Thursday, February 23, 2012

Librarians Need to Know How to Read Laws

So, laws can be a hot topic in Libraryland. Most especially when it comes to copyright. If you Google librarians and copyright, you'll get pages and pages on the topic - guides, info, pages from professional associations, etc etc. And I agree, librarians should understand copyright law, especially as it applies to their particular resources and clients.

But I also think that librarians need to be able to read, understand, and apply "the law," in general. This may not apply as much to certain librarians, but I'm a government librarian, and as such, there are specific laws that apply to me and my activities within my library. For example, what we can get rid of, and how. The question of this MIDA (multi-institutional disposition authority), how it applies at NRCan, and how we'll dispose of surplus (weeded) publications came up as part of our conversation around collection management and weeding. Some of my colleagues were concerned about our obligations, according to their reading of the MIDA.

Which meant that I needed to read the thing and provide advice on what we can and cannot do, and when we need to contact Library and Archives Canada to see if they want something (rare or old Canadian imprints; large runs of Canadian imprints).

I was okay with this (and would have asked our legal counsel for an opinion if I was unsure), but I can't be the only librarian who needs to read and understand laws other than copyright laws. And let's face it, specific wording is important in interpreting the law. So it surprises me that reading & applying laws has never, to my recollection, come up as a skill that librarians need to know. But I don't know - is this mostly limited to government librarianship? I'm curious about other librarians' experience with this.

Call me crazy, but I think this is awesome.


  1. This post brings back memories... I used to be a lawyer and a law book editor, though I remember little thats useful from all those years. But I do recall that even reading relatively "simple" legislation could be a nightmare of ambiguity and complexity. And court decisions and their impact? Holey moley.

    Never thought about how helpful it would be to a layperson to have librarians trained in how to read and interpret legal prose, but it sounds like a fantastic skill to have!

  2. I know, right? Even just the ability to get some kind of clarity and translate (a little bit) into plain English so you have some idea of how to proceed... and when to ask a lawyer!