A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

E-filing For the Technologically Timid?

by on January 19, 2016

The boxes of federal and state tax forms that once crowded our library during tax season may soon be a “printed” memory. In November, the IRS informed participants that the Tax Forms Outlet Program will be decreasing their quantity of tax instructions, forms, and publications.[1] This reduction is due to the fact that 95 percent of taxpayers E-filed in 2014.

The senior citizen population has been hit the hardest by this tax-form cutback. Some senior citizens are not comfortable with this level of technology, and if the IRS eventually scraps the Tax Forms Outlet Program, how will they file their taxes? Although the number of tax forms has not decreased that exorbitantly, they are only sending out three of the 1040 instructions, and those will be allotted to “reference use.” At our library, we charge patrons after the first five copies, and even a double-sided tax booklet could add up to be $5.

Although the number of senior citizen computer users keeps climbing, the rest rely on the assistance of others or their local librarians. The Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of senior citizens are currently using the computer.[2] What is of concern, though, is the other 41 percent and the shortage of “old-school” tax forms.

The Goodwill in Kalamazoo County, Michigan offers the Kalamazoo Tax Initiative for tax assistance, but it only covers individuals or families who have an income of $54,000 or less.[3] Although this is an excellent service, the drawback is that patrons have to make an appointment or choose a “drop-by” location that only offers a few different dates.   Additionally, many patrons cannot make an appointment because all of the slots have limited capacities and are occupied, or if they attempt to go to the “drop-by” location, they cannot get in during that time block.

Libraries have been an imperative dispensary for tax forms for quite some time, and although they are still offering this service, we need to find alternate ways to help those patrons without computer skills file their taxes. Many libraries offer computer classes; however, many patrons need more one-on-one attention after these courses. At my library, we offer strictly one-on-one computer classes for patrons. In addition to the Kalamazoo Tax Initiative, I see these one-on-one computer lessons really benefiting senior citizens when it comes in tax season (and not to mention in the long run).

I think the Kalamazoo Tax Initiative has the right idea, but a lot of the patrons that participate in the program already know how to use the computer. It would be nice to have a program specifically for seniors or any other patron who does not know how to use the computer. We as librarians are not tax professionals, but we can most certainly guide a patron to the right website. Besides, we face too many liability issues in “filling” out the tax forms, but we can find ways to help them. Many of us have demanding jobs both on-and-off desk, but we need volunteers who would be willing to donate their time to help these technologically timid patrons file their taxes online.


[1] IRS Tax Forms Outlet Program News and Updates

[2] Smith, Aaron. “Older Adults and Technology Use.” Report by the Pew Research Center, April 3, 2014. Web.

[3] Kalamazoo Goodwill Free Tax Preparation

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