Magazine article American Libraries

Easing That Taxing Season; Librarians in a Trial IRS Project Earned a Big Return for Filing Complaints Early

Magazine article American Libraries

Easing That Taxing Season; Librarians in a Trial IRS Project Earned a Big Return for Filing Complaints Early

Article excerpt

Easing that taxing season

Librarians in a trial IRS project earned a big return for filing complaints early

OVER THE YEARS, THE Internal Revenue Service has relied increasingly upon public libraries as principal centers for distributing federal income tax forms. Tulsa (Okla.) City-County Library System's Central Library is one of some 11,000 participating libraries across the country. This relationship with libraries--and, to a lesser extent with banks and post offices--is so important to the IRS that it established a permanent Banks, Post Offices, and Libraries Program (BPOL) to oversee forms distribution at these institutions.

Tulsa's library management has long believed that the tax forms distribution program provides a needed public service. As a bonus, the service draws people into the library who might otherwise never visit one. In 1986-87 alone, approximately 130,000 tax forms were stocked at Tulsa Central Library for the convenience of a service population of 500,000 spread over 572 square miles.

However, such advantages were increasingly offset in the mid-1980s by problems librarians in Tulsa and elsewhere experienced with the forms distribution process. By 1987 several public libraries from across the country already had pulled out of the program. That same year, ALA's Public Library Association formed an Advisory Committee to the IRS on Tax Forms Distribution (ACITFD) to, as the IRS described in its own newsletter, "improve, complain about, or compliment what's happening in the BPOL program."

Still, librarians continued to express dissatisfaction to ACITFD. What went wrong?

Taxing snafus

By the mid-1980s, librarians and the tax-paying public had become frustrated by a series of IRS processing snafus. For example, in each of the three years from 1984 to 1987 the IRS lost Tulsa Central Library's tax forms order requests. In fact, in 1986 the IRS lost Tulsa's order on two separate occasions! Each time the IRS lost an order, forms arrived late, making the library unable to provide the forms people needed at the time they needed them.

Late delivery was only one of the problems. Other trouble spots included tax forms that were ordered by the library again and again but never received, the IRS providing too few of some forms and too many of others, forms arriving in ambiguously labeled boxes, and bureaucratic red tape at the IRS that made problem resolution cumbersome.

Even as these problems grew more acute, Tulsa's cost for participating in BPOL was increasing. In 1986-87, Central Library staff spent 475 hours providing services tied to the tax forms program. An increase of some 25 hours over the previous year, the workload was equivalent to one FTE working exclusively on tax forms 40 hours per week for nearly 12 weeks. Moreover, the Central Library was renting extra photocopiers to accommodate the reproducible tax forms service, using prime "front" and warehouse space to display and store tax forms, supplying shelves to display the forms, and providing publicity and signage to let the public know where the forms were located.

Despite the burdens associated with forms dissemination, library managers might never have seriously questioned Tulsa's participation but for a sudden 7% reduction in library funding in 1987, with the likely prospect of further cuts in 1988. This budget crunch, combined with the increasing costs of BPOL, caused library management to closely scrutinize the Central Library's role in tax forms distribution.

Raising consciousness

As early as April 1987, Craig Buthod, chief of the Central Library, began making overtures to the IRS requesting improvements in the forms distribution arrangement. In late summer 1987, with the next year's tax season rapidly approaching, Buthod spelled out to the IRS the conditions necessary for the library's continued participation in BPOL. Buthod's stance was that the library would warehouse tax forms, provide front space for their display, and offer a tax forms reference service if in return the IRS provided the forms, forms display racks, staff to stock and restock the racks with forms, and photocopiers for the reproducible forms service. …

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