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


Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/15

   April 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

IRS scam alertWorking at a Reference Desk isn't all about funny misunderstandings. Sometimes it's very serious, as this week's question shows. However, two things about this question:

  1. It actually happened last week morning of April 15th
  2. Wednesdays are my late shift, so I only heard about how my coworkers handled this when I came in at 1pm - but they did everything right and I thought it was worth sharing

Apparently, an older female patron came up to the desk and asked for help scanning and emailing something. One of the desk staff showed her how to get started scanning, and went back to the desk. A few minutes later, the patron came back over and asked for help emailing. After a short conversation, when the patron found out the scanner can't email things itself but instead she needs to send it from her own email account - which she didn't have - she put her head down on the table and said,

You just don't understand, you don't understand how serious this is, I'm going to be arrested!

Everyone knows library staff are not supposed to ask why when helping patrons, but they rightly did in this case.

It had been all over news outlets this tax season how there was a new kind of scam: you'd get a phone call and the person would say they were the IRS and you needed to send them money or else you'd be arrested. That was exactly what was happening with this patron - she had just deposited her money in an account in the bank across the street (which was not her bank), and had come to the library to scan and email the deposit slip to "the IRS" so they could withdraw it.

Thank goodness our staff caught on. The patron had a hard time believing she was being scammed, but staff insisted. They brought her into the office so she could sit down relax, and staff called the Police. When the officer arrived, he listened to the situation, and then left with the patron to go over to the bank.

As far as I know, we never heard back about what happened, but it sounds like the situation was derailed in time - at least, I sincerely hope so. And, there are two other comments about this interaction:

  1. My coworker who was helping the woman said the patron's cell phone kept ringing the entire time, and it was the scammer! I guess he knew he was close to getting his money, so he kept calling to find out why she hadn't sent the email yet. Finally my coworker took the woman's phone and told the scammer that they knew what was going on and exactly what she thought of him. I'm sorry I missed that.
  2. Since this was all happening in the public area, and the woman was clearly in distress, of course it caught the attention of all the other patrons in the area. As it unfolded and everyone realized she was being taken by a scammer, other patrons sitting at the computers nearby starting chiming in with their own comments - ranging from advice to criticism on her being dangerously gullible. Now that is almost as pathetic as scamming the elderly out of money.

Anyway, the whole situation seemed to be handled perfectly by the staff, so way to go to them.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/29/15

   April 4th, 2015 Brian Herzog

2015irswhenwilliThis was an extremely timely question - and one I even personally benefited from.

A patron came to the desk and asked if he could find out if the IRS had mailed him his tax refund check yet. This year has been notorious for longer-than-usual waits for everything from the IRS, but he said he'd mailed in his paper tax returns over a month ago and in past years the IRS has had pretty quick turnaround on refunds.

Coincidentally, I also do my taxes with paper forms, and mailed them in just about a month ago, and likewise have not received my refund check yet. So this patron made me realize I had the same question he did - although I didn't know it until he came in.

Anyway, a rather tongue-in-cheek search for has my tax return been processed led us to the IRS' 2015 Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions, which in turn lead us to the appropriately-named Where's My Refund website.

On this site you have to enter your social security number, your filing status, and your exact refund amount, and it then tells you where your return stands. The patron didn't know his refund amount, but this was clearly the right tool for the job, so he wrote down the URL, thanked me, and left.

When I got home that night, I entered my own information (and although the URL is https://sa.www4.irs.gov, I still felt uncomfortable entering it online - I'm paranoid!), and was happy to see this:

2015 I.R.S. refund status

I said this was a very timely post, because I learned that my check was mailed on the very day I looked it up. So yay for that to look forward to - and also yay for discovering a tool I think might become somewhat popular in the next few weeks. And while I'm handing out the yays, yay to the IRS for making this tool available, easy to use, and very clear. I know they're being roundly maligned this tax season, but not all of it is deserved, and here's proof.



