Area libraries helping with 2020 Census

Patterson Library director Tom Vitale talks with Shannon Smythe, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Westfield, at a recent event. Photo by David Prenatt.

The United States Census is here again, but don’t worry, your local library can help.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States says that “an enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such a manner as they shall by law direct,” . . . and the time has arrived for that enumeration.

The census will officially begin on April 1. While the thought of a census might conjure images of people going door-to-door, technology can help citizens avoid that experience. A census package will be mailed to each household. People can return their response by mail or online. Those who do not respond will receive a visit from a census taker.

If you are unsure how to file your response or don’t have a computer, don’t worry. Help is as close as your local library. The Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, as well as libraries throughout New York, will help people across the state to fully participate in the 2020 census.

Library personnel will remind patrons of important dates, answer questions about the census, provide computers and Wi-Fi for access to the census web site, and offer a day for local residents to learn about jobs with the bureau.

Library directors, such as Melissa Froah of the Alexander Findley Library in Findley Lake and Tom Vitale from the Patterson Library in Westfield have attended training sessions, make plans for census day on April 1 and post reminders on social media.

“The training will clarify my role as director, let me know what needs to be done and help us get set up so one of our computers can be available for people who need to get on the web site,” Froah said.

Vitale said library personnel can help guide people who come to complete their census. “We’re here to act as a resource for the community,” he said. “We’re not going to fill in the information for people. We are here to help people and guide them in filing their census information.”

Patterson Library has 16 computers that have a direct link to the United States Census Bureau, Patterson said.

The library will also have a kiosk with a computer dedicated solely to filing census information, he said.

“Obviously, we want see as many people as possible to take advantage of all the resources we have in the library,” Vitale said. “But they can use the kiosk if they just want to get in and get out after filing their census.”

The census bureau is allowing people to file online for ease and comfort. However, using the library computers ensures a safe link for submitting personal information, Vitale said.

“There are a lot of scammers who will be trying to collect people’s information through false sites set up to look like the census bureau,” he said. “Our computers offer a direct link, so if that makes people feel more secure, then by all means, they can come here.”

Vitale noted that, since the census bureau allows people to file by telephone, the library has also set up a secondary phone line for people to use.

Froah said the Findley Lake library had an event on January 25 which was “like a little job fair.” A representative was at the library to help people apply for jobs and to answer questions about becoming a census taker. “They are hiring census takers for door to door contact,” she said.

Vitale said that Patterson library has hosted two “job fairs” of this sort as well. One in December was to acquaint people with the census process as a worker. The second one in January was designed so that people could meet a recruiter and received help with applying for employment.

Throughout the history of the country, the data obtained from the census has become increasingly important. Census figures are used to determine the distribution of federal funds, to forecast future transportation and housing needs and to analyze trends in population shift.

The data is also used to redraw the boundaries of federal, state and local legislative districts, to draw school district boundaries and to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives.

Not only have the results of the census become increasingly consequential, but the collection of the data has evolved through the decades. As mandated in the Constitution, the first enumeration began in August, 1790, slightly more than a year after Washington was sworn in as the first president.

Every household was visited and people were recorded in one of six categories: Head of household, free white male of 16 years or more, free white male under 16, free white female, other person (with description of sex and color) or slave. The results indicated that the population of the United States at that time was 3,929,214.

US Marshalls conducted the 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1820 counts, supplying paper and writing in the six headings. In 1830, Congress called for the printing of uniform schedules for use throughout the country. It was over a century later, in 1940, that questionnaires were introduced, both to count the population and to collect housing data.

Enumerations in the following decades used questionnaires which were mailed to households or completed during a visit from a US census employee. The 2010 Census had just one questionnaire consisting of ten questions, and revealed that the population of the United States had grown to 308,700,000 people.


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