This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. Credit: Michelle R. Smith | AP

MARS HILL, Maine — The American Library Association has awarded the WTA Hansen Memorial Library in Mars Hill a $2,000 grant for census work, making it the only library in Maine to receive one.

Hansen Memorial will use the funds to help residents of Mars Hill, Blaine and Bridgewater self-report information for the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.

The ALA provided the Library Census Equity Grant to 59 libraries nationwide. The ALA offers the reward to bolster libraries’ efforts to connect historically undercounted communities to the 2020 U.S. Census.

An ALA representative said that Hansen Memorial was one of two libraries from Maine that applied for the grant. They said the low rate of internet access across Mars Hill and surrounding communities made supporting the library fit ALA’s goal of establishing a “complete count” in the census.

Led by co-librarian Parker Smith, and with assistance from co-librarian Amber Wood, Hansen Library staff will use the grant to place several electronic devices in the three communities from March to April. Wood also plans to operate a “census-mobile” from her Honda HR-V that she will use to register those across the community, with a focus on those who are elderly and low income and without access to the internet.

Smith and Wood said that while they had not yet ironed out the details, the plan was to place ThinkPad tablets in gathering centers across each of the towns, including churches, community centers and government offices. They will also help visitors to the library fill out the census forms.

Smith said that while he was not sure why his library was the only one chosen in Maine, he said it could be because the library serves three distinct communities over a large but sparsely populated area.

“They might be interested in finding out that maybe there are more people up here than they actually know about,” Wood said. “It’s hard sometimes in a community like this to know who is here and who isn’t.”

Previous census data estimated that across the 2,829 people in the Mars Hill-Blaine-Bridgewater area, 12.6 percent are below the poverty line, which is 0.8 percent more than the U.S. average; and about 26 percent are older than 60 years old, which is 4.7 percent higher than the U.S. average.

Smith said that the ability to purchase laptops was a “boon” for his library, as they will be able to keep the electronics at the library long after the census ends. He said while many libraries need more funding, grants and donations are especially beneficial to small libraries such as his.

“Our operating budget is pretty small,” Smith said. “This amount of money coming in for us to help the community is not an insignificant amount.”

More than 500 libraries applied to receive the grant, meaning the acceptance rate was 12 percent or lower.

“The 2020 Census will determine how political representation and critical resources are distributed for the next 10 years, and libraries are essential partners in making sure the data collected as part of the Census is complete and accurate,” ALA President Wanda Brown said.

Both librarians said the grant and their census work are in line with the goals of their library: to be beacons for the community.

“We try not to just be a building full of books,” Smith said. “Sometimes they need books — they need literacy. And sometimes they need help with people knowing that they are there.”