AALL Spectrum Blog

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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
2/12/2013 4:44:18 PM

Highlights from Winter 2013 MALL Newsletter

The Minnestoa Association of Law Libraries has published its Winter 2013 MALL Newsletter. This issue's emphasis is on the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Two articles discuss the challenges FDLP faces and then value it can provide even if physical collections are not the primary means of distributing government information. The FDLP has fostered a corps of librarians trained to research government information. Library involvment in the FDLP has also helped steer policy toward addressing government transparency and authentication of legal information.

Posted By Benjamin Keele at 2/12/2013 4:44:18 PM  0 Comments
2/12/2013 4:28:10 PM

Book Review: Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions

Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions, by Laurie Selwyn and Virginia Eldridge. IGI Global, 2012, 281 pages. Hardcover, $175.00.

Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions by Laurie Selwyn and Virginia Eldridge is an educational and insightful compendium of information for all types of law librarians who work as public servants. Through primarily experiential and anecdotal evidence of public law library operations, supplemented with data extracted from listservs, informal surveys, and industry news, the authors reaffirm the continuing validity of public law libraries as necessary venues for the provision of legal reference and research to a growing service population that includes private and public lawyers, judges, government officials, students, professors, inmates, members of the public, and pro se litigants. Each chapter of the book offers a detailed discussion of a discrete area of public law librarianship, including: patrons; governance and operations; management; personnel; public relations; collection development; technology, contracts, and electronic resources; technical services; and public service. While the authors summarize the history and current status of each of these areas, the key value of the book lies in its discussion of industry trends and predictions for the future of public law librarianship. Although many of their forecasts are already a reality at my law library, a few of their suggestions include provocative invitations to public law librarians to explore new service models and re-invent their libraries. As a taste to whet your appetite to read the book yourself, Selwyn and Eldridge repeatedly suggest that public law libraries could provide knowledge management and information technology services for their parent organizations in the form of pre-trial discovery assistance to prosecutors, digital preservation, and even dissemination of local ordinances. Although the authors recommend creating electronic reference desks and offering more remote access, they stop short of concluding that public law libraries will become completely 'virtual' any time in the near future. As they see it, increasing patron demands by self-represented litigants for reference assistance, training, and education, coupled with format issues and authentication concerns, will continue to drive the need for physical public law libraries and print resources. Along those same lines, one suggestion the authors made that I realized I should have already considered is the acquisition of adaptive and assistive technology to help disabled patrons overcome physical and visual handicaps. Lest you worry, I have not revealed all of the nuggets and secrets in Public Law Librarianship, which serves as a current anthology of information upon which public law libraries can rely to craft their future in a mixed world of digital and print resources. 

Kathleen M. Dugan, Esq. is the head librarian of the Cleveland Law Library Association/Cuyahoga County Law Library Resources Board

Posted By Kathleen Dugan at 2/12/2013 4:28:10 PM  0 Comments
2/6/2013 3:17:48 PM

Book Review: Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals

Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals, by Laura N. Gasaway. Purdue University Press, 2013, 284 pages. Paperback, $24.95

You may be thinking, “My library already owns half-a-dozen books on copyright issues in libraries. Do we really need another?” Absolutely. Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals should be part of all academic law library reference collections for those specific questions for which you need a quick answer. It is accessible to all readers, regardless of whether or not one has any copyright law knowledge. Similar books tend toward in-depth summaries and explanations of copyright law that may still leave the reader at a loss as to how to address specific questions. Professor Gasaway’s book is quite the opposite, clearly and succinctly providing just enough explanation to enable the librarian to make an informed decision and move on.

The book is comprised of questions and answers compiled from Professor Gasaway’s column in the journal Against the Grain. Each chapter begins with a few paragraphs summarizing the legal issues addressed therein (e.g., library reserves, movies and music, photos, archives), then presents 25–30 copyright-related questions and answers. Because the questions are genuine rather than hypotheticals conceived of by the author, the scenarios presented will undoubtedly sound familiar. Question 148 in the book, for example, parallels a recent inquiry I had at the reference desk: “Two faculty members at the university teach film courses. They run evening showings of the films, followed by discussions, which are widely advertised to the public. Although this provides an opportunity for students to see the films, many people from the general public also attend. No public performance rights are obtained because the faculty members claim that the performances are a fair use. They use copies of the DVDs from the library’s collection for the performances, and many are recently released films. Should the university be concerned about liability for copyright infringement?” Professor Gasaway’s answer is decisive: “Absolutely!” While she does give a brief explanation as to why this is the case (including what factors might change her answer), the reader is left with a definitive answer regarding whether someone in the university should obtain public performance rights for the films or the films should no longer be shown to the public at large. Professor Gasaway’s style throughout the book is the same—in no case are you left to parse out various applications of the law. Instead, the reader’s task is simply to assess whether his or her facts are more or less like those presented in the book.

Unfortunately, this raises one of the drawbacks of the book. If the question hasn’t been raised by Against the Grain readers, Professor Gasaway hasn’t addressed it. Thus, if you do not think your fact pattern sufficiently matches any scenarios presented in the book, you may need to turn to a book with more in-depth copyright analysis, such as The Librarian’s Copyright Companion.

Second, the book is not one to which you’d turn to develop copyright policies for your library because it does not offer a particularly nuanced assessment of issues such as liability and risk. For example, in the scenario described above (faculty showing films acquired by the library), no guidance is offered concerning whether the library or faculty member would also be subject to liability. If the librarian responsible for setting copyright policies for the library has a more comprehensive understanding of the actual risk to the library in these circumstances, he or she could set library copyright policies accordingly. For example, library policy may explicitly state no faculty can borrow films that may be shown to the public—or may simply continue to loan films to all faculty members without inquiring further. For better or worse, the librarian in this situation would still need to turn to university legal counsel and other copyright texts for guidance in this area.

Despite the fact that Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals may not address the big, deep copyright issues that arise in your library, the breadth of information covered makes this book worthwhile. Sometimes you just want a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Can we do X in the library?”

Ingrid Mattson is a Reference Librarian at Moritz Law Library, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University.

Posted By Ingrid Mattson at 2/6/2013 3:17:48 PM  0 Comments