or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Tax Season Should Be Fun This Year

   January 15th, 2015 Brian Herzog

tax bobbleheadBy now, hopefully you've heard what the IRS will be providing to libraries this year in the way of tax products. If not, here's the email TFOP libraries received last week:

TFOP Filing Season Update

While we had committed to waiting until next year to making changes to the Tax Forms Outlet Program, the situation has changed. As you may be aware, IRS appropriations were significantly cut in the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill recently passed by Congress. Unfortunately this puts us in a position where we have very few options. We want to honor our commitment to you by providing some key products, but we cannot deliver nearly what we have in the past.

For this filing season, we will offer the following products:

  • Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ
  • Publication 17, one reference copy for each participant (Taxpayers will be able to access Publication 17 in English and Spanish online from irs.gov/Pub17 and, new this year, it will also be available as a free e-Pub for downloading from IRS.gov and viewing on most e-Readers and other mobile devices.)
  • Publication 4604 (EN/SP), Use the Web for IRS Tax Products & Information
  • Publication 1132, Reproducible Copies of Federal Tax Forms and Instructions
  • The TFOP Poster Package which includes:
    • Publication 1169, Need Tax Help?
    • Publication 1258, Where Should I Send This?
    • Publication 1309, Tax Forms This Way Publication
    • Publication 1725, If The Form Fits...Use It!

No additional products will be available through the TFOP Program. We will not be sending Form 8635-S, Supplement to Form 8635.

We will fill orders for Forms 1040 and 1040A with the quantities you requested on your order form earlier this year. Because Form 1040EZ was not on this year's order form, we will send you 75% of your Form 1040 A order quantity. For example, if you ordered 3000 Form 1040 A, we will send you 2250 Form 1040EZ. It is not necessary for you to place an order for Form 1040EZ; we will automatically ship Form 1040EZ to you once the form becomes available.

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer Instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ. Your patrons can obtain copies of Instructions through:

  • IRS.gov/Forms - to view and download
  • IRS.gov/orderforms - to order tax products to be delivered by mail
  • 1-800-829-3676 - to order tax products to be delivered by mail

The decision to reduce the number of tax products available to our TFOP partners was not made lightly. We realize this decision is not ideal and we understand it may impact you and your customers. Please offer Publication 4604 (EN/SP) to your patrons to help guide them to tax products and information available on IRS.gov. We apologize for these late program changes.

Thank you for your support,
IRS TFOP Administrator

Which really is terrible news for libraries and patrons - patrons because so many people have relied on easily picking up tax forms at their local library, and libraries because we'll be spending a lot of time apologizing for the IRS to those many irate patrons.

But we can get through this. Libraries near me have been sharing ideas on how to handle these changes. Here's what we'll be doing:

  • Printing a sign to explain the situation to people - basically, to say that these are all the tax forms we have and that's all we're getting
  • Have a handout ready with the URL and phone number above for where people can request forms be mailed to them. My first draft [pdf] looks like this:
  • Used the order form website myself to get two copies of the instruction booklets so the library will have reference copies
  • Printed copies of the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ instruction to make circulating copies in three-ring binders for patrons. We're starting with two of each, and will print more as demand increases (because it's a lot of printing). They'll circulate for one week, and we'll allow patrons to place local holds too
  • Continue with our "first copy free" policy of printing tax forms for patrons. In the past this has just been for the oddball form here and there, but this year we expect to be printing a lot more*. Although for us, this free copy only applies to forms, not instructions - hopefully the circulating copies or reference copies for photocopying will meet that need
  • Make available the IRS' reproducible tax form binder, so patrons can photocopy whatever forms they need
  • We may end up pre-printing a lot of the more common schedules and other forms, just to save the patron's (and staff's) time of having to print-on-demand. But again, this is something we're going to wait and see what demand is like and respond accordingly

So, that's our current plan. I'd really like to hear what other libraries are doing, so if you've got a great idea that will help this tax season, please share in the comments.

Good luck.


