Thursday, February 12, 2015

Income Tax Season Problems, Part Two

Part two, you ask? Yep, because it's not just dealing with filing your income tax returns: it's avoiding all the scams out there that make your income tax filing more of a headache.

The IRS has a list of the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams on their site at www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Completes-the-Dirty-Dozen-Tax-Scams-for-2015. These are scams that have triggered the most complaints filed with the IRS, and can cause penalties and criminal prosecution for victimized taxpayers. The IRS can't say this enough:  "Taxpayers should remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns even if it is prepared by someone else." (Quoted from the IRS page linked above.)

Be aware that if you haven't filed your taxes in the past as you should, you may be setting yourself up for the phone scams that are going around. Callers threaten taxpayers with arrest or penalties if they do not immediately pay back taxes using prepaid cards or similar methods. You need to remember that the IRS sends out notices by US Mail, and it will not request your personal information over the telephone. Hang up on these callers immediately and report the call.

          If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from
          the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
(From "Phone Scams Continue to be Serious Threat", http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Phone-Scams-Continue-to-be-Serious-Threat-and-Remain-on-IRS-Dirty-Dozen-List-of-Tax-Scams-for-the-2015-Filing-Season)

You also need to be aware that, if your personal information was stolen through one of the many data breaches that has occurred in stores and companies over the past few years, you could be a victim of fraud. If you try to file your tax return online, and are told that you have already filed a return, contact the agency immediately. Fraudulent tax returns using identity theft are on the rise and state tax departments are trying to watch for it.

The IRS has created a number of videos on YouTube to help you out. You can view their most recent video about avoiding scams, or learn how to choose a tax preparer, or several other topics.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Groan, It's Tax Season Again...

We are all saying that. Which is worse, the winter weather we've been dealing with (or threatened with), or the period from January to April 15 when we know we just have to sit down and figure out what we owe the government? For some, that's a real toss-up. 

And this year is a bit more frustrating than past years. Just when everyone is expected to report their health insurance status on their income tax forms, the IRS has decided not to send out instruction books due to their budget cuts. So everyone wants to know, how are we supposed to file our taxes if we don't know how to fill out the forms?

The good news is, for many people it is free to file their federal income taxes using one of the many tax services available. More than 85% of people file their federal taxes online, either using a professional preparer's service or doing it themselves. If you don't have a computer at home, you can use the public computers at the Pottsville Library to file your taxes. (Just keep in mind that, legally, we cannot answer any tax questions for you. We can help you print, or set up an email account, but please don't ask us how to fill in specific lines on the tax forms.) Want to find a reputable online service? Visit the IRS web page at apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/jsp/index.jsp for a list of companies that offer free federal tax filing for adjusted gross incomes of $60,000 or less.

For people who prefer to use the paper forms, it can get a bit trickier. The Pottsville Library did receive the federal tax forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ, but we did NOT receive any of the instruction booklets or any of the additional schedules and forms. (Did you see our picture in the paper? Those were state tax forms in the photos, not federal. The photo caption didn't make that clear.) We can print off specific pages from the instruction books for you from the internet, although we don't recommend printing off the entire instruction book: at 10 cents a page, even the 1040EZ would cost you more than $4 to print. We have a copy of the tax table at the Circulation Desk (right inside the front door) and a copy of Publication 17 at the Reference Desk.

The alternative is to order an instruction book from the IRS. There is a telephone number to call, 1-800-829-3676, but be prepared to wait to get through. Or you can order copies online from www.irs.gov/uac/Forms-and-Publications-by-U.S.-Mail and get them mailed to you within a week or two.

However you file your taxes, try not to wait until the last minute: it might be harder to find and get what you need to finish the job!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gifts for the Holidays

Tis the season to find the perfect gift for your friends and family. Books are a great gift idea, but how do you find the right one?

Does your friend like movies? There are a number of films out recently that were based on novels, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit", or Suzanne Collins' "Mockingjay" (but maybe start with "Hunger Games", the beginning of the series). For love stories, go with John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" or Nicholas Sparks' "The Best of Me". Teens might be interested in Veronica Roth's "Divergent" series, or James Dashner's "The Maze Runner".  For more books connected with films you will want to visit /Film's list of The Best Movie & TV Book Gifts of 2014.

