2020 Census + Internet Archive = Democracy

2020 has been a wild year for all of us. I think we all looked forward to such an interesting-sounding year, and knew, at the onset of a new decade, additional importance would inherently be attached: a US presidential election, the Olympics, the sheer joy of having numerical continuity to lean on. For those who follow the machinations of the US government closely, we also knew there was a census scheduled to occur, the once-a-decade effort by the US Census Bureau to accurately quantify the population of the United States. This valiant effort is instrumental in providing data that drives important decisions, from the amount of federal funding districts get for schools, hospitals, and other services, to the number of seats each state will have in the House of Representatives.

It is critically important to have an accurate count to drive these decisions. At the Internet Archive, we understood that importance and wanted to help. Late in 2019, we were contacted by representatives from the US Census Bureau inquiring to utilize our Headquarters to train workers for the census count — enumerators, as they’re called. We heartily responded with a yes. When our founder, Brewster Kahle, chose this building as our Headquarters, it was in part to be able to support civic measures such as this.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a massive wrench into these plans. From our initial conversations, we had pegged late March 2020 as the time to commence the training, which unfortunately coincided with the global shutdown to quell the spread of the virus. So many conflicting emotions colored those days early in the pandemic — fear, uncertainty — but with respect to this commitment we’d made to help, we couldn’t help but feel for the organizers of the census. Many of them are volunteers, many of them in higher-risk categories for this virus and now faced an immensely more difficult challenge. They were now asked to train workers and collect data during this very difficult time, all with the goal of attaining an accurate count. So we kept the lines of communication open, checking every week or so to see how their plans were developing, and continued to offer our support.

Eventually, as the calendar shifted from spring to summer, we settled on a plan and some dates — having groups of eight enumerators be trained in shifts over the course of the first week in August. For those unfamiliar with our Headquarters in San Francisco, we are fortunate to have a 600-person auditorium we refer to as the Great Room, which was well-suited to conduct this safely. It has large windows and doors that are able to remain open, large fans circulating the air, and a separate entrance for folks to come and go.

All told, 40 people were trained to help conduct the census in and around San Francisco. We had hoped to help to a larger extent, but such is life in 2020. It’s hard to tell how much of an impact this had, but we hope it helped, and it remains important to us to support these often unseen but critical aspects of how a community and a society functions.

Hopefully, we’ll all be around in 2030 the next time the census rolls around and we can further assist this effort. To learn more about the census, follow the link below, and be sure to thank a census worker if you run across one.