Around the Island

Suffolk Library Winnebago promotes Census on Shelter Island

Although you might hardly know it from the crowds — children and adults who visited the Suffolk Libraries Empower Discovery (SLED) Winnebago parked outside the Shelter Island Library Friday — the main thrust of its visits to area libraries is to push the upcoming U.S. Census. 

It’s not that no one had an interest in the census with some planning to sign up for what they hope will be part-time jobs, but what wooed the crowds was the technology in the van. It was enough to make any technocrat want to take immediate possession of the bus and park it permanently on his or her own property.

But what brought so many people to visit the SLED Friday was a combination of factors. Adults wanted to know whether it would replace their beloved library. The answer is no; it will augment the library’s services. They also wondered if it was just a fancy bookmobile.

Well, it’s that too, but with so much more.

Students, particularly teenage girls, came to see Mr. Zutter, the man they’ve missed since he transferred from his job on Shelter Island to the Suffolk County Cooperative Library System. And younger children also came to see Mr. Zutter to engage him in computer games as they did when he was the children’s librarian on the Island.

What did they see once there?

Start with the outside of the 38-foot Winnebago. A 60-inch screen appears to deliver information about the bus, the census and the future ways local libraries will have to adapt the vehicle to local use.

In warm weather, there are awnings on the outside to protect viewers from the sun’s glare. And unseen until people get inside the bus are solar panels on the roof that provide power to a number of orange-colored electrical outlets.

Huddling outside the Suffolk Libraries Empowering Discovery Winnebago in frigid weather last Friday were (from left) Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., Deputy Town Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams and Supervisor Gerry Siller. They arrived in time for the ribbon cutting, marking the initial visit for the vehicle to one of 48 scheduled stops at county libraries. (Credit: Julie Lane)

Several iPads are plugged into the outlets along with cords to charge other electronic equipment. Inside, too, are large 50-inch screens that enable videos and games to appear and a green screen is mounted on the ceiling, familiar to most for their ability to show maps and weather information on television and to provide backgrounds for movies to create real or imagined locations.

There’s a printer that enables immediate 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch pictures, an audiovisual system, the ability to scroll messages outside the unit and even pop-up ebooks provided through Baker & Taylor.

What’s more, the Winnebago is designed so the layout inside can be changed to provide seats, a table and various other amenities or to open up the space to less furniture and more people.

The initial year of use is without cost as the Winnebago was paid for through reserve funds in the Suffolk County Cooperative Library System budget, Mr. Zutter said.

What fees might be charged in the future is too early to determine, he said.

The Winnebago is meant to enhance local library services and can be designed to feature special events. Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas has suggested bringing it to one of the summer farmers markets and to the annual November Turkey Plunge.

After only a few weeks of beginning to book appearances at various Suffolk County libraries, Mr. Zutter said he already has 48 bookings. There’s likely to be plenty of competition for scheduling use of the SLED given there are 60 libraries in the county.

Younger students were thrilled to see Mr. Zutter and quick to find electronic games that held their attention throughout their visit on Friday afternoon. (Credit: Julie Lane)

But about that census. Mr. Zutter wants people to know there are some factors that should encourage their participation:

• Census data determine how many seats each district gets in the House of Representatives. Undercutting the actual numbers means less representation and less of a voice in congressional decisions.

• Census data help to determine the availability of grant funds from the federal government and money that goes to states and counties from the feds.

• While statistics are available, individual responses to the census are not released for 70 years after a census is taken so any concerns anyone might have about their individual responses being used to hurt them can’t happen. The law prohibits census data from being released to any other government agency than the United States Census Bureau.

• Census data can help to determine where to build factories, provide offices and locate stores, all of which create jobs.

• Real estate developers use data to determine where to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods.

For the first time, the 2020 census is being done primarily online. Households will receive information in March and be asked to respond online, by telephone or by mail. Only after April 1 are you likely to be contacted by a census taker in person if no data for your household have been received.

Full information on how the census is being conducted and critical dates are available at