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Reference Question of the Week – 3/21/10

   March 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

2010 censusThis was a challenging question, because it took place over the course of a week and because I kept getting conflicting information.

On a Thursday, my Director asked me where we were keeping our 2010 Federal Census forms. Town Hall had been referring people who to us for a new form after they made a mistake or destroyed the one they received in the mail. I told her we hadn't gotten any Census forms, but I'd look into it.

On the 2010 Census website, I didn't see anywhere to download or request blank forms, so I found their Contact Us page and called our local office (but oddly, the regional offices have since been removed from their contact page). The woman I spoke with there said there will be no generic blank forms people can pick up. She said every Census form has a personalized barcode on it, so if anyone makes a mistake and needs a new form, they have to contact the closest Census Call Center to request a new barcoded form - but that information wouldn't be on the website until Monday.

I emailed Town Hall with this information, and they forwarded back the email that they received saying these forms are available at the library (emphasis mine):

> From: [email protected]
> Sent: Friday, March 19, 2010 9:07 AM
> Subject: RE: Census form
> Hello,
> Before calling to request a form, we ask that you wait until April 12 to allow
> sufficient time for the questionnaire to be delivered to your address. If you
> still have not received your form by April 12, then you may contact one of
> our 2010 Census Toll‐free help lines.
> o English: 1‐866‐872‐6868
> o Chinese: 1‐866‐935‐2010
> o Korean: 1‐866‐955‐2010
> o Russian: 1‐866‐965‐2010
> o Spanish: 1‐866‐928‐2010
> o Vietnamese: 1‐866‐945‐2010
> o TDD (Telephone Display Device for the hearing impaired): 1‐866‐783‐2010
> o Puerto Rico (in English): 1‐866‐939‐2010
> o Puerto Rico (in Spanish): 1‐866‐929‐2010
> You can also complete a Be Counted questionnaire if you have not received
> your form. Beginning March 19 through April 19, Be Counted
> questionnaires will be available in public locations, such as libraries
> within your community and at Questionnaire Assistance Centers where census
> workers will be available to answer questions. Beginning March 18, these
> locations will be posted on 2010Census.gov.
> Direct link: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/
> Thank you

The Direct Link wasn't yet working, so I looked around the Census website and found another reference to these "Be Counted" forms on their Questions You May Have page under the question "Is there another way to get the form other than the mail?" When I searched the internet for that phrase, I found a Census faq [pdf] from the Missouri State Government that stated,

The Be Counted program makes census forms available in many different public locations in areas that have been historically undercounted by the census. These locations include community centers, health clinics, convenience stores, churches, businesses and other.

Okay, within that context, the information started to make sense. Chelmsford is a fairly typical upper-middle-class small town, and the residents probably are not "historically undercounted by the census." I emailed other librarians in my consortium, and sure enough, a couple libraries in large cities with significant immigrant, migrant or homeless populations had received these forms.

I tried the http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/ link again the following week, and this time it listed the Questionnaire Assistance Centers - and as expected, they were clustered in larger cities.

Just to verify I had everything correct now, I called the main Telephone Questionnaire Assistance phone number (866-872-6868). When I finally got a live person* she gave me this summary:

  • everyone gets mailed a census form at their house, and these have
    personalized barcodes on them
  • there are public assistance centers throughout the country, which do have blank Be Counted forms (as well as scheduled times census workers will be available to answer questions). A map of these sites is available at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/ - if you're not already one
    of these sites, you can't get any blank forms to pass out
  • if someone needs a form, they can either use the map to find a location to pick one up in person, or else call the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance listed at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/contact/index.php (different numbers for different languages)
  • participating in the Census is required by law: Title 13 > Chapter 7 > Subchapter II > § 221 (also). Anyone who destroys or ignores their Census forms because they feel it's an invasion of their privacy will be visited at home by Census workers to answer the Census questions in person (privacy info and video)

All very interesting. And since I spent a lot of time on the Census website, here's a few of the pages I found most useful:


*The menu system at this number is kind of annoying, but I learned that you can say "operator" at any point to circumvent the system and speak to a live person.

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