Early next year, the Newton Public Library will once again offer free tax preparation assistance to community members. However, right now the focus is more on the work that goes on behind the scenes — and the volunteers who help make the program possible.

Anne Ethen, adult services supervisor at the library, said the library currently is looking for volunteers to serve as tax preparers or greeters.

For more than 30 years, the Newton Public Library has served as a tax preparation site under the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, Ethen said. VITA volunteers prepare federal and state tax returns for low to middle income taxpayers. There is no charge for this service.

"It's just a way for people whose income is less than $50,000 (a year) to have their income tax done for free," said Cleta Smith, who has served as a VITA volunteer for about seven years.

Volunteers will attend a three-day training session this month in Wichita conducted by the United Way. If they already have some tax filing experience, they can complete an expedited training at the library instead.

Volunteers can choose from several roles: Greeters welcome people as they enter the library and ensure they have the proper paperwork; preparers put together the tax forms; and reviewers verify the work has been done correctly. Preparers must be comfortable working with computers.

Smith said the more people volunteer, the smoother the program will run. She would like to see younger volunteers get involved, and said the VITA program would make a good hands-on learning experience for college students majoring in accounting.

"If we had more volunteers and more reviewers, we'll get people through faster," she said.

The library will begin offering the tax preparation service Feb. 5. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to attend a meeting at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the library, or call 283-2890.