It can be tough to find books for girls that encourage their imagination and curiosity or help them form  positive self-esteem. The website A Mighty Girl has recommendations for all ages, in a variety of languages, in different subjects and for a wide range of prices. Biographies of famous women like Eleanor Roosevelt or Wilma Rudolph, works of fiction like "Pippi Longstocking", and a large number of award-winning books can be found on this site. Sites like Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times (linked below) have additional suggestions for books for kids.

And if you know someone who is fascinated by Schuylkill County history, there are a few books available you'll want to consider. The Pottsville Free Public Library has a few copies left of "Schuylkill Stories: The Chronicles of Ione Geier", a compilation of some of Mrs. Geier's favorite columns from her years of writing for the Pottsville Republican newspaper. Michael J. Lisicky recently published "Shop Pomeroy's First", about the popular department store in eastern and central Pennsylvania. Or for the true-crime reader you could go with Stephanie Hoover's "The Kelayres Massacre: Politics and Murder in Pennsylvania's Anthracite Coal Country".

E-books are great in some ways, for some readers. Most e-readers (either dedicated or on a tablet) permit you to make the text larger and easier to read, and they all make it easier to take many, many books with you for a fraction of the space of print books. If you are thinking of buying a dedicated e-reader for someone, take a look at reviews like those of CNET or The Digital Reader for more information before making your purchase.

Cookbooks are a really popular book gift for any occasion. There are so many different diets and health trends, you are sure to find something to fit the needs of the recipient. Or, instead of one book, you could look into gift subscriptions of a magazine like Cooking Light, Gluten-Free Living, Taste of Home, or Vegetarian Times. All of these titles are at the Pottsville Library if you want to take a look at them before buying them for others.

Here are some other sites that identify great gift books for various subjects:

The Slate writers chose their favorite books for 2014

(And if you want to give an e-book, one web page has several suggestions how to wrap it!)

New York Times Sunday Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014

NBCNews Brainy Reads: Top Science and Tech Books of 2014

Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Books of 2014
(This page also has links to the best nonfiction, children's, and teen books.)


Do you have a favorite site for finding gift books? Let us know!



Friday, October 17, 2014

Let's Talk Ebook Privacy

If you borrow ebooks from the Free Library of Philadelphia, you may need to take some steps to ensure your privacy. Public libraries have always tried to protect their patrons' reading privacy but we don't always have control over how ebooks are managed by other companies.

Reader privacy seems like no big deal, but imagine these examples. Someone has an abusive spouse and wants to read about others who were able to walk away from an abuser. A student has a research paper due on terrorism and has to focus on specific hate groups and crimes. A person wants to read about suicide signs to watch for because they are concerned about a friend. There are any number of legitimate reasons why people don't want others to know what they are reading, or where what someone is reading could be taken the wrong way, and librarians believe everyone has the right to keep their reading private.

Ebook distributors like Overdrive use Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) to manage permissions and rules for library ebook users. Adobe recently released a new version of their software. Version 4 collects a large amount of information about the ebooks viewed using ADE, on your computer and any connected ereaders. It does not include your name and other contact information, but given that the information is sent to Adobe in a non-secure format and includes a vast amount of other detail, a savvy computer snoop could figure out the source. You can read more about this on the Free Library's Blog and from the original report of the problem (thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader).

The easiest way to protect your reading privacy is to use Adobe Digital Editions version 3, which can still be downloaded from the Adobe website. If you haven't updated to the latest version, your information has not been shared.

As the Free Library's blog post notes, this is not a security breach but a privacy breach. Adobe made the changes because they wanted to offer more services to ebook readers, but those things come with a heavy price. Librarians and ebook readers across the country have started calling for Adobe to reverse some of the changes that were made, but until then staying with an older version of ADE will keep someone else from knowing what you are reading.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Know a Teen Who Has Questions? We've Got Answers!

Teens have a lot of questions they want answered, either for school or on their own. Sometimes those topics can get uncomfortable, and they don't know where to turn for reliable information. The Pottsville Library Reference Department has some trusted online resources that might be able to help!

There are a growing number of online books available to our library patrons with their library cards. To read these books, just go to our homepage at www.pottsvillelibrary.org/onlineresources.htm. We added a whole series to our Infobase Ebooks collection, available to you from any computer. If students are worried others might see what they are reading, this is a great way for them to get this important information in private.

