Granting Libraries’ Census Wishes

ALA grant program boosts census outreach efforts

March 13, 2020

Census 2020 paperwork

In December, ALA announced 59 recipients of the Library Census Equity Fund mini-grant, a $2,000 award that will allow libraries to further their outreach efforts, plan more public programming, and purchase technology to help reach hard-to-count populations in their communities.

Libraries in five states explain how they plan to put their grants to work in the coming months during the census response period.

Expanding accessibility

Census tract 406 in downtown Dothan, Alabama, is one of the hardest-to-count areas in the country, with a response rate of about 66% in 2010. Nearly half of residents do not have internet access at home.

This year, working with multicounty task force 2020 Census Coalition and local media organizations, Dothan Houston County Library System hopes to raise awareness of the census and push the response rate up to at least 73%, with a stretch goal of 90%, according to Terah Harris, deputy director and census chairperson.

The library plans to buy two new computers to be designated for census use only. After the enumeration period, the computers will be added to the regular pool of public-access computers at the library.

“We are hoping to especially reach children under the age of five, people without homes, transient individuals, and low-income residents,” Harris says. “Within those populations, we are particularly interested in assisting senior citizens that might need help with computer usage.”

Bridging the language gap

Finney County (Kans.) Public Library (FCPL) in Garden City is using grant funds to combat language barriers. More than 30 languages are spoken at Garden City High School, in a community of just under 40,000 residents. Funds will be used to hire translators for census education events and procure two census-specific iPads.

“When you have such a diverse community population it is harder to reach everybody because of language and cultural barriers,” says FCPL Director Pamela Tuller. “But because of these funds we’re able to breach some of those barriers and show them that this is not only important, it’s also safe.”

“We’ve been able to find translators from different communities who have really helped make people more comfortable,” says Erendira Jimenez-Gonzalez, adult services coordinator at FCPL​. “At these events we’re able to explain the census and answer people’s questions. A lot of people have been worried,” she says, adding that government mistrust is widespread among residents who are refugees or whose immigration status may be unclear.

The library is planning informational events, presented in both English and Spanish, through March and April, plus a Census Day party with food and activities for children while caregivers complete the census.

Campus buzz

College students pose a particular challenge in census outreach efforts, as young people and renters or people who move frequently are already vulnerable to undercounting. E. H. Butler Library at SUNY Buffalo (N.Y.) State College will put its grant funds toward a Census Help Desk staffed by students at the library and campus events. It has also created an on-campus Complete Count Committee.

Many students who attend the university live in off-campus housing in Buffalo’s West Side neighborhood, an ethnically and linguistically diverse area, according to Aurora Schul Schunk, assistant director of civic and community engagement at the college.

“We want to make sure that our off-campus students aren’t forgotten in the census,” Schunk says. “About 60% of enrolled students reside off campus, so our challenge is engaging them while they are on campus and sending clear information regarding how they should respond to the census.”

Census night at the casino

Angela Fasana, education department manager for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, has one goal for her reservation’s library and the census: “Simply put, we want to be counted.”

Together with the Confederated Tribes’ Census Committee, the Grand Ronde Tribal Library will host outreach events at its own facility and at Spirit Mountain Casino, with the goal of engaging casino employees and residents of both the reservation and its surrounding rural areas, where internet access is often limited or nonexistent.

Grant funds helped the library purchase iPads designated specifically for patrons filling out census questionnaires, whether at the library or offsite events, and offer snacks and refreshments.

“We understand the importance of these numbers for not only our tribe but for all of Indian country,” Fasana says. “With accurate accounting of Native populations, as well as our surrounding community, we hope to clearly demonstrate the needs of our people and leverage support and services with a clearer focus.”

Silent dance parties

To inject an element of fun into its census outreach efforts this spring, Chattanooga (Tenn.) Public Library (CPL) will host “silent discos”—dance parties where attendees are encouraged to pop in their headphones and boogie to the tune of their choice. The events, to be held at different locations across the city, will bring people to learn about how the census works and how it helps the community.

Working with Chattanooga State Community College, Book Fiesta (a local children’s literacy event), and UnoXUno, its internal immigrant outreach team, CPL aims to reach a broad cross-section of the community, with a focus on seniors, African Africans, and the Latinx community.

At each disco, library staff will teach attendees about the census and encourage them to complete it. The library has also held a census information event for children, and it’s planning an afternoon of census-related games for adults.


Spanish-language census marketing materials used by Waukegan (Ill.) Public Library. Photo: Waukegan (Ill.) Public Library

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