CONSUMER FORUM

Library check-off can help smart consumers

Posted Dec. 02, 2012, at 9:54 a.m.

It’s as true now as ever: the better informed consumers are, the better decisions they’ll make in the marketplace.

At Northeast CONTACT, we urge consumers to be their own best advocates by doing research. Soon, consumers will have a chance to help one another by supporting their local libraries through an income tax check-off.

Libraries are not simply storehouses of information. Their staff can help patrons discover sources of information they may not have been aware of, as they search for answers that will make them smarter consumers.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to a librarian. Fuller disclosure reveals that her advice and research skills are critical to the preparation of these columns. (In fact, she alerted me to the topic of this week’s writing).

The chance to help our public libraries results from action by the last Maine Legislature, which created the check-off that will appear for the first time on the 2012 Maine Income Tax forms. Taxpayers may make voluntary contributions as they have with other check-offs.

According to the law, the fund must reach $10,000 for calendar year 2012 and increase by $3,000 increments in following years, until $25,000 is raised in 2017 and each year after that. While the state will collect the money, none of it will stay in Augusta.

“Everything has to go back to local libraries,” State Librarian Linda Lord told me last week. She will decide where the money goes; the legislation directs that funds are “for use in providing services identified as priority services by the State Librarian.”

Lord said such services likely will include downloadable e-books, which are growing in popularity. The money could help support van delivery of books — at last count, the state library was delivering 1.5 million books to Maine people.

Funding also might be used to purchase online reference works, or could be applied to collaborative training and cataloging efforts.

Hawaii is the only other state in the nation to offer a library check-off. There are some administrative costs tied to any check-off program, and Maine lawmakers may choose to let this one sunset if it doesn’t bring in the money that supporters hope it will.

The library check-off will appear eighth in a list of check-offs on the state income tax form. Taxpayers can check a designated amount or check “other” to give greater or lesser support. Lord said she is grateful to the Legislature for giving Maine taxpayers a chance to show their support for our public libraries.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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