Saturday, January 31, 2015

What They Don't Teach You in Library School: Tax Forms

As anyone who has gone through a master's program in library (and information) science knows, the degree focuses a lot on theory rather than practicum.  Don't get me wrong, an MLS or MLIS is highly valuable, especially if you're in cataloging/technical services.  Or, if you're unfamiliar with services and reading materials for a particular age group, I definitely recommend taking a course for that age.  The syllabus for a class on children's or young adult literature will be a treasure trove of modern and classic books.

For everything else, there are real-life experiences.

You'll never have a class on how the IRS provides the general public with free tax forms at libraries, for example.  Or all the problems that come with it.

Every year, starting in January (and somewhat in December, for the over-zealous taxpayers), you'll get questions about where the tax forms are, and why aren't they in yet.  This will be in person and over the phone.  And you'll just have to be sympathetic with vague answers for a while, because the IRS will never keep you informed as to when they're sending out the forms you requested back in July.

If it's like last year, you might hear eventually, either from the IRS or on a library list-serv, that tax forms are delayed because of massive changes to the tax laws.  And then you'll be waiting into February, with patrons and non-patrons alike breathing down the back of your neck on a daily basis, wondering if they'll get tax forms in time to file.

Or you could have a disaster like this year.  The Internal Revenue Service's budget got cut.  So what did the IRS cut out of its budget?  Nearly all those tax forms people are waiting for.  Brilliant.

You'll get the 1040, the 1040A, and the 1040EZ, as well as Publication 17 (the tax guide) and the reproducible package, if you ordered it.

You won't get any of the instruction booklets for the 1040 forms.  You won't get any of the supplemental forms, not even the 8965, for Health Care Exemptions.

You are going to either have to help people find the forms they want online and print them off, or help them make copies once the reproducible sheets arrive.  And that, of course, will cost them money, because most libraries do charge for printing.  No one is going to be happy about the idea of printing off the more than 100-page document for 1040 (regular) instructions.

Prepare for complaints, as you've never had before.

Which brings me to my anecdote on the subject.  (Swearing ahead.)

Last week, none of the tax forms were in yet, though we had heard that the Michigan forms would be on their way be February 6, and the 1040A and 1040EZ should be shipping soon.  I was considering putting up a sign stating this.

A man I hadn't seen before came in.  (You get a lot of unfamiliar faces at tax time.)  He asked for tax forms, grumbling about needing the form for the stupid Obamacare stuff.

I explained that the forms weren't in yet.  A bit of conversation occurred, about when they would be in.

And I made the mistake of saying that many of the forms wouldn't be sent this year, and that people would have to print them off.  I was about to suggest that he contact his legislators, when he reacted.

He didn't just get angry.

"FUCK OBAMA!" he roared, and tore out the door, attempting to slam it behind him.  Thankfully, a wide-eyed young man was right behind him, and he caught the door and eased it shut.  I think the windows above the door might have shattered otherwise.

My coworker in the billing office stared at the man as he stormed out the doors of the city hall building, then looked back at me.  I shrugged helplessly.

The janitor also raced up, mop in hand.  Bless his heart, I think he would have walloped the guy if he'd given me any additional grief about the tax forms.

"So, uh, do you have any tax forms?" the young man asked, after he'd quietly closed the door.

"Ask him," I said with a little laugh, pointing out the door.

I quickly put together a sign about how tax forms were coming soon, and complaints could be directed to our Congressman and Senators (with their phone numbers).

I also wrote to them via their web sites myself, urging them to get the IRS to send libraries before one of us poor librarians gets hurt.  Because seriously, if someone in my nice little town can get that worked up over tax forms, what's going to happen in a big city?

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