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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:
    taxforms-bymail
  • 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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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:

IRS TFOP ALERT: NO IRS TAX PACKAGES
10/01/2010

TO TAX FORMS OUTLET PROGRAM (TFOP) PARTICIPANTS:

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

YOU MAY SEE AN INCREASE IN PATRONS

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.

ASSISTING YOUR PATRONS

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 – 12/30/07

   January 5th, 2008 Brian Herzog

2007 1040 InstructionsBy far, this was the most frequently-asked question this week:

Hey, you got any tax forms yet?

Why yes, we do.

Since last year's display worked so well, I did the same thing again. We've been receiving tax forms since about November, but my library just got big ones last week - the 1040s, Publication 17, and the State forms.

I don't know if there is any hard and fast rule as to when libraries can put out tax forms, but since patrons have asked me about ten times every hour all week, I decided today was the day.

Also like last year, as part of our tax assistance offerings, we plan to have an AARP Tax-Aide volunteer again, but that hasn't been scheduled yet. Better him giving tax advice than library staff.

I guess the only surprise this year was the fancy new cover for the 1040 instruction booklets. It certainly looks nice, but I wonder how many thousands of tax dollars went into designing and producing that.

Happy tax season to all.

form, forms, irs, libraries, library, public, tax, tax forms, taxes



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/2/07

   December 8th, 2007 Brian Herzog

IRS logoThis reference question is a bit self-serving, but...

A patron called my library's Director and said she wanted to donate money to the library. However, she said she could only donate to 501(c)(3) organizations.

My library is a department of the Town's municipal government, and has a trust fund, but our Board of Trustees had voted not to apply for 501(c)(3) status, as it is a tremendous amount of paperwork.

So, my Director asked me to find some kind of documentation stating that this patron could in fact donate the money to the library, and still write it off as a donation.

The first thing I tried was a Google search of the IRS website for "municipal donation site:irs.gov." Among the matches were the IRS' Publication 17 [pdf], Your Federal Income Tax, and their Publication 526 [pdf], Charitable Contributions.

In Pub 526 (page 2), I found the following to answer the question (emphasis added):

...You can deduct your contributions only if you make them to a qualified organization...

Types of Qualified Organizations
Generally, only the five following types of organizations can be qualified organizations.

1. A community chest, corporation, trust, fund, or foundation organized or created in or under the laws of the United States, any state, the District of Columbia, or any possession of the United States (including Puerto Rico). It must be organized and operated only for one or more of the following purposes.

  • Religious.
  • Charitable.
  • Educational.
  • Scientific.
  • Literary.
  • The prevention of cruelty to children or animals...

Even though that seemed to qualify us for the donation, I wanted to find a more definite answer. We still have a reference copy from of Pub 17 from last tax season, so I consulted that and found on page 150:

Deductible As Charitable Contributions
Money or property you give to:

  • ...
  • Federal, state, and local governments, if contribution is solely for public purposes (for example, a gift to reduce the public debt)
  • ...

Okay, "local government...for public purposes" - that's pretty clear. I still maintain that librarians should never give tax advice, but I copied that and gave it to my Director.

And since I enjoy reading the tax code as much as the next person, I read on, and was rewarded with this gem:

You cannot deduct contributions to organizations that are not qualified to receive tax-deductible contributions, including the following.

  • Certain state bar associations...
  • Chambers of commerce and other business leagues or organizations.
  • Civic leagues and associations.
  • Communist organizations.
  • Country clubs and other social clubs.
  • Foreign organizations...
  • Homeowners' associations.
  • Labor unions...
  • Political organizations and candidates.

The one that caught my eye was "Communist organizations." I thought it odd to single them out, especially since "Political organizations and candidates" is also listed. Commies can never catch a break.

charitable, communist, communists, contribution, contributions, donation, donations, irs, libraries, library, reference question, tax, taxes



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