Legal Issues Affecting Libraries and Librarians; Employment Law, Liability & Insurance, Contracts and Problem Patrons

By Mika, Joseph J.; Shuman, Bruce A. | American Libraries, March 1988 | Go to article overview
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Legal Issues Affecting Libraries and Librarians; Employment Law, Liability & Insurance, Contracts and Problem Patrons


Mika, Joseph J., Shuman, Bruce A., American Libraries


Legal Issues Affecting Libraries and Librarians

Lesson III: Hiring, firing, and collective bargaining

LIBRARIANS HAVE yet to experience the malpractice suits prevalent in the legal and medical professions, but as administrators, librarians are subject to legal action involving the hiring, salary increases, promotion, and firing of their employees. In the LEXIS database we found 87 cases--41 federal and 46 state-- that involve librarians.

Hiring practices

Claims against employers are brought by individuals who feel they have been unjustly treated. Financial protection may be found in liability insurance and legal statutes limiting the level, degree, and amount of redress, but protection is easier to achieve through a comprehensive employment program and personnel plan. The personnel plan has three important objectives: to hire the best, provide orientation and training for new employees, and stimulate employees to their potential.

Generally, we librarians do a good job in our position descriptions. However, we are lax in providing a list of the necessary traits and abilities that would allow comparison of applicants' qualifications with specific job requirements.

Why not the best?

We were surprised to learn that so few employers contact references by telephone; most employers rely only upon the written recommendations provided by the applicant. These references are often based solely on contact in the classroom or work environment and should be considered with some degree of suspicion. Job applicants are not likely to request references from individuals who will be totally "honest" or objective in describing the applicant's positive and negative qualities. Moreover, references are reluctant to commit themselves on paper with respect to an individual's deficiencies.

References must be read with great care, searching for key words that hint at the writer's preference for an off-the-record conversation. A phone call to the written references should be standard, as should be a call to the institutions where the applicant has worked. Establish an accurate picture of the applicant's past performance in order to predict future performance.

The evaluation interview serves as the final step in the hiring process. In the interview, we can determine applicants' experience and training, relevance to the vacancy, motivation, intellect, character, personality, and ability to complement the existing staff. Some applicants apply for positions hoping to get through the door but aiming to find a job in an area, division, or function totally unrelated to that for which they have applied. Careful screening and interviewing are essential.

Orientation and training

Orientation is one process librarians do well. We enjoy introducing new employees to the library, their colleagues, various departments, and functional area. However, we do a poor job in training. We assume that library schools produce graduates immediately capable of starting in any capacity; after all, weren't we able to begin our careers and learn what we needed to know on the job? But 36-45 hours of graduate work can not possibly prepare a student for every position. Some areas are inadequately covered in graduate classes; others not at all.

We do a poor job of preparing students in bibliographic instruction. Many graduates are asked to be "bibliographic instructors," or, as reference librarians, to assume the secondary task of bibliographic instruction. Are courses offered in library schools that teach librarians how to teach? Rarely, if at all.

Self actualization

On-the-job training provides opportunities to overcome deficiencies in education, supplement skills already possessed, and enhance the employee's worth and breadth through exposure and grounding in new, untried areas of competence. Training may also provide the first opportunity to stimulate the individual to meet and exceed potential.

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