- Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Information Professionals
Professional liability is an important legal issue for the information disciplines. Several important works on information law have been published in recent years, including the Library’s Legal Answer Book by Mary Minnow (Chicago: American Library Association, 2003), Navigating Legal Issues in Archives by Menzi Behrnd-Klodt (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008), and my own book The Law of Libraries and Archives (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007). However, a book entirely devoted to this topic is a welcomed contribution. Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Information Professionals by Paul Healey— part of the Legal Advisor for Librarians, Educators, & Information Professionals Series—fills a vital need by providing an extended and detailed look at this important topic of professional practice.
Well-written and interesting, the book is a quick read. As a librarian with a legal background, Healey has been writing about liability issues for many years. The book is written in non-technical language that is accessible to non-attorneys but contains in-depth examples and definitions grounded in the law of torts and liability. Healey’s expanded definition of the information field includes librarians, information brokers, archivists, and museum curators. He notes ways in which the laws apply differently to each of these groups. The book begins with an overview of the law of torts, malpractice, and liability. Although the book touches upon other areas of liability as necessary (such as contracts), readers who are interested in more details on these topics are directed to other relevant works. [End Page 290]
It is important to note that legal reasoning is not about learning the rules, as one does in a cataloging class. There is no equivalent in law to the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules. Rather, American law is based upon a process of analysis. This distinction is even more important because there has never been a single published case in the United States dealing with liability issues for the information field. With no case law for guidance, it is possible for two lawyers to analyze the situation and come to different conclusions.
Healey spends a fair amount of time grappling with the legal distinction between professionals, who are personally liable for their work if they do not follow the standards of their profession, and workers in an occupation, who are not personally liable for work performed within the scope of their employment. The status of the information field is not settled in either law or sociology. Although his analysis is slightly different than mine, this is a matter of quibbling over details. We certainly agree that information workers who adhere to the scope of their duties and the standards of their fields are probably, for the most part, exempt from personal liability.
Some of the analysis in this book is nothing short of brilliant. The concept of sovereign immunity has rarely been discussed with regard to government-owned information organizations. Although discussion of patron status is common in legal and medical libraries, Healey brings these distinctions to other settings. Finally, Healey does an excellent job distinguishing the fiduciary and consulting roles of professionals, making a compelling argument that information professionals should stick to consulting roles.
Each chapter is divided into logical subsections. Important information and examples are highlighted in sidebars, and endnotes are at the end of each chapter. Healey uses the expanded table of contents format common in law, along with a separate table of cases at the rear of the book. The two-level index is well constructed and contains cross-references.
The only deficiency is that the author has chosen to repeat certain sections that could have been combined or cross-referenced. The rights of privacy and publicity are first mentioned in the chapter on torts, then repeated almost word for word in the chapter on laws specific to archivists and curators. Similarly, the chapters on proactive approaches to liability, training suggestions, policy suggestions, and liability audits are very repetitive; the reader would have been better...