Census Central!

Story provided by City of Stillwater

This spring, the public library is Stillwater’s “Census Central” for anyone who needs help with Census 2020.

Working in conjunction with “Payne County Complete Count,” the Stillwater Public Library staff will be answering questions about the census process and will provide access to technology so that community members can fill out the census online.

The library was awarded two grants to help with the project.

“We are very excited to have been given the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) grant for the “Everyone Counts” initiative and another grant from the American Library Association’s (ALA) Census Equity Fund,” said Stacy DeLano, library director. “Both grants were offered to help libraries like ours complete projects that encourage people who traditionally are undercounted to fill out their forms.”

The library was one of 59 libraries out of over 500 applicants to receive the ALA funds. It was the only library in Oklahoma to be named to the project.

Funds will be used to purchase tablets and phones that librarians will take out into the community for people to use in completing their forms.

“We have many wonderful partners throughout the community who have invited us to visit their locations so that we can tell people about the census, answer questions, and provide devices that can be used to fill out the forms,” DeLano said. “We’ll be heading to places like Our Daily Bread, St. Francis Catholic Church, Stillwater Mosque and Islamic Center, community meal centers, and many other locations.”

A schedule of the outreach locations and dates will be released at the beginning of February. Organizations and even retailers who would like to schedule a Census Outreach event can do so by contacting DeLano. 

Beyond the many outreach visits being made, librarians will also offer several in-library services.

“We want to help our neighbors by providing everything they need for a quick and easy experience, especially when that experience occurs in the library,” DeLano said. 

From March 23 to April 15, the library will suspend many computer use rules so that anyone who comes in with their Census 2020 postcard can use a computer to fill out the form, regardless of whether they have a card or fees. 

In addition, librarians will hold two open lab programs with computers and touchscreen laptops available for census completion. Phones will be on-hand for those who prefer to complete the forms that way. Additional sessions will be provided if turn-out is high.

“We aren’t allowed to fill out the form for our patrons, but we will be on-hand to deal with technology issues, to answer general census questions, or to just lend some moral support,” DeLano said.

In its role as “Census Central,” the library will also accept Census 2020 questions in person, by phone, social media, or email. Librarians spent the past fall studying census webinars and handbooks to prepare in answering most questions about the census process. Community members with questions can start sending in questions now by contacting the Help Desk at 405.372.3633 x8106 or [email protected].

DeLano also encourages community members to visit the Payne County Complete Count website at http://www.paynecountycensus.org

“My favorite portions of that site include the sections on fighting 2020 Census rumors,” DeLano said. “I want our community to operate under facts. That is what my job as a librarian is all about making sure you have the facts. And the fact is that the census is safe. It is secure and the information is not used for nefarious purposes. As a librarian, I would much rather you be concerned about the vast amount of private information you release while you are shopping and browsing online. I do not have those concerns with the census.” 

DeLano also says that by giving into false rumors and myths, community members unintentionally end up limiting the services they depend upon and use every day.

“Another great part of the ‘Payne County Complete Count’ page is the section on why counting every single citizen matters,” DeLano said. “Thousands and thousands of dollars are going to other communities and to other states when we do not get counted.

“At a class this fall, I learned that if our community had reached a census count of 50,000 in 2010, we could have provided our community with library internet access at a speed five times faster than what I can provide you right now. And it would have been free. That is just one very small difference that getting a complete count makes.”

Beginning March 12, community members will begin receiving mailed invitations to fill out the census. The mailings will be staggered, so not everyone will receive the invitation online. In areas with limited internet accessibility, residents may receive a paper form to complete, but anyone who prefers to fill out a paper form rather than an online one can request one. Librarians can assist with making that request.

Library outreach and in-library activities will last through the end of April. DeLano hopes the “Census Central” initiative jump-starts an even bigger one.

“For the library, our end goal is to provide a very positive government experience for our community members,” DeLano said. “I really love the name of the IMLS grant, ‘Everybody Counts.’ I think it is common for citizens to drop out of civic engagement because they feel like they aren’t being heard. Through our census initiatives, we hope everyone begins to understand that every single one of us counts, and not just for the census. We hope this will encourage people to keep engaging with all levels of government.”

For more information about “Census Central,” contact the Help desk, as listed above, or visit the library webpage at library.stillwater.org.   

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St. (the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.).