Some of the new teen titles include:

The Truth About Eating Disorders

The Truth About Smoking

The Truth About Alcohol

The Truth About Rape

The Truth About Sexual Behavior and Unplanned Pregnancy

The Truth About Anxiety and Depression

The Truth About Stress Management

The Truth About the Internet and Online Predators

All of the Infobase titles are also available in print format in the Reference Collection, if you prefer to read the old fashioned way.

Monday, June 30, 2014

New Titles in the Reference Collection

While the Reference Department doesn't add nearly as many titles every year as the other collections, we try to find interesting, authoritative resources to help library users answer basic or bizarre questions. Here are just some of the titles just coming in!

The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Life: Minutes, Months, Millennia - How Long is a Life on Earth?
Did you know that an ocean quahog, a hard clam that lives in the Atlantic Ocean, can live 250 to 500 years? An American flamingo can live to 50 years old, but a porcupine only lives 5-7 years. There are fungi colonies that are believed to be more than 2000 years old, and the Great Barrier Reef is more than 10,000 years old! This heavily-illustrated book looks at the average life spans of plants, animals, and microorganisms around the world.  (Ref 508.03 B223)

The Graphic Designer's Business Survival Guide
Being a really good graphic designer is just the start of what you need to go into business. From creating a business plan, to knowing when you should hire someone to do your bookkeeping, to managing your time and building your reputation, this book covers many of the basics a graphic designer would need. Marketing, time sheets, how to deal when things go bad, and other aspects of small business are all discussed here. (Ref 741.60 D228)

Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places, 2nd edition
 Helpful and threatening, human or animal, this book gives the details of many paranormal experiences around the world. Churches, cemeteries, highways, castles, apartments, restaurants, trains, stores, and inns are all scenes of visitations. (Ref 133.1 St33)

1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think
When you think of the history of ideas, things like "I Think, Therefore I Am" come to mind. While the background of that idea is in this new reference book, you'll also find things like the origins of the newspaper (first stone or metal tablets in 131 BCE Rome that were public notices of important events, then after the Gutenberg press was invented, in 1605 the first modern newspaper appeared in Germany), a brief history of angels, the possibilities offered by the theory of genetic determinism, and many, many more. Organized by time period when the idea arose, you can use the category index to help you find the origins of things like reggae music, fatalism, ageism, Kwanzaa, Prohibition, etc. (Ref 153.4 A15)
 

 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Looking for Magazine Sponsors!

It's the time of year where we look over the magazine titles the library receives and try to figure out if our budget will cover everything. As a district center, we are required to subscribe to a certain number of titles. However, budget cuts from state and local sources mean that it's tough for us to reach that standard on our own. That's where you can step in!

We are looking for people to "sponsor" their favorite magazine title at the library. What does this mean? All you have to do is donate the amount of the subscription price for your favorite magazine title. We take care of the subscribing! There are titles that cost as little as $9 a year (like Philadelphia or Motor Trend magazines). Most of the titles are under $30, although there are a few that are much more pricey. National Geographic costs us $34 a year; Entertainment Weekly costs $60; and Sports Illustrated goes for $89.

We also know that a lot of people aren't aware of just how many different subjects our magazine collection covers. The titles on the display stand near the public computers are just a few of the current titles; we don't have enough space to display them all! You can find our entire current collection in the Magazine Room, near the back of the Reference Department. Kids' magazines are in the Children's Department, with titles for younger children near the Children's Desk and titles for teens in the Young Adult section in the back of the room.

New titles added within the last year include Autism Spectrum Quarterly, Gluten-Free Living, Motorcyclist, Yoga, More Magazine, and Wired Magazine. There are classics like Highlights for Children, Good Housekeeping, Money Magazine, Popular Science, and one of the few remaining weekly news magazines, Time. Conservationists, animal lovers, movie buffs, financial geeks, gardeners, hunters, cooks, celebrity watchers, sports fans, amateur astronomers, ... we have magazines for you and many others!

If you are interested in becoming a Magazine Sponsor, just stop by the Circulation Desk next time you're in the library. Pick a title, donate the amount for that subscription, and leave your name and address (so we can thank you in a future library newsletter!). Every sponsor brings us that much closer to meeting the standards for district centers in Pennsylvania, and helps us bring reading material to a wide variety of library users!