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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1 (2004) 155-157
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Libraries, Museums, and Archives: Legal and Ethical Challenges in the New Information Era, ed. Tomas A. Lipinski. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. 335 p. $59.95 (ISBN 0-8108-4085-5)
In May 2000, the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UW-M) hosted an institute on legal and ethical issues affecting libraries, archives, and museums. Organized by the University's Center for Information Policy Research (CIPR), and funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the institute was to "provide instruction on the implications of new laws, regulations, and technologies for smaller institutions that may be without the benefit of in-house legal counsel." (Conference announcement <http://www.slis.uwm. edu/cipr/ilei.htm> [June 30, 2003]) The institute featured presentations by nationally known legal and information experts to a small number of selected participants. This volumemakes those presentations widely available.
In his introduction Lipinski, a UW-M faculty member and co-director of CIPR, notes how legal and ethical issues that have always permeated the information environment have been complicated by what he calls the saturation of libraries, museums, and archives with information technology. This collection is intended to help information professionals "make more informed decisions, or perhaps to better balance the legal, ethical, and practical aspects of a particular problem in their daily institutional settings." (p. xi) The institute and this record of its proceedings are unusual in combining institutions and issues not generally treated together. Aimed at librarians, museum staff, and archivists, and considering broad ethical principles as well [End Page 155] as technical legal requirements, the volume is unique in the breadth of its coverage.
Faced with a wide range of topics, from gift policies to censorship to privacy and copyright, Lipinski organizes the presentations into six broad parts: Working with the Collection, Special Issues in Museum Collection Management, Working with Patrons, Ethical Challenges, Copyright and Other Ownership Issues, and Implementation of Legal and Ethical Concepts. Chapters vary in tone and approach. Robert Vanni's discussion of deeds of gifts is a first person, rather conversational discussion, infused with humor and experience. Mary Minow's chapter on the accessibility of electronic information for patrons with disabilities seems appropriate for a law review. In contrast, Judith Krug's presentation on censorship and controversial materials, which begins "I am a librarian," offers a summary of legislation and litigation appropriate for a general audience. Johannes Britz and Elizabeth Buchanan approach information ethics from a philosophical view. Coming mid-way through the volume, these abstract musings seem less satisfying than Marsha Woodbury's entertaining and provocative consideration of information ethics versus e-commerce.
Taken together, the chapters provide an excellent historical context to the legal and ethical issues discussed. Citing Andrew Carnegie's deed of gift to the New York Public Library, Robert Vanni demonstrates how the once simple gift process has become complex for both institution and donor. Shelly Warwick's essay on copyright basics provides a useful background to Dwayne Buttler and Kenneth Crews' chapter on copyright and technology. While the institutional affiliations of some contributors are mentioned in the introduction, this information should have been provided with each chapter. The chapters on resources and policy writing seem more appropriate for appendices.
Throughout the volume, contributors identify tensions arising in the legal and ethical areas discussed: the dynamic tension between the need of institutions to meet their objectives and the desire of donors to promote their own interests; the legal tension between the First Amendment's right of free speech and the Constitution's implicit protection of the right of privacy; and the practical tension between the fixed nature of the law and the changing nature of technology. These inherent conflicts are difficult and persistent. Yet it is the very dynamic of change that seriously undermines the usefulness of this well-written and carefully documented volume. In the three years since the institute was held, major...