Business & Economy

Need tax help? Try the library

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April 15 is almost here – and you can’t figure out your tax forms?

Here’s an idea: head to your public library. KPCC’s Julie Small says most libraries in California can help you get the answers – and the tax forms – you’ll need.

In the lobby of the Arden-Arcade public library in Sacramento County, you can find the most common tax forms – like the Internal Revenue Service’s 1040. But if you need something more specialized, librarian Barrie Olmstead will point you to a computer that links directly to the IRS Web site.

"I think it’s fairly intuitive," Olmstead says. "They can just click on the site and search by year, by form number – if they only have the number."

Librarians at this branch spent a lot of time finding tax forms for desperate taxpayers and printing them out.

Barrie Olmstead says it works better if she lets people find their own tax forms.

"They’re often looking for things that are pretty specific," Olmstead explains, "whether it’s certain writeoffs for dependents, or, you know, estate taxes."

"There are so many different forms!" agrees Rosario Garza. "It really becomes very difficult for libraries to carry every single form."

Garza' s the executive director of the Southern California Library Cooperative, a consortium of 45 public libraries in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

Garza says most member libraries offer paper forms only at their main branches. The smaller branches offer online access to anyone who need some last-minute tax help.

"They’re able to either give them the Web site for the particular form that they need or print it out for them, depending on what the library’s policy is," Garza says.

Of course, anyone with a computer at home could go to the Web site for the IRS or for the California Franchise Tax Board – so why go to the library?

Rosario Garza says by yourself, you might not find what you’re looking for. Library staff can help:

"Library staff have a lot of experience in putting together search strategies, and that’s what a lot of these Web sites really, that’s how they really work well – if you know how to combine the search terms to get to what you need. And librarians know how to do that!"

Librarians can also link patrons to tax form Web sites in other languages.

Rosario Garza is quick to emphasize that librarians do not give tax advice – but they can find you people who can.

At Sacramento County’s Arden Arcade branch, librarian Barrie Olmstead says she’s heartened that people still turn to public libraries.

"They know they can come to us and get the information they need," says Olmstead. "Even if we can’t answer their exact question, we can sit on the phone with someone or print out a form for them and find what they need. It’s kind of like being the middleman."

Barrie Olmstead says at her branch in Sacramento, you don’t even need a library card to get that kind of help. All you need is a question.

Just be sure you ask it before the clock runs out on April 15.