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J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 April; 98(2): 188.
PMCID: PMC2859265

Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Information Professionals

Reviewed by Joy Harriman, MBA, MLS, AHIP

Paul D Healey 
Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Information Professionals.
New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers. 2008 (The Legal Advisor for Librarians, Educators, & Information Professionals)236 p. $ 85.00 soft cover. ISBN: 978-1-55570-609-8.  

“This book…can be viewed as a ‘what’ and as a ‘how’ book: what is the law and how does it affect us, and how do we comply with it and use the law where we can to our advantage” (p. xv), as stated in the foreword. Several important works on information law have been published during the current decade. Nevertheless, the profession has needed a clear and accurate resource of the issues on librarian liability for torts and related harms, and that resource is delivered by Paul Healey and Neal-Schuman.

The author—a well-known law librarian, speaker, writer, and professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and an associate professor of library administration at the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Law Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne—ably provides practical, readable information about professional liability (duty, fault, harm, etc.), immunity, and policy decisions found in the confusing mix of issues surrounding libraries, librarians, and tort law. He explores the fear-laden concepts of “when and under what circumstances a librarian or information professional might personally face a liability claim for his or her professional activities” (p. xvii). In that exploration, he provides information about defenses to claims, malfeasance, proximate cause, negligence, malpractice, defamation, and much more. Most importantly, he is able to explain what can be a highly complex subject in terms a non-lawyer can understand.

Healey organizes the presentation of legal concepts in three divisions: “Liability and Information Work,” “Liability Issues for Specific Segments of the [Library and Information Science (LIS)] Professional,” and “Avoiding Liability Claims: Proactive Approaches and Tools.” This approach allows readers to focus on matters directly related to their own professional situations.

The law and its application are presented through discussion and examples specific to library, archive, or educational circumstances. Each chapter's main points are introduced in an overview; appropriate case studies provide a practical scenario; a question and answers (Q&A) section clarifies the information; bullet-point summaries called “Important Points to Remember” consistently “help non-lawyers understand issues behind the concept of professional liability” (p. xvii); and an endnotes section conclude each chapter. There is a first-rate case and subject index at the end of the book.

Section I, “Liability and Information Work,” effectively introduces legal theory, terminology, liability, torts, contracts, rights of privacy and publicity, contracts, confidentiality and fees, standards and duties of care, and potential sources of liability claims for information professionals. The good news of immunity applicable in public employment settings is also discussed. Healey speaks to the “harm” that might arise through various forms of “errors” as well as other torts and applies legal analysis to assess the likely result under the law.

Section II, “Liability Issues for Specific Segments of the LIS Professional,” addresses types of information professionals in specific contexts such as public or special libraries, information brokers, and archival and museum environments. Where the first several chapters speak to basic ideas, the next several apply advanced concepts to a specific environment. Each chapter begins with an overview of what is to be covered. The primary issues are introduced through case studies, a Q&A section, bullet-point summaries, and an endnotes section that conclude each chapter. The issues covered in this section are the stuff of many librarian's or information professional's nightmares: malpractice and duty of care, failure to act on a publisher's warning, collections decisions and accuracy of materials, services to licensed professionals, forms of liability arising from assisting lay users, subject expertise and liability for librarians, negligent misrepresentation, contracts and agreements, and acquisitions, loans, and deaccessions as potential issues of liability. Healey presents them simply, understandably, and without too much legal jargon.

Avoiding Liability Claims: Proactive Approaches and Tools,” addresses compliance with practical tools, such as checklists, audits, and sample policies. The final section is very functional in that it promotes a proactive approach to prevent or avoid the legal entanglements discussed in previous chapters from ever being triggered. The chapters cover training suggestions, policy development and implementation, and questions to help every institution conduct its own liability audit.

Healey shares two gifts with this book, both noted in the series editor's foreward. First, the reader now understands the basic legal concepts necessary to prepare an assessment and conclusion about the possibility of professional liability. Second, the reader will understand how to ensure that any threat of such liability remains remote.

The book does not claim to constitute legal advice and should serve as a starting point for learning about liability issues. However, its usefulness to libraries of all types and sizes and its applicability to librarians, information brokers, and students means it should be found on all our book shelves.


Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association