Dr. Taxlove, or: How I learned to stop crabbing and embrace tax season
For everything there is a season. In public librarianship the year falls into distinct seasons: planning for summer reading in the spring, end of the fiscal year reporting, the bustle of summer reading, the brief hush of September (I never thought I’d see the day when summer meant work and the beginning of fall meant a break!), midterms and finals—especially as more students take online courses and need exam proctors, budget season, and the coldest season of all: tax season.
I can’t lie: since I’ve worked full-time in libraries I have detested tax season. People would begin looking for forms as early as November. January became more and more stressful as the IRS delayed forms and instructions. Tax reference carries the same pitfalls of liability as medical and legal questions in a public library; as much as I want to help I am somewhat limited in the information I can provide as a non-expert. Patrons were frustrated. I was frustrated. At the time my dad was still doing my taxes—I didn’t know what forms people needed any more than they did! Everyone wanted to talk politics and they all seemed to want me to agree with their points of view. There were never enough forms to go around, most balked at being pushed to e-file, no one wanted to hear my justifications. They were stressed, I was stressed; I was not doing my best work.
But last year something changed. As the Information Services Librarian I was responsible for ordering and maintaining the tax forms and instructions. The year didn’t start out positively; with the last minute changes in the tax codes there were huge delays in getting forms and instructions, incorrect forms were sent and had to be replaced, the date to begin filing was pushed back and then pushed back again, political barbs were flying, tempers were short: it was not a good time to be the lady in charge of the tax forms.
And then someone came to me for help and she changed my whole perspective. An octogenarian in high spirits, she came in asking for a Schedule F form (profit and loss from farming). She explained that the farm was much smaller than it had been and no longer made a profit, but she still needed to file the form. She had called and been to several other local agencies; they either didn’t have the form, or couldn’t provide her with one and she was beside herself with anxiety and frustration. I didn’t have the form on hand but I was able to print one for her and we talked while she waited. And it hit me, like a thunderbolt, in a way it never had before, how important it is that we provide tax forms and instructions.
This woman, like many others, had fallen into the gap of the digital divide. She was one of many people who had been put in the impossible position of having to navigate the tax system without the equipment or skills to access the forms she needed. So many other patrons had chimed in when I was explaining the delay in receiving tax forms to say that the forms were available online. Those people didn’t understand that not everyone has a computer, or easy internet access, or the digital literacy to jump on a computer and print what they needed. But I knew that. I had always known that—how had I been so blind? Here I was, working toward bridging the digital divide, preaching these very things to friends, family, and strangers, providing computer lessons, helping people with technology on a daily basis, and somehow I had failed to see how perfectly tax season fit in my purview.
And so this year I’m embracing tax season.
I’m learning to love it.
Because while it may not be as fun and glamorous as teaching people to use their new Kindle, or genealogical research, or providing free music downloads or digital magazines, it is incredibly necessary. Once again libraries are one of the few places stepping up to provide a public service. People need tax forms; and most of the people who come in looking for tax forms either can’t use a computer or don’t have one—they’re the ones who need help the most. It’s easy to enjoy an interesting reference question, fun to help someone with ebooks and cool digital resources. But learning to love the tax forms has been so worth it. Providing an oasis of calm and efficient help and knowledge during a stressful period is an action that follows the mission statement of a public library. This year, and every year, I will be patient and kind, and lend a sympathetic ear if someone needs to vent. I will do my best to help people find the forms they need and refer them if I can’t. I will do it all with positive energy because that has the power to change someone’s day in a small but profound way. And isn’t that what public librarianship is all about?