Outlaws? We don't know any.

The first things you should know as the director of a small public library are the laws that affect you. Not following applicable laws may invite a costly lawsuit. Educate yourself and be careful to follow the laws, but don't worry about being sued. If you're trying to follow the laws and you're making a good effort to do what is right by everyone involved, you'll be fine. If there ever is a lawsuit, your library's lawyer and liability insurance are capable of handling it.

Of the many laws affecting libraries, this book discusses the federal laws that affect all of the libraries in the United States and some common state laws used in most areas. The chapter ends with a brief discussion on hiring and firing practices including questions to avoid in interviews to ensure you follow hiring laws. Talk with an expert in one of the larger libraries or your state library agency to determine exactly what state laws affect you. Look up and read through the enabling statute in your state that allows for the creation of public libraries. In the interest of saving time and avoiding confusion, look for a summary written especially for librarians or library boards. Also be aware of the statutes and regulations in your community. Get the book of ordinances from the township or city you work in and make sure you at least skim through it. Have a general idea of community laws and regulations. Know what you should do if someone is drunk or disruptive in the library, you suspect law-breaking behavior, or a staff member hits a patron. Talk with the police in your area to get to know them and to find out how the library can help them do their jobs. In many instances, libraries try to handle unruly patrons and possible lawbreakers themselves, but these situations should be turned over to local law-enforcement. It is their job to handle situations beyond normal everyday library occurrences. Meet every year with your attorney to discuss possible scenarios and how the library should handle them. Take policies and procedures with you to your legal counsel so they are informed on library issues. For a small fee you can double-check all policies before they are implemented.

Remember, all laws exist in a political framework — don't make every disagreement, every difference of opinion, a fight. You will find that a lot of things really aren't that important. You do need to decide what is important to you in running the library: what is the minimum the library needs and what level of funding is needed to provide the best service you can to the community? Where should the library spend additional money if the funding becomes available?

Pointers for handling criticism:

* Consider the reliability of the source.
* Encourage critics to tell you what they think.
* Understand the criticism completely; ask questions and gather all the information.
* Always maintain control of your emotions; keep cool and uninterested.

Fight the good fights, but be willing to sit in a board meeting and not say anything even if you disagree vehemently with what is being said. Even if it is totally wrong and there's no way it would ever work, let it slide for a bit. There is a very good chance that someone on the board will feel similarly to you and say so. This is what should be going on in the board meeting: board members working collectively for the good of the library, discussing every side, and deciding what is best for the library. You should be able to sit back and let the board discuss things. If you are asked your opinion, by all means tell them. If no one on the board speaks up against a horrid idea, do so.

So, what are the good fights? I believe they include fighting to preserve the library as an open place to exchange ideas freely, without censorship, and to let everyone celebrate the diversity of the community that you live in. Some communities have Christian Fiction collections while others have Judaica collections. Some communities will have Islamic collections while others will have a large section of African-American Fiction. Hindu, Buddhism, Shinto, Hispanic, Italian, etc. Get to know your community and how the library can best serve it. Reach out to your unique community while always reminding it there is a bigger world out there.

Federal Laws and Regulations

Some regulations must be posted where all employees can easily see them. Use the Department of Labor's Poster Advisor at to determine necessary postings for your state. Complete information on most federal laws and regulations is available at You can read the overviews provided by the University of Alabama at There is also a wealth of information from

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1973

ADEA protects individuals who are 40 years or over, whether they be prospective or existing employees, from age-based discrimination regarding terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. ADEA applies to labor organizations and employment agencies along with employers who have more than 20 employees.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects persons who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such an impairment, and are regarded as having such an impairment. Title I and Title V prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. ADA provides people with disabilities equal access to library facilities, information, computer technology, programs, services, and other resources through reasonable accommodation, non-discrimination, and building requirements. ADA prohibits libraries from refusing to provide disabled individuals with an equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, library programs or services simply because the person has a disability. Invite individuals, whom you or other staff members know, to evaluate the library and the ease with which they can access various areas and services offered. Test every area and service for accessibility, especially checking anything added, modified, or changed. Any new construction or renovations and alterations made to an existing facility must meet the Americans with Disabilities accessibility guidelines at a minimum. The guidelines are available at Modifications to existing facilities that are readily achievable must be initiated, such as adding a ramp or push-button door opener. See more information at

Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

Bad faith abusive registering of Internet domain names is prohibited. If someone else registers your library name, or similar, and attempts to charge you for it or uses it for content or services that sully the name of the library, you can take action in court.

Bankruptcy Act

This act prohibits discrimination against anyone who has declared bankruptcy. Beware of this should you ever find out an applicant or employee filed for bankruptcy.

Children's Internet Protection Act

CIPA requires Internet filtering or blocking (a.k.a. technological protection measures) on ALL library computers, including staff machines, if the library receives E-rate discounts to help pay for access, service, or internal connections and wiring or if the library receives LSTA money to purchase computers for accessing the Internet or to pay for links, modems, switches, etc. used for access. The filtering or blocking must stop access to visual depictions that are obscene and child pornography. When the patron is under 17, you must attempt to stop access to visual depictions deemed harmful to minors. What is obscene or harmful to minors can only be determined in a local court of law applying community standards. The technological protection measure must be turned off if an adult ever asks for full access on a computer and then turned back on when they are done. Certification is accomplished by filling in the appropriate section of your USF form when applying for an E-rate discount. If you are only receiving LSTA money, ask when the grant is received about how to certify compliance with CIPA. See more information at and

Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits sexual harassment and sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases of intentional discrimination.

Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985

COBRA requires employers with 20 or more employees to provide for continuation of health insurance if an employee is terminated, laid-off, or has hours reduced so that they no longer qualify for health coverage. The employee, who must pay for the cost, can choose to continue health care for themselves and any dependents for up to 18 months.

Copyright Law

The first sale doctrine, Section 109 of the Copyright Act, is the foundation for public libraries. First sale doctrine states that once an item is purchased, the owner may then lend or resell it.

Libraries, as non-profit institutions, may read books and poems or perform music without licensing if there is no "purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage" and there is no "payment to any performers, promoters, or organizers if:

* (a) there is no direct or indirect admission or
* (b) the proceeds are used exclusively for educational, religious, or charitable purposes,

except if the copyright owner (having been given notice) objects seven days in advance of the performance."1 This also applies to one time performances broadcast over cable TV, broadcast TV, or radio stations. You may also turn on a TV or radio, if you're receiving a general broadcast transmission, for everyone to enjoy. DVDs and videotapes are another issue and public performance rights, copyright owner permission, or a general license is required before showing them in the library.

Patrons must adhere to U.S. Copyright Law when using library materials, even after they check them out, and equipment (copier, fax, computers, etc.). Post whatever copyright notice you use next to every public printer, as well as computer and photocopier. Every place people can break copyright needs to have a notice posted there. The St. Paul Public Library has a sample notice available at Section 107 of the Copyright Revision Act discusses the three fair use factors:

* the purpose and character of the use including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes,
* the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and
* the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Libraries may make copies for interlibrary loan, preservation, and replacements according to Section 108 of Copyright Law. Any copyright notice needs to be reproduced somewhere in the copy even if the copyright notice only appears at the beginning of the book and you copy page 27 because it has local history information you want to preserve in your library, you need to mention on the copy that it is the copyright of someone else. Under Section 108(c) you may make up to three copies of a published work or an unpublished one that is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen or if the existing format in which it is stored becomes obsolete. You must determine that you cannot find UNUSED replacement copies at a fair price. Libraries, under 108(d), can make copies of an article, or a small portion of a work, for interlibrary loan or for patrons. While you can copy books and articles, you cannot copy video tape cassettes; audiovisual works; musical works; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works; or a motion picture for interlibrary loan. Digital copies may also be made, but under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 they are only to be used inside the library.

Equal Employment Opportunity Act

EEOA prohibits discrimination against minorities based on poor credit ratings.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC enforces all discrimination laws. EEOC also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies. These regulations currently include Age Discrimination in Employment Act, American with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Acts, and Equal Pay Act. For complete information visit the EEOC website at

It is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:

* hiring and firing
* compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
* transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
* job advertisements
* recruitment
* testing (must be fair & job related)
* use of company facilities
* training and apprenticeship programs
* fringe benefits
* pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
* other terms and conditions of employment

There are three legal theories for establishing unlawful discrimination: disparate treatment, intentional discrimination, and adverse impact. Disparate treatment is where similarly situated individuals are treated differently. Intentional discrimination occurs if the employer was predisposed to discriminate against a protected group and acted on that predisposition in making the employment decision, i.e. a supervisor makes offensive racial comments and indicates he wants to get rid of all of a certain ethnic group. Adverse impact addresses policies affecting a protected group, i.e. an employer requires all employees be at least 5' 8" tall so that fewer women qualify than men.

Equal Pay Act of 1963

EPA protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment and requires no wage variation by the sex of the worker.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

FCRA regulates credit reports, criminal background reports, motor vehicle reports, driving records, and reference and worker compensation history reports. Always obtain written permission from the applicant before performing a background check. If you do not hire someone because of the report, you must provide the applicant or employee a copy of both the report and their legal rights regarding the report and your action.

Fair Labor Standards Act

FLSA applies to local government agencies, including libraries, but not generally to non-profit organizations. FLSA provides for a minimum wage of $5.15/hr. Employees under 20 may be paid as little as $4.25/hr. for the first 90 days after employment. Student learners, apprentices, and workers with disabilities may also be paid less. Contact the Department of Labor,, for a special certificate. After working for 40 hours in a work week, overtime pay must be given at 1.5 times the worker's normal wage. Executive, administrative, and professional employees (i.e. librarians) are exempt but they must be paid on a salary of at least $455 a week where they are paid the same for any week in which they do any work without regard to the number of days or hours worked. Local delivery employees paid on approved trip rate plans are also exempt from overtime. Employees 14 or 15 years of age may work no more than 3 hours on a school day and 18 hours in a school week — 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week when school is out. Their work hours must be between 7 AM and 7 PM —until 9 PM June 1st through Labor Day.

Each employee requires a record be kept that includes:

* personal information, including employee's name, home address, occupation, sex, and birth date if under 19 years of age;
* hour and day when workweek begins;
* total hours worked each workday and each workweek;
* total daily or weekly straight-time earnings;
* regular hourly pay rate for any week when overtime is worked;
* total overtime pay for the workweek;
* deductions from or additions to wages;
* total wages paid each pay period; