The seventeenth of April is on the horizon, and librarians all over the country are bracing themselves for the sea of patrons who are about to surge, tsunami-like, into our workplaces, demanding tax forms.
Over the next few months I’ll get to replay, countless times, one of my favorite little exchanges:
Library Patron: Where are the tax forms?
Me: Right under that GIGANTIC SIGN that says TAX FORMS.
Libraries exist to serve the public and we library workers enjoy being helpful. And at tax time, we can be. Provided, of course, that the IRS sends us, in a timely fashion, all of the forms and instructional booklets that our patrons need.
And that’s the challenge. More often than not, they don’t. We get the booklets without the forms. Or the forms without the booklets. We might get everything, but not enough of it.
Occasionally we get nothing at all.
There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to what material each library receives, or when. Sometimes, though, everything works out perfectly. Yesterday, a librarian posted on Facebook page that her library had just received a full set of tax forms and instruction books.
Her fellow librarians quickly commented:
“I’m so jealous right now.”
“We got our forms yesterday. But no instruction books. Wah.”
“All we’ve gotten are EZ forms. No booklets.”
“So far we have five boxes of instructional booklets for the 1040A. And NOTHING ELSE.”
“You actually got BOOKLETS?? I’m so jealous.”
“We don’t get any print forms at all! We have to refer everyone to the internet.”
Many libraries won’t receive everything the public needs, resulting in countless frustrated library patrons, some of whom will take their tax-time anger and anxiety out on us. They’ll call us rude names. They’ll insist that the forms must be in the library somewhere and demand that we search harder for them.
A few will even accuse us of hiding the forms from them on purpose.
Some librarians, in response, take far too much pleasure in telling rude and disagreeable patrons that we haven’t got the form they came in for.
“We ran out of tax forms yesterday,” one librarian recently commented on Facebook, “and I have to admit that by April, I actually enjoy telling certain folks that we’re all out. Of course, by tomorrow, we may get them all in again.”
“Don’t worry,” responded another. “If your library is anything like mine, you’ll run out within a week, and you can enjoy letting people down again.”
Yes, we can help you go online and print out anything you need. But you’d be surprised at how many people are horrified and affronted when they learn that they’ll have to cough up fifteen cents per page to print this stuff out.
A free tax form, they seem to believe, is their God-given right as a library patron and U.S. citizen.
I have, on more than one occasion, paid for printing a patron’s tax forms out of my own pocket, just to get rid of them (while intoning this silent incantation over each form as it prints out: “Audit me! Audit me!”)
I know that the last thing you want is for your favorite librarian to long to see you audited. So on behalf of librarians everywhere I’d just like to say: Please calm down. Be reasonable. We can get through this. Don’t scream at us. We’re trying to help you.
On the morning of April 17th, as we prepare to open the library, we can count on the fact that there will be at least one person waiting at the door, begging us to let them in early so they can grab one last form.
And on April 18th?? ? We’ll take down the gigantic TAX FORMS sign, put it back in the storage closet and relax. Until next year.
(Roz Warren is the author of OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES: A COLLECTION OF LIBRARY HUMOR and JUST ANOTHER DAY AT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY, both of which make terrific gifts for librarians and other book-lovers.)