Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers

Article excerpt

Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers. By Paul D. Healey. Chicago: ALA, 2014. 232 p. Paper $75 (ISBN 978-0-8389-1117-4).

Is it possible to provide excellent legal reference to library users without fear of liability or accusations of offering legal advice? According to this book, the answer is "yes." In fact, as author Paul D. Healey points out, no librarian has ever been held professionally liable or accused of unauthorized practice of the law for providing legal information. However, the possibility of posturing as an expert is enough of a risk that many librarians are reluctant to offer this kind of reference service.

Healey's concise and clearly written handbook provides guidance on how librarians can comfortably provide this service and still adhere to professional and personal codes of ethics. Divided into two parts, the opening chapters focus on pro se library users--that is, people who are handling their own legal affairs without being represented by an attorney. The author identifies the types of pro se users, their motivations for handling their own legal matters, and the potential risks they may confront. As Healey makes clear, not all pro se users risk the same level of harm; pro se users who are attempting to represent themselves in court are very different from pro se users who are merely drafting their own wills or business contracts. For these reasons, Healey advocates a minimalist approach in which the librarian provides the requested information but also makes it clear that more information may be needed. …

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