Interview with Jaeger, Lazar, Gorham, and Greene Taylor on Information Law

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

May 09, 2023

Paul T. Jaeger, Jonathan Lazar, Ursula Gorham, and Natalie Greene Taylor co-wrote Foundations of Information Law. ALA Neal-Shuman will publish the book this summer. My interview with the authors is below.  

1. Briefly summarize Foundations of Information Law for our readers.

Foundations of Information Law fills a gaping hole in the materials available to information professionals. It is a guide to the history, the reasons behind, and the functioning of the laws that shape information. The law is often discussed in the field as a festive assortment of discrete topics, but it really is a continuum of interrelated issues, and this book explains how it all works together.

 To ensure relevance across the field, legal topics are examined in the context of different information institutions and various professional settings, with heaps of descriptions, real world examples, and best practices. The book promotes literacy about the law, its structures, and its terminology as a professional skill to empower information practitioners and enable the ability to engage with the law.

2. Please share why you decided to write this book. 

The lives of information professionals in libraries, archives, and museums are impacted by laws about a bewildering range of elements of their work. These include freedom of access, censorship, freedom of expression, privacy, public forums, filtering, accessibility, copyright, contracts, licensing, fair use, interlibrary loan, education use, streaming, security, surveillance, advocacy, lobbying, workplace environment, liability, and funding, among many other things.

Yet, for this bounty of laws impacting libraries, archives, and museums, there has not been a book that actually explained the overall structure and function of laws, legal processes, and systems to information professionals. There have been a great many books devoted to one aspect of the law and one type of information institution: intellectual property in academic libraries or intellectual freedom in school libraries, and such. Many of these books are very useful for the specific topic, but there has never been a book that a librarian could turn to that explains the law overall and the ways in which these different topics all fit together and interact and cause trouble.

 A book like that – which turned out to be Foundations of Information Law – seemed like it would be extremely useful for both current and future professionals. Since three of the four authors of the book have backgrounds in both law and information institutions, it seemed like we should be the ones to write it. So we did.

3. What are two ways information law directly affects the work of librarians?

The one that is probably most familiar to the largest number of librarians in some way or another is intellectual property. Depending on the type of library you work in and the kind of role you have, you may see intellectual property primarily in terms of licensing or orphan works or limitations on how much of a work you can share through interlibrary loan, or trying to keep patrons from illegally downloading things on the library machines. But for most librarians, intellectual property is part of their day in some fashion.

 And, of course, intellectual freedom is a legal issue that not only is present in every library every day, it is the legal issue and ideal that is most associated with libraries. With the dramatic rise in book bans and program bans—and even laws in some states creating significant legal penalties for librarians who do not follow the book bans—the issues of expression and access are of utmost importance to librarians right now.

4. What are two things you hope readers take away after reading Foundations of Information Law?

First, we hope the law will be more understandable and less of an unknowable obliqueness. At a minimum, librarians, archivists, and museum professionals need to be literate in and comfortable with laws related to the creation, collection, use, dissemination, and preservation of information. There are many further reasons why information professionals may be interested in law. They might want to become a public, government, or academic librarian; want become a librarian at a law firm or a law school; want to understand the legal issues involving information science research; or want to do advocacy work related to core passions in information science. For all these reasons, the book tries to make the law relevant, understandable, and knowable to current and to future librarians, rather than a terrifying abstraction.

 Second, we hope the book will empower information professionals to see they are not helpless in the face of the law. Understanding the law means you have the tools to make it work better and advocate for it to be changed. Especially with the aforementioned rash of laws being promulgated in state legislatures right now that create criminal threats for information professionals, being able to engage with the law has become an essential job skill for all information professionals.

5. The book description states that the book is “a go-to reference for current practitioners.” Will you explain how you plan for current practitioners to use the book?

The breadth of law directly impacting libraries has changed enormously since the 1970s. The laws threatening criminal penalties to librarians are only an example of the torrent of laws directly shaping commonplace activities and operations in information institutions. After the advent of the browseable web, these laws have increased exponentially, while other areas of law that once had little relation to librarianship are now shaping the ways in which a library can engage its community. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive introduction to major legal issues and considerations of which librarians, archivists, and museum professionals should be aware.

 This book meets that need for both current and future librarians working in a variety of settings. It has sections that explain the importance, the terminology, and the structures of the law; legal information literacy; core topics of information law; and legal issues of information on the operational and management side of information practice. Any reader can approach the book in sequence or go straight to a chapter about a specific issue they are encountering. For a current practitioner, it can be very handy as a reference to understand a current problem or a resource to help avoid future problems.

6. Is there anything else you would like to share?

All the book’s authors are passionate about and active in both the law and library and information science. We alluded to the backgrounds of the authors being in both law and information, with three of the authors having graduate degrees in both fields. Dr. Gorham currently directs the MLIS program at the University of Maryland, is a member of the Maryland Bar, and was previously a federal law clerk. Dr. Lazar teaches courses on both human-computer interaction and legal research, and regularly publishes in law journals and testifies in court cases and legislative hearings. Drs. Taylor and Jaeger write extensively about the relationships between principles of human rights, civil rights laws, and information, including two previous books in the American Library Association’s Foundations series – Foundations of Information Policy and Foundations of Information Literacy.  

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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