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

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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Tax Forms – Come & Get ‘Em

   January 16th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Library's tax form displayEvery year, public libraries (and, I'm sure, post offices, town halls, senior centers, and other public places) have the pleasure of being a distribution point for Federal and State tax forms.

Which is a good thing, but it can also be somewhat trying. In my experience, here are some popular misconceptions concerning libraries and tax forms:

  • Libraries do not choose when or which forms to put out. The IRS and State Dept. of Revenue send us the forms over a period of about three months, and we put out whatever arrives
  • Libraries do not create these forms - we really do have to wait until they are sent to us. If the form you need is not out, we haven't received it yet (but keep reading)
  • Library staff cannot give tax advice - even if you're not sure of how to fill out your taxes, you can believe me when I say we are in no way qualified to help you file your taxes. I can help you find forms, or find someone who can help, but I cannot give you tax advice
  • There are no more forms in the back - we're not trying to hide anything from you, or save something for someone else. Everything we've received is available to the public

This year at my library, I'm trying something new with our tax form display. In years past, the tax forms were kept on empty bookshelves about as far away from the front door as you could get. This was messy and needlessly complicated.

This year, I bought a stand to hold the forms, set up a couple tables for the instruction booklets, and put everything right at the base of the stairs in the reference area (see photo). This is about 100 feet closer to the front door - and about as close as I can get while still being within range of the reference desk, so we can help people when they have questions. A small triumph.

Also, since we haven't received every tax form published by the Federal and State governments, and can't do patrons' taxes for them, below are some tax resources we frequently use:

libraries, library, tax, tax display, tax forms, taxes

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