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Government by the Numbers – the US Census

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“Get Ready for the Census Taker,” Dearborn Independent (Dearborn, MI), January 03, 1920, p. 10.

Data gathering for the 2020 Census, also known as the decennial census, looks a little different from the first census nearly 230 years ago. Since 1790, the United States has been collecting census information about the people living here – it’s even mandated in the US Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.

“Census of the Inhabitants of Massachusetts as taken by the Marshall of that District.” Gazette of the United-States (New York, NY), February 12, 1791, p. 737.
“Shape your future. START HERE.” 2020 Census Homepage, accessed September 8, 2020.

This year, the population of the US will primarily provide responses online, or via phone or mail in an effort to protect the thousands of Census Bureau employees and the public health during the COVID-19 global health pandemic while still collecting this essential data.

“UNCLE SAM’S NEW ARMY,” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), January 23, 1910, p.3.

Though the methods have changed slightly over the years – the importance of participating in the Census has not. In fact, it is just as essential as ever to participate – Census data shapes US Congressional districts, federal funding for education, highways, and libraries, and many many other areas of your community for the next 10 years!

“Questions the Census Takers Will Ask You,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), August 11, 1929, p.9.
“THEY RANG 45 MILLION DOORBELLS,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 10, 1951, This Week Magazine section, p. 22.

Eventually the anonymized data will become part of the Library of Congress’ permanent collections through our webarchives, our depository library collection, and through the hundreds of thousands of books, journal and newspaper articles, reports, studies, and other items that are written and researched using Census data. And will be used for decades to come.

The Serial & Government Publications Division is home to the Library’s government documents collections, including US Census Bureau publications. Have questions about the Census? Get in touch with us through our Ask-a-Librarian Service – or through chat Monday-Friday from 12-4pm!

Here’s a look at a few more Census related items from the Library’s collections:

“United States Census, 1791, Census Calculations, 1791 and 1801,” The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.
“Rank of States and Territories in Population at Each Census: 1790 – 1890,” Statistical Atlas of the United States, Based upon the Results of the Eleventh Census, Washington, Govt. print. off.,  (Washington, DC), 1898. Geography and Map Division.
Willcox, Walter F. Census Statistics of the Negro: A Paper. 1904.
African American Pamphlet Collection (Library of Congress).

United States. Bureau of the Census. District of Columbia Census Tracts. Washington: The Bureau, [1935]. Geography and Map Division.
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