This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. Panelists include Jeff Behler, Regional Director of the US Census Bureau; Jay Brandon, Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships Manager at The New York Public Library; Dana Hysell Alongi, Census Coordinator for the Westchester Library System ; Amy Mikel, Manager of Civic Engagement at The Brooklyn Public Library; and Nayelli Valencia Turrent, Census Supervisor at Queens Public Library.

Every ten years, the United States conducts a Census report that shapes how the federal government allocates funding for social programs that are imperative to our infrastructure, including public education, hospital funding, and affordable housing. 

In response to Covid-19, the U.S. Census Bureau requested statutory relief from Congress from the original deadline for their report from December 31st, 2020  to April 30th 2021. The pandemic has drastically shifted Complete Count timelines. For example, door-to-door visits scheduled to begin in mid-May are now set to start on August 11th. Self-response was supposed to conclude by the end of the July, and that date has been pushed to October 31st. The Census Bureau is hoping that ideally most will self respond by August. 

During the time of this webinar, the national response rate was 59.6%. New York State’s response rate was 54.2% with New York City coming in at  just over 50%. Through these statistics, we can see that, despite the challenges of being unable to gather and give people the tools to respond in person, the public is still submitting their census reports.

Libraries are vested in Complete Count efforts because the results of the census will directly impact the communities and patron base that each library serves. “We are cornerstones of our communities and we want to play a role in the continued health of those communities. We know that we have a role to play in sharing the importance of the census,” Amy Mikel says. 

In order to do this, our panelists acknowledged the need to repeat census-related information numerous times, in addition to the advertisements throughout the city. However, being unable to access the library space due to Covid is challenging for many; often,hard-to-count communities rely on library services for access to the internet and other vital resources. 

Adjusting complete count efforts during shelter-in-place restrictions  has required a bit of creativity and a grassroots approach. Our panelists shared ideas for updating complete count efforts, including working with vendors and partners, mentioning the census while networking, and attaching information in your email signature. All four libraries have also used social media and usings posts and hashtags to get the word out. In addition, our panelists found it critical to mention the census in virtual programming for any age as well. 

Westchester Library System has been hosting weekly census chats to connect with representatives from all of the member libraries to discuss strategies. This led to DJ Census nights of Facebook Live where 2000+ people attended. Queens Public Library is developing a direct mail campaign to target hard-to-count communities and putting posters and flyers around those neighborhoods.

The Census Bureau itself is working with schools and community-based organizations that provide meals and groceries to hand out flyers that advertise the census. They are also working with food delivery organizations, gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential services to spread the information about the census.

This health crisis has magnified the need for everyone to be counted. It is more important than ever to consider everyone in our communities and fill out your census form. 

We thank each of our panelists for their insights and hard work during this crucial time. 

Learn more about the census here: How to Respond to the 2020 Census | The State of New York

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