I have been following legal issues that are relevant to library and information professionals for many years, but am always mindful of the fact that I am not a lawyer and that I am therefore unable to give legal advice.
But the more I have followed the laws that are especially significant for information professionals, the more I realise that no matter how much people might wish that it wasn’t the case, they do need to know about areas of potential risk in order to be in a position to minimise those risks.
Often I have heard people say that they have been landed with responsibility for copyright issues as though it were equivalent to catching the dreaded lurgy. And I am beginning to wonder whether privacy and data protection issues are seen as something even less popular than copyright.
The way in which information professionals deliver their services has changed out of all recognition compared to only a couple of decades ago. Librarians regularly encounter contract law, because of negotiating licences such as in order to use software, or to have access to electronic content. The way in which everyone has become a publisher in their own right means that copyright comes up time and again, as well as topics such as libel. Cloud computing raises issues of privacy, data protection, and the potential risks of cybercrime and of data breaches.
I have for some time now admired the commitment that American librarians in particular have to defending the privacy of their users. And eighteen months ago it got me thinking of why that would be so, bearing in mind just how noticeable it is that the level of engagement with privacy issues by UK librarians is somewhat more muted. The more I think about it, the more I have come to understand why there is such a difference – the passing of the PATRIOT Act (now replaced by the USA Freedom Act); the case of the “Connecticut Four”; the FBI’s “Library Awareness Program” of the 1980’s and so on.
In the UK we may not have had to contend with quite the same challenges as our American counterparts. And yet, why are more UK librarians not speaking up, for example, about the Investigatory Powers Bill and the impact that that will have on their work.
I find information law fascinating – precisely because it isn’t easy or straightforward and because it is constantly changing and developing. The law is always trying to catch up with technological developments. In order to ask ourselves how does the law apply to this particular set of circumstances, case law is often able to address things well before a new piece of legislation can be passed.
Two of the personal responsibilities listed in CILIP’s code of professional practice are that members should:
- Ensure they are competent in those branches of professional practice in which qualifications and/or experience entitle them to engage by keeping abreast of developments in their areas of expertise.
- Claim expertise in areas of library and information work or in other disciplines only where their skills and knowledge are adequate.
Meanwhile, CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base places ethics and values at the very centre of the wheel because they underpin the work of all practitioners in the sector.