 23, at 9 a.m. in room 145B of the Washington Convention Center.

To download the Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census and subscribe to ALA’s 2020 Census newsletter, visit ALA’s 2020 Census web page,, which also contains links to ALA policy statements about the census and primary data sources.