Legal Issues Resource

This section outlines potential legal issues that might be related to the provision of e-government services.

Table of Contents

Legal Advice vs. Giving Information

(Adapted from “Legal Information and Resources for Libraries", PowerPoint presentation made available by the State Library and Archives of Florida, and Policy Considerations: What are the Legal Risks?, by Mary Minow)

The basic idea is to take steps to leave the patron in control of his/her information need, but what does this actually mean?

  • You can connect patrons with information but you cannot provide a legal analysis or interpretation of this information.
  • You can explain how the immigration or taxation processes work but you cannot suggest which process is applicable to the patron’s personal situation.
  • You can help patrons locate e-government forms and applications but you cannot select the specific forms/applications for the patron to use.
  • You can recommend that a patron consult with an attorney but you cannot recommend a specific attorney.


 Best practices

  1. Familiarize yourself with state/local bar rules regarding the unauthorized practice of law (a list of local and state bar associations is available at the website of the American Bar Association)
  2. Keep a current list of lawyer referral and legal aid services (the American Bar Association publishes a pro bono directory for use by pro bono advocates and professionals)
  3. Arrange for library staff training from legal aid services or your county/state court library (A partial listing of county and state law libraries is available from the University of Washburn School of Law)
  4. Use click-through disclaimer to emphasize that library staff can assist users in searching for E-government resources, but cannot give advice or select forms.
  5. Do not click e-signature links for patrons (Minow's Policy Considerations Report)
  6. Sample language to use when assisting patrons with e-government services (adapted from Paul Healey’s recommendations in Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Information Professionals): 
    • Setting the Tone: “I am not an expert on taxation/immigration, but I can help you locate forms and/or information on the process”
    • Presenting the Results: “Here is what I was able to find. You should look it over to see if it is what you had in mind” or “Keep in mind that there may be other information or sources available that would be helpful to you”
    • Ending the Interview: “I have given you what information I was able to find. If you need more information, I’d be happy to talk to you about some local organizations that may be able to provide more assistance"

Suggested Resources

Healey, P.D. (2008). Professional Liability Issues for Librarians and Informational Professionals.

Healey, P.D. (2002). Pro Se Users, Reference Liability, and the Unauthorized Practice of Law: Twenty-Five Selected Readings (annotated list of readings) [pdf]

Privacy & Security

 General Resources

Best Practices – Network Security

  • Make patrons aware that they need to log off the computer completely after personal/private information has been entered (ALA E-Government Toolkit).
  • Instruct patrons on how to create strong password and how to safeguard their passwords but avoid creating or viewing the password.
  • Use click-through disclaimer to emphasize that the library cannot guarantee network security.

Best Practices – Protecting Patrons’ Confidentiality

  • Dedicate certain computers for e-government use.
  • Locate computers in a private or semi-private location so as to protect patrons’ confidentiality.
  • Post information making patrons aware that the computers in the library are public computers and that they need to take responsibility for guarding their personal information (ALA E-Government Toolkit).
  • Do not type in or even view, if possible, patrons’ personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers or passwords (Policy Considerations Report).
  • Be able to answer patrons’ questions about what personal information is being collected and stored on the computer when they fill out e-government forms or applications.

Sample Disclaimer Language
(Based on the Pasco County Library [pdf] policy)
"Library staff cannot give users legal, financial or medical advice and are not case workers. Library staff may assist users in searching for E-resources, but may not advise users on specific forms, or sign or submit forms for users. The Library is not responsible for the content found on other government agencies’ websites. The Library cannot guarantee that other government agencies will receive forms or information submitted from library computers or act on them appropriately. The Library is not responsible for any failure in transmission of online forms or information. The Library uses best efforts to ensure network security. Nevertheless, the user assumes all responsibility for the use of the Library’s network, including interference with the user’s data, laptop or other device. The Library is not liable for the loss or compromise of any confidential or sensitive, or any other information, nor for any and all damages resulting from the loss or compromise thereof."