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Whither Paper Tax Forms at the Library?

April 5, 2013

Recently in Rochester, the local cable television company announced that one of the regional PBS channels would no longer be available to subscribers who didn’t opt for the “taxesdigital package” rather than the basic cable subscription.  Dial up internet access is somewhat of a dinosaur now, although it is still available if you don’t mind watching YouTube videos at the pace of a really boring slideshow.  You can almost, but not quite, add paper tax forms to those near-casualties of “progress”.

Eventually, “progress” seems to catch up with everyone.  At first, you’re eager for the latest thing/technology/craze while the people who have always lived with the traditional way of doing things are skeptical (“Sure, hearing a voice over this ‘telephone’ is all very clever, but look at my brand new telegraph machine – this baby’s going to last me at least 20 years!”).  I’m not seeing that anyone today would be lining up for the Apple iTelegraph no matter how nostalgic they may feel for dots and dashes.

That brings us to paper.  People have predicted that libraries will at some point be paperless, but the IRS is working to beat us at that game.  They would like you to file electronically.  But not everyone is there yet.

We don’t like tax forms any more than you do.  We start getting calls at the end of December about whether the tax forms have arrived yet or not (hint: if it’s still 2012, the 2012 tax forms have probably not arrived yet).  They are heavy, a hassle to restock, and we are quite limited in what we get (we don’t get to choose).  But there is demand for them, so we get what we can.

Some people have filed on paper for so long, they just don’t even want to think of doing it any other way.  Not filing online is an act of defiance or a yearly ritual that is not meant to be tampered with.  The trees, however, seem to have increased the power of their lobbying group in Washington, D.C.

Even for taxpayers who might like to file online, there can still be the “access to computers and/or internet” issue.  At the library we have public computers and we respect privacy more so than pretty much any institution that you can think of, but there is something kind of, and maybe this is the wrong word, but ‘intimate’ about your taxes.  Talking about your income is usually a conversational taboo and the thought of having to go into a public building to file your taxes is a little ‘unintimate’ (not really a word).

If you don’t use computers on a regular basis, this is a pretty intimidating task.  And not everyone can afford to have an accountant file their taxes for them.  But we are marching towards paperless nonetheless.

What would be the biggest loss in a paperless tax world?

Every year on the night of April 15th you see that same story on the television news showing a long line of people pulling up to the post office in their cars to drop off their brown envelopes full of tax forms, checks and love (okay, not love).  The local news stations will be losing this dramatic visual if we lose paper tax forms.  (Irony alert: the people who didn’t buy an HD signal converter for their analog TVs can’t see this story now.)

At the library we’re always happy to help you find the form you need from the internet and print it out for you if you need it (although keep in mind, we are librarians not CPAs, so we can’t give tax advice – we can only suggest resources in town who know better than we do.) There is a list of some local tax resources on our tax information web page if you’re looking for some help with your taxes.

And we can print out extension forms if you need them, too, at least for now.

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