*I had briefly thought about trying to record all our printing, so get a ballpark figure of how much the IRS' budget cut is costing my library. I hate the idea of shifting costs like that (like when the movie theater hands you an empty cup instead of paying someone to fill it for you! They've just shifted that cost onto their customer. Savages.), but decided that it's probably not worth the cost of our staff tracking, because we'd never use that information for anything anyway. But I'd still be curious to know.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/14/13

   April 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This week I have almost nothing to say. First, everyone here has been focused on the bombings in Boston and the ensuing manhunt, which thankfully ended with an arrest Friday night. Secondly, this week was also school vacation week in Massachusetts, which always makes for a slow time at the Reference Desk.

No Tax SignAs a result, the most notable question of the week was actually the lack of a particular question. Friday, April 19th, was the first day since January that not one person asked me for tax forms. Now that is a milestone worth celebrating.

Hopefully next week things will return to normal, and I'll get back on track with library stuff - and put away our tax form display for another year.

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IRS Accounting Thoroughness

   March 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog

I know the IRS prides itself on keeping track of assets, but it makes me laugh every time I see the packing lists that come in tax forms shipments from the IRS:

IRS packing lists

The first line on the top packing list (1 Z Shrink Wrap) accounts for the shrink wrap used to seal the forms, and the first line on the lower list (1 E 182 W) accounts for the one Envelope used. Now that is some fine-tuned accounting, and I can appreciate that.

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Reference Question of the Week – 2/3/13

   February 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Oscar the GrouchEarlier this week I mentioned something I really like about working in libraries. For the reference question this week, I'm going to talk about something I don't like about my job:ambiguity.

And, fair warning: the next few paragraphs are just me whining, so feel free to skip to the question at the end.

This week was kind of a perfect storm of annoyances for me, if you'll pardon the pun. First, it's tax season. Second, I don't know if this made the news outside of New England, but we got a bit of a storm Friday and Saturday. Most of the questions this week dealt with one of these topics.

First, the tax stuff
Tax forms were late this year, which always brings out the worst in people. When we finally started getting the ones people wanted and put them out for the public, people were happy - until they noticed we didn't have all the forms and instructions they wanted.

Now, libraries don't create the tax forms, and we have no input into the publication schedule - we just help distribute them. We put out what we can, and for the ones we know we're missing, like the 1040 Instructions, we put up a sign saying something like "1040 Instructions have not arrived yet."

Of course this prompts people to ask when they'll arrive. We have no idea. They don't know we don't know, but also rarely seem to take "we don't know" for an answer. It's a no-win situation, and one I hate to be in - I hate it when "I don't know" is really the best thing I can tell someone. It has been especially bad this year.

Second, the snow storm
This storm was predicted to be a big one, starting early on Friday and lasting into Saturday night. It was supposed to be so big, in fact, that about noon on Friday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick issued an executive order closing all the roads in the state at 4pm, with a $500 fine if you were caught out after that. So, yeah, serious.

All schools in the area were closed on Friday, and most libraries closed at noon - but not us. The way things work in my town is that it's the Town Manager's call, and his philosophy is to keep public facilities open as long as conditions allow. When we do close early, we usually only get an hour or two notice.

This can cause a bit of a problem, because while most libraries announced their early closing on Thursday, Friday at noon we were still telling patrons, "sorry, we don't know how long we'll be open." It was frustrating, because the phone was ringing constantly with people asking, "hey, are you open?" and, "are you closing early?" and, again, the best we could tell them was "we don't know."

This demoralized staff, but was also frustrating for patrons - road conditions were deteriorating, and they had to weigh if it was worth it to drive to the library to get books and DVDs for the upcoming snow-bound weekend. But then not even knowing if we'd be open once they got here was understandably irritating.

Now the question
One question I dread every winter is the "how much snow fell on X date?" We get similar weather-related questions throughout the year, but snowfall is always the toughest. The problem is there is no good local resource that provides the data the patrons want, so the best we can do is cobble together what we can find and let them draw their own conclusions.

This time, someone asked me how much snow fell on two different days in January, because the plow guy she uses billed her for $60 for plowing 4" on January 16th and $40 for 1" on the 29th. Something seemed off to her, so she wanted to double-check to make sure that's how much snow was on her driveway on those days.

Now that is hyper-local, and it's just tough. My favorite historical weather resource, which I've talked about before, is NOAA's snow data files, and they have snowfall and snow depth by month. The closest NOAA monitoring station is only the next town over, which is pretty good, but it's still far enough away to not be able to conclusively say what happened in her driveway on those days.

The other resource I've found that's good for this type of question is Accuweather's past weather table. This is great because it easily lets you scroll backward in time, and shows snowfall in addition to precipitation (most weather resources just show precipitation, which is why snowfall is more difficult than rainfall).

But a problem with consulting multiple resources is when, as in this case, the numbers don't match up. Accuweather's amounts different from NOAA's, which are themselves different from the plow guy's amounts. Not enough to dispute the bill, which I think is all this patron is looking for really. But I include this on my list of "ambiguity annoyances" because I don't like it when I can't find a solid answer for someone. I know it's the nature of research, but still - frustrating.

Anyway, in this particular case, the patron also slightly annoyed that the plow guy charged her for plowing an inch of snow - but, wisely, she decided she wasn't going to say anything to him until after the major storm this weekend.

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You May See An Increase In Patrons

   October 14th, 2010 Brian Herzog

IRS logoI'm sure everyone has heard that the IRS is not going to be mailing 2010 tax forms to peoples' homes next year.

I don't blame them for looking for ways to save money, and it's good to be moving towards more efficient processes. But this isn't exactly a gentle nudge - this is a sharp push, which will be especially painful to people without internet access or few computer skills.

This also means, of course, that libraries will see even more demand for tax forms next year (and probably hear from many annoyed patrons). To warn us, the IRS sent out the following email through their Tax Form Outlet Program - forgive me if you've seen this, but the bold line below was too priceless not to share:



Thank you for your participation in TFOP. The IRS announced that individual[1] and business[2] taxpayers will no longer receive paper income tax packages in the mail from the IRS. These tax packages contained the forms, schedules and instructions for filing a paper income tax return. The IRS is taking this step because of the continued growth in electronic filing and the availability of free
options to taxpayers, as well as to help reduce costs.

There are numerous FREE OPTIONS available for your patrons to obtain tax products, tax preparation and assistance in filing their tax returns:

  • Download Forms and instructions online[3] at IRS.gov
  • Visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC)[4], participating libraries and U. S. Post Offices
  • Individuals making $49,000 or less can use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance[5] program for free tax preparation and, in many cases, free electronic filing
  • Individuals aged 60 and older can take advantage of free tax counseling and basic income tax preparation through Tax Counseling for the Elderly[6]
  • IRS Free File[7] provides options for free brand-name tax software or online fillable forms plus free electronic filing. For more information, visit IRS Free File[8] on IRS.gov


Although tax products are available online[9] at IRS.gov and IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs)[10], you may experience an increase in patrons visiting your location for tax products.

The IRS mailed postcards[11] to individuals who filed paper returns last year and did not use a tax preparer or tax software. The postcard provides information on how to get the tax forms and instructions they need for filing their tax year 2010 return.


Your TFOP order form lists the most commonly used tax products. Use the order form to order additional stock of any of these products, if necessary. Your order form lists Publication 1132, /Reproducible Copies of Federal Tax Forms and Instructions/ and Publication 3194, /Reproducible Copies of Federal Tax Forms /- Laminated Version. These publications contain the most commonly used tax products that, if available, can be photocopied by your patrons. Tax products will become available beginning January 2011.

Thank you.

IRS TFOP Administrator

I think "you may see an increase in patrons" is a bit of an understatement.

So to prepare, I'll be making signs to put up near the tax forms explaining the situation, and will also try to get the local newspaper to run a notification article or two before tax season starts. I will also quote to them from the CNN article:

Those who prefer hardcopy documents can still find them at libraries, post offices and walk-in IRS offices around the country. After Jan. 1, they can request a mailing through the IRS toll-free number, 800-829-3676.

Yes, it should be a fun one this year.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/12/10

   September 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

April 15 - Time is Running OutEarlier this week, a patron walked up and asked if we had any tax forms. I showed him where we keep the leftovers from last tax season, and told him anything he couldn't find there we could print from the IRS and state websites.

He looked at the forms for a few seconds, then turned to me and said,

No, I want the new forms for this year, so I can get an early start on them.

I feel the need to reemphasize that this happened this week, specifically on September 14th (eight months and one day early!). Being asked for tax forms in December and January always seemed early, but September?

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