Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Legal Issues in Libraries

Jessica Merritt shares a column on "25 Important Legal Issues Every Librarian Should Research" at Best Colleges Online, reminding librarians that there are important legal issues to consider. A number of points are relevant to censorship issues, especially in the United States, including the ones below:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

In any country, it is wise to know what the law is and to be proactive by having good policies in place. Educate your staff to know how to follow through.

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