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Census 2020 for New York Libraries: For Public Librarians


Why is taking the census important?

Taking the census is important because the data obtained is used to:

  • Determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College;
  • Redistrict boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts;
  •  Make decisions about how and where to spend more than $800 billion dollars in federal money, each year, for programs and services that communities rely on including but not limited to:
    • Schools
    • Infrastructure such as roads
    • Neighborhood revitalization
    • Public safety/emergency preparedness
    • Economic development

Can census responses be shared with law enforcement or other government agencies?

 NO!  Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of personally identifiable information provided in census responses, including citizen status.  Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau or any of its employees from sharing personally identifiable information with other government agencies.  Census employees take a lifetime oath to protect census responses, with severe penalties for violations.  The law prohibits personally identifiable information collected by the Census Bureau from being used against respondents by any government agency or court. 

What should someone do if they receive an e-mail or text by someone claiming to be with the Census Bureau or if they have a question/ concern about the authenticity of someone purporting to be an official Census Bureau employee?

A:   Call the New York Regional Office: (212) 584-3400  -or-  1-800-991-2520  -or-  TDD (212) 478-4793.

How can someone identify an official Census Bureau employee in person or over the phone? 

Census workers must present an identification badge (ID) that includes their photo, the U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date. Another way to verify is to contact Census Questionnaire Assistance OR enter the name into the Census Bureau Staff Search at: OR contact the New York Regional Office at the numbers above.

How are people counted in the census?

The census questionnaire will ask questions about all the people who live and sleep in a household most of the time – including babies and anyone who has no other permanent place to stay and is staying in the household – as of April 1, 2020.  Only one (1) census form will be completed for each HOUSEHOLD.  Everyone living in the household will need to be listed on the ONE form. 

How will the census be taken?

80% of households will be asked to complete the census online using a unique code; 20% of households will receive a paper questionnaire.  All households will also receive information on how to take the census via telephone. 

Is the Census Bureau’s online system secure?

YES!  The Census Bureau has taken significant steps to protect online responses.  All information entered online is encrypted as soon as the respondent hits “submit.”

Q:   What about the public access computers at the Public Library, are they secure? 

Your library should have public access computers that are maintained with the latest software and patches for virus protection. In the lead-up to census day, work with your IT department to ensure that the library has industry standard encryption for connection to websites such as  When someone uses a public access computer, all traces of their use should be automatically removed when they log off of the computer.

Can someone respond to the online census using their personal smartphone or tablet? 

YES!  The online form will be optimized to allow people to respond on a smartphone or tablet.

Does the census have to be taken online?

NO!  Respondents may take the census online, by using a paper questionnaire or by phone.  The phone number will be listed in the mailings. 

Will Census Questionnaire Assistance be available in languages other than English?

YES!  Census Questionnaire Assistance will also be available in 12 additional languages: Arabic, Chinese [Simplified], French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.  Mandarin and Cantonese may also be available.  People will also be able use their Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) when calling.

What if another language is needed?

A:   The Census Bureau is providing language guides in 59 non-English languages.  The language guides cannot be used to respond to the census, but can help respondents fill out the actual form in English. These languages include: Albanian, American Sign Language, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Chinese, Creole, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Gujarati, Greek, Haitian, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong,, Hungarian Igbo, Ilocano, Indonesia, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Marathi, Navajo, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tigrinya, Turkish, Twi, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Yiddish, Yoruba. They are published on the Census website here.

What about assistance for the visually impaired?

Language guides will be available in American Sign Language, Braille and large print. 

What is new in the Household Relationship question in the 2020 Census?

For the first time, the census offers a way for the person filling out the form to indicate a same-sex relationship with another household member.  This change is expected to improve national statistics on same-sex couples. 

How long will it take to fill out the census?

Although the time it takes to complete the census may vary with the size of a household, the Census Bureau estimates it will take about 10 minutes [to complete the questionnaire].

What happens if a person misses a question? 

The Census Bureau strongly encourages respondents to answer every question for every person in the household, but will allow submission of incomplete questionnaires.  Census Bureau staff may follow up on incomplete submissions.  

What happens if the census form is not completed online or via telephone?

Several reminder letters will be sent to the household.  If a (self-response) form is not completed – online or via telephone, the final reminder will be sent with a paper questionnaire. 

And if the paper questionnaire is not returned?

After May 2020 the household may receive a phone call or an in-person visit from a Census Bureau employee. This is being called the “FOLLOW-UP” period.  Households can continue to self-respond online, via telephone or paper questionnaire during the “FOLLOW-UP period.”

Do's and Don'ts

DO’S and DON’TS for Library Staff when assisting with Census 2020

These policies have been adapted from Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's Complete Count Committee, and are here as general guidelines. If you are in doubt, please check with your library or library system to confirm that they match your local policy. If you are creating a policy, you are welcome to adapt these for your library.


  • Do familiarize yourself with the timeline of the 2020 Census
  • Do familiarize yourself with and have an understanding of your library system's Complete Count Committee work.
  • Do celebrate Census Day – April 1, 2020
  • Do create Census “Sessions” with dates/times when staff is available to assist groups in completing the Census questionnaire
  • Do take information regarding the Library’s public access computers and Census information with you to outreach programs/visits, etc.
  • Do work with partner agencies – particularly those who assist immigrant/ refugee and other non-English speaking communities to help facilitate completion of the Census
  • Do encourage partner organizations to bring clientele to the library to use library computers to complete the Census
  • Do explain WHY taking the Census is REQUIRED:
    • It is the law.
    • There is a penalty for not completing the form.
  • Do explain WHY taking the Census is IMPORTANT and USES of Census data:
    • EVERYONE counts (including children!)
    • Representation in government
    • Redistricting congressional and state legislative districts
    • Public safety and emergency preparedness
    • Educational funding INCLUDING LIBRARIES
    • Economic and residential development
  • Do explain data is CONFIDENTIAL
    • By law and under extreme penalty, data cannot be shared – not with immigration enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies or ANYONE.
    • Data cannot be used to determine eligibility for government benefits
  • Do explain how the 2020 Census can be completed – online, via telephone, via enumerator (paper questionnaires will be sent to “hard to reach areas” or if other mechanisms are not used)
  • Do assist patrons in locating the online Census information and data portal
    • It is OK to enter URL for patrons, or set the browser home page to the census page.
  • Do provide the telephone number of the 2020 Census telephone data portal
    • It is OK to dial telephone number
  • Do provide the telephone number to the assistance line for non-English speakers
    • It is OK to dial telephone number for patrons
    • It is OK to select connection to a language assister – IF it is clear what language is being requested
  • Do explain that the online Census questionnaire is available in English and other non-English languages.
  • Do provide 2020 Census Language Guides (Guide) if another language is needed
    • It is OK to select a Guide – IF it is clear what language is being requested
    • NOTE: The Census Bureau is providing Language Guides in 59 non-English languages.  The Language Guides cannot be used to respond to the Census, but can help respondents fill out the actual form in English.
  • Do explain that a paper Census questionnaire is available in English and Spanish;
  • Do ALWAYS USE COMMON SENSE – Ask YOUR library’s 2020 CENSUS LEADER if you have any questions. 


  • Don’t try to coerce reluctant patrons to take the census or discourage the taking of the Census – do provide facts about the census to help patrons make their own choices.
  • Don’t express your personal opinion about the Census or any of the Census questions during work hours or when representing your library.
  • Don’t complete anyone’s Census but your own
  • Don’t interpret Census questions
  • Don’t translate Census information or questions UNLESS you are fluent in the language
  • Don’t say “I can’t help you” – rather ask questions for clarification (think reference interview), seek answers, provide guidance to and other Census helplines.

Public-Facing Websites

Many libraries are hosting web pages to share census information with their patrons. We are listing a few here and adding more as we hear about them. Check these out for ideas for your own website!


This guide was made in conjunction with Buffalo & Eire County Public Library's Complete Count Committee and is based on their documentation.

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065