Category Archives: public libraries

IRS to libraries: “Thank You”

After posting about taxing resources recently – discussing the added burden of library resources as government and business push off services and access to the web – I was pleased to see this letter sent to the ALA from the IRS. Notable quotes:

We appreciate the important role libraries play in meeting individual needs for tax help and information. A recent example is the excellent assistance librarians provided to taxpayers entitled to Economic Stimulus payments.


The electronic age has changed us all, but libraries remain the heartbeat of their

Amen, to that.



Hotmail not so hot.

Patrons were very upset today because of problems logging into Hotmail. I tried to assure them that it was not anything to do with our computers or network, though many still think we control all aspects of the Internet. (Including being able to tell them their forgotten password.) Turns out the problem was pretty widespread according to this article.

The saga continues with another interesting post from the Register : Steve Balmer lies to my mother.


Taxing resources

For some, their single annual visit to a public library is to get their necessary tax forms.

In Oklahoma, public libraries have an added burden this year. The Oklahoma Tax Commission is NOT sending any forms to public libraries as they have in the past. Instead they are instructing libraries to point patrons to the website where they can print out the necessary forms. Our policy is to charge for printing, so when we tell patrons that we can help them print out forms, but it will cost them, they are understandably upset This is definitely a cost saver for the OTC, but I would love to channel the anger directed at the lowly librarian for this state decision back to the source of the decision.

This year also has a fun twist on the I.R.S. side. The economic stimulus package requires certain individuals to fill out a tax form even if they aren’t required to normally. This, to get their (reduced amount of) $300.00. Most people will not have to do anything to get the rebate… just file their taxes as normal and the rebate will be issued, but there are special circumstances which require specific action:

The law also allows for payments for select taxpayers who have no tax liability, such as low-income workers or those who receive Social Security benefits or veterans’ disability compensation, pension or survivors’ benefits received from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007. These taxpayers will be eligible to receive a payment of $300 ($600 on a joint return) if they had at least $3,000 of qualifying income.

Essentially, these individuals must file a tax return. There is even this nice sample of how to fill out the tax form.

Another growing tax season ritual for the libraries is helping patrons print off their W-2 forms. A large number of employers now offer W-2s online as a “convenience” for their employees. This service is pushed out to the libraries where a large percentage of the working poor have the only Internet access available to them. Likewise, many companies now require job applicants to use web-based methods of applying and many of those people use the public library.

It is interesting to watch this changing role of libraries to adjust our resources to needs like these –  pushed off onto the Internet for convenience.


In search of….

Another staff member told me about a call from a man who was told that you can find women on the Internet and wondering if we could help him. It may seem humorous, and certainly isn’t the first. We have had several instances of patrons coming in for the first time on this new-found revelation that the Internet, was among other things, a seeming repository for whichever gender you might be searching for. “I just thought I should warn you that he might come in and ask for your help,” my colleague said.

Sure enough, this gentleman did come in. He approached my desk and introduced himself and it was instantly clear that he had some physical and/or perhaps developmental disabilities. He repeated much of what my colleague had already related about finding a woman on the Internet and needing assistance. We found a computer and he sat down nervously. “I’m pretty computer illiterate,” he warned. “Let’s see what we can do about that.” I replied.

I showed him how to hold the mouse and how the movement of the mouse translated to the movement of the cursor on the screen. He worked with it a bit as I showed him where to click and gave instructions on what to type. He struggled pecking out letters on the keyboard, but I kept myself from interceding too much, trying to keep to my theory that if I do something for a patron learning these skills, they will be more dependent on me and really not be learning anything.

The process to sign up for the first site he wanted to go to involved also setting up an email address and all told these two tasks took about an hour. He was getting much better at the mouse and I continued to encourage him. As I worked with him, a previous student looked up from the opposite bank of computers and smiled knowingly.

He comes in nearly every day now and still needs help, but he  is making tremendous progress on using the computer.  I’m not sure if he found what he was looking for (have any of us ?), but it is nice to help him out.


Marsha’s Computer.

The daily interface with the public in a public library allows me to meet colorful individuals (as I’ve noted before). Many patrons make the library a frequent stop weekly or for some daily and relationships form. One woman, Marsha, came in every day to use the computers for her alloted two hours. I enjoyed watching her learn to master the computer as I answered her questions from time to time. She would also give me feedback on things I changed on the computers or the general status of Yahoo Mail which sometimes would be slow and generate lots of complaints. She preferred to sit at computer number one and I would refer to it as Marsha’s computer. I tried to make sure it wasn’t down for maintenance in the morning when she usually came. Sometimes cranky patrons would complain about the computers or more often resist my way of helping them which was to talk them through how to use the computer and to not do it for them. Afterwards, Marsha would walk up to my desk before leaving and give me encouragement or share some gossip about that person.

From time to time, she would miss a day or two due to illness, but she would show up again and give us brief details of her absence. A few weeks back she didn’t show up and I assumed it was likely the same cause. A week went by and I wondered what was going on with her. Then, another patron told us that Marsha had passed away. The doctors discovered She had systemic cancer and she died within that same week. She will be missed.


It’s a guybrarian thing.

A new entry appeared last week in Meriam-Webster’s OpenDictionary:
guybrarian (noun) : A male librarian in a female dominated field.
With so many women studying library science, Tim felt conspicuous as the only guybrarian in the class.
Submitted by: Verlene Schafer from Arizona on Sep. 12, 2007 17:04

Thanks Varlene for this unusual, but accurate description of the handful of aspiring guybrarians in my current MLIS program.


OSS – Community Property

I was reading Karen G. Schneider’s recent blog on Enterprise Open Source, and two lines really struck me:

  1. A “significant value of open source software is that its survival depends on a community’s needs, not the whims of a corporation.”
  2. “The ability to change the software changes the balance of power. It says this is software of and by the people; It’s a statement about ownership.”

There are many arguments for Open Source Software (OSS), but this is one of the strongest to me. That is, OSS is owned by the community, it is owned by the community of developers, but also owned by the community of users.