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Gearing up for the 2020 Census

In the warp speed of politics, 2020 can seem light years away. But current policy discussions and outreach planning for the United States 2020 Census could have significant impacts for libraries. ALA is working to ensure that libraries are informed and represented in the process.

photo of US Census Bureau building
U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Md.  

The decennial count of all U.S. residents is a long tradition: required by the U.S. Constitution to determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College, the Census also is key to the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding to states and localities and to the production of widely-used datasets. However, each decade brings new innovations and challenges. In 2020, the Census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. Like past e-government efforts, this likely will place additional demands on library staff and technology resources to assist people in participating in the Census online or via another method of their choosing. It 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 has begun engaging with the Census Bureau and other stakeholders, which to date has included:

  • Exploring a relationship with the U.S. Census Bureau to support education and information sharing with libraries nationwide;
  • Joining coalition efforts led by the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights to advocate for a fair and accurate Census; and
  • Engaging member leaders at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting and Public Library Association conference to gather questions and recommendations for future action, as well as make connections to support Census activities like the current test of operations underway in Providence County, Rhode Island.

These activities also have included advocacy in support of a fair and accurate Census. In January, ALA joined a coalition letter opposing proposals to add a new and untested question to the 2020 Census asking about the respondent’s citizenship. The letter noted concerns that adding such a question would “disrupt preparations” and “jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census.” Unfortunately, on March 26 Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that he was directing the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question despite these concerns. ALA will continue to work with coalition partners to address this issue, including advocacy with Congress to call for oversight hearings.

Regardless of how the issue is resolved, however, the Census will take place in 2020 – and libraries will be impacted. ALA will work to provide library staff with timely information and resources to help them meet these demands, in line with ALA’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

We invite you to share your experiences with past Censuses and thoughts for the future in comments here or directly to Gavin Baker ( and Larra Clark (

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


  1. Sally Tornow Sally Tornow

    I am also concerned that census language will eliminate LGBTQ headed families as an entity and as ‘married.’

  2. […] In a blog post this week on the ALA Washington Office’s District Dispatch, ALA’s Larra Clark noted that the ALA back in January joined a coalition letter opposing the inclusion of a citizenship question, noting that the question would “disrupt preparations” and “jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census.” […]

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