25 Important Legal Issues Every Librarian Should Research

Most people don’t think of librarians as legal entities, but the fact is there are a number of legal issues that are important for librarians to understand. Whether you’re dealing with copyright or disabilities, the best way to protect yourself is to be informed. Be sure that you’ve brushed up on these important issues.

  • Filters: Many public libraries are under pressure to filter Internet access to patrons. Whether or not you do so can have legal implications for your library.
  • Accessibility: It’s important that libraries comply with the Americans with Disabilities act in order to make accessing the libray easier for people with disabilities.
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  • Accessible website and written materials: Accesibility in your library also extends to your website and written materials. Make sure you’re in compliance with this resource.
  • Privacy: As many libraries become more technologically savvy, the issue of privacy will often come up. You will have to be careful about publishing your patrons’ information, images, and more.
  • Freedom of information: According to the First Amendment, the government is allowed to restrict information in the library. Find out what you can do about it and how you have to comply.
  • Children on the Internet: Your library may be held responsible for offensive content accessed using the library’s computers, so it’s important to find out how to protect yourself.
  • Employee rights: Just like other employment entities, libraries have to be well aware of employment law, avoiding discrimination and wrongful treatment of library workers.
  • Hate meetings: Your library’s meeting rooms and computers may be used in order to spread and promote hateful speech and thoughts. Additionally, you may find that hateful literature is requested. Find out how to deal with this issue before it comes up.
  • Book removal: Librarians have to be careful about removing books from a library’s collection. You will find that you often do not have unrestricted authority to remove offensive library books from your library.
  • Licensing: Public use of electronic resources will almost always require a license, so it’s key that you fully understand how to use the licenses that have been granted to your library.
  • Information liability: If a patron uses your library resources to learn how to build a bomb, and then uses the bomb to harm people, can your library be held partially responsible? Find out the exact legalities and how you can protect your library and resources from this issue.
  • Digitizing material: By creating digital collections, you may be violating copyright law. Be careful not to violate any copyright laws as you make information more available.
  • Library policies: You may make the rules in your library, but that doesn’t mean they are legal. Ensure that your library policies are legally enforceable with this resource.
  • Banned books: Many books can be offensive to library patrons and parents of young patrons that visit your library, and books are often challenged by groups and individuals. How you deal with the removal or preservation of a book is important.
  • Software lending: If you’re lending software out to patrons, be careful that your policies do not violate any legal issues. Considerations to pay attention to are licensing, copyright, and liability.
  • Bulletin boards: Your library’s bulletin boards may be used as a community resource, so it’s important to consider whether or not you’re violating free speech with your bulletin board policy.
  • Latchkey kids: Often, libraries find that children are left to do homework and entertain themselves in the library. Consider how your library could be held liable if something were to happen to a child on the library’s property.
  • Reproduction: It’s important for libraries to respect copyright law when making reproductions for their collections and archives. Additionally, your library may need to monitor patron usage to ensure that they are not violating copyright laws.
  • Video performance: Consider whether allowing patrons to watch videos individually or in a group performance voilates the copyright laws of the motion picture.
  • Game night: Like video performance, allowing copyrighted video games to be played in the library and with library resources may violate copyright law.
  • Homeless people: Educate yourself on the legal rights of homeless library users, particularly solicitation, harassment, odor, and helping to provide homeless people with resources.
  • Fair use: Educate yourself on the law surrounding fair use so that you can understand when usage is fair, and when it violates a work’s copyright.
  • Public domain: Learn about public domain so that you can provide copyright-free resources to your patrons. It’s especially useful to learn how to identify a work in the public domain.
  • FBI in the library: The FBI can use your library as a resource for investigating the public’s usage of your resources, so it’s important to know how to deal with it. One librarian has come up with a few technically legal signs that you can use to let patrons know they may be monitored.
  • Rude patrons: Be careful when dealing with rude patrons. Be sure that you know the laws regarding issues like defacement, theft, violence, and trespassing.

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