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Census 2020 for New York Libraries: 2020 Census: The Basics

We still need to get the word out!

Results from a recent Pew Research Study (see the chart below)

Most Adults Aware of the 2020 Census and are Ready to Respond, but Don't Know Key Details.

Find more current data on the US Census from the Pew Research Center, from studies on the impact of the Hispanic population to college students and others "on the move."

Timeline of Key Census Activities

  • January 2020 - Census Questionnaire Assistance will be available to answer general questions about the census from mid-January through early September 2020, However, the self-response period for the telephone option will run from mid-March through the end of July.
  • February 2020 - The Census Bureau wil contact administrators of group quarters (military barracks, college dorms, prosins, and skilled nursing homes, amng others) in advance of the enumeration of these locations, which will occur in April.
  • March 12, 2020 - The internet self-response periods will start as households begin to receive invitations to respond, either through the mail or hand-delivered to households in many rural and remote areas. Households may continue to self-respond through July 31.
  • March 30, 2020 - Service-Based Enumeration (SBE) will begin. This three-day/night enumeration occurs at shelter, locations that provide services for people experiencing homelessness, and targeted outdoor locations where people experiencing homelessness sleep. 
  • April 1, 2020 - Census Day! Respondents do not have to wait until April 1 to respond but should include everyone who will be a "usual resident" on April 1. If people aren't sure, they can wait until April 1 to respond. 
  • April 2020 - Group quarters will be counted during April.
  • May 13, 2020 - Nonresponsive Follow-up (NRFU) will begin. During NRFU, the Census Bureau will follow up with households that did not self-respond to the census by sending reminders and/or visiting in person. NRFU will continue through July. (In communities with large numbers of off-campus college students, NRFU will begin on April 9, to reach students before the academic term ends.)   

2020 Census: The Basics

The following text is from page 5 of ALA's Guide to the 2020 Census. The United States Constitution requires a count every 10 years of every person who is residing in the U.S., regardless of immigration status or citizenship. The Census Bureau's goal for the 2020 Census is to "count everyone once, only once, and in the right place." Here are the basic steps in the process:

Step One - Update the address list 

The Census Bureau maintains a list of every housing unit in the United States. A housing unit is a house, apartment, condominium, trailer, or other place where people might live. The Census bureau started updating its list for the 2020 Census in 2015, adding new houses and apartment buildings that have been built and removing houses and apartment buildings that were demolished or converted to non-residential uses since the 2010 Census.

Step 2 - Solicit responses

Beginning March 12, 2020, the Census Bureau will mail census materials to 95% of homes. Eighty percent (80%) of those homes will receive a letter inviting them to respond to the census online using a unique code. The other 20% (where internet access may be limited) will receive the same letter plus a paper questionnaire. All households also will receive information about how to answer the census by telephone. April 1 is Census Day, although most households will receive their materials before then and may respond prior to that date.

Step 3 - Collect responses 

Respondents will submit one census form listing everyone who lives in their household. Respondents may complete the questionnaire for their household online, by using a paper questionnaire, or by phone (by calling Census Questionnaire Assistance, which will be available from mid-January to early September 2020). Some households without traditional mailing addresses will be counted by Census Bureau employees in person. 

Step 4 - Follow up 

Households will receive several reminder letters from the Census Bureau if they do not self-respond. The final mailed reminder will include a paper questionnaire. If a household does not complete the questionnaire after receiving mailed reminders, beginning in May 2020 they may receive a phone call or an in-person visit from a Census Bureau employee. Households can continue to self-respond online, using a paper questionnaire, or by phone during the follow up period. 

Step 5 - Analyze and disseminate 

The Census Bureau will release population totals and other publicly-available data beginning in early 2021. 


From the Bureau

This is an interactive version of the questionnaire, which includes a step-by-step guide to the process and an explanation of the reason behind each of the questions.


The Census is Hiring!

The Census Bureau will be hiring 500,000 temporary employees across the country to help carry out the 2020 Census count, including census takers, office staff, recruiting assistants, and supervisory staff.

To help your patrons who may be looking for work, ALA has published this guide: How Can My Library Increase Awareness of 2020 Census Training?

All jobs are listed at

Census Bureau Regional Offices

New York Regional Office

Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Vermont
(212)584-3400 or 1-800-992-3530
TDD: (212)478-4793

Atlanta Regional Office

Serving Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina
(404)730-3832 or 1-800-424-6974
TDD: (404)730-3963

Chicago Regional Office

Serving Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin
9630)288-9200 or 1-800-865-6384
TDD: (708)562-1791

Denver Regional Office

Serving Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming
(720)962-3700 or 1-800-852-6159
TDD: (303)969-6767

Los Angeles Regional Office

Serving Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
(818)267-1700 or 1-800-992-3530
TDD: (818)904-6249

Philadelphia Regional Office

Serving Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia
(215)717-1800 or 1-800-262-4236
TDD: (215)717-0894

We're the Census Bureau

From a January 2020 Study

Many are hazy on basic facts, but say they will participate in the 2020 census

Preview of the 2020 Census Video

The best look we have so far of what the online census will look like from the user end.

Risks and Pitfalls

Fight misinformation, disinformation, and scams

An accurate and complete count is essential to proper representation and funding. That being said, there risks and unknowns about the digital census. They include:

  • Privacy concerns around sharing personally identifying information with the government.
  • Unknown risk about how collected data will be managed.
  • Risks that scammers will create spoof census websites that will either collect data or lead people to mistakenly believe they already took the census.
  • Misinformation about what questions will be asked and how the data will be used.
  • Chronic under funding, both on the federal and state level.
  • Liability issues around creating a space for the community to take the census.

These risks are real, and are things librarians should be aware of as we establish policies and best practices on our sites.

Many people may have questions or concerns about the 2020 Census. As a trusted source of information in our communities, library staff are well-positioned to make sure people receive accurate information. Be wary of “fake news” that appears to drum up fear, opposition, or even apathy.

Librarians can also help members of their communities recognize and avoid spam and phishing attempts online that may try to collect personal information for nefarious purposes. Share safety tips from the Census Bureau where appropriate.

The Bureau has launched a dedicated web page to address rumors and false information and encourages partners to report anything suspicious to

The Census Bureau will not email or text people, and it will not ask for a bank or credit card number, Social Security Number, or payment or donation. If a person is unsure about the authenticity of someone purporting to be a Census Bureau employee, or if they suspect fraud, they can call the Regional Census Center for their state.

Note - there is no census app! The only option to respond to the Census is

For more information, see: Avoiding 2020 Census Fraud and Scams

Differential Privacy

Georgetown Law’s Factsheet on Differential Privacy

Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality released a new Factsheet on Differential Privacy in the 2020 Census. As you may know, the Census Bureau is modernizing how it protects the confidentiality of census responses, and confidentiality protections for the 2020 Census relies on “differential privacy” (or “formal privacy”). Differential privacy allows the bureau to provide robust and measurable confidentiality protections against the evolving challenges presented by advances in computer science and the growing availability of personal information online and from commercial providers. Read more.

The first preview of the online form

In this video, we see a demonstration of what the online form will look like as demonstrated by the Census Bureau at a meeting. Start at 1:55:00 to see the demonstration.


Information contained in this subject guide was adapted from the American Library Association publication Libraries' Guide to the 2020 Census, and  

This LibGuide was adapted from a template created by the library of the University of Maine. Thank you!

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Phone: (845) 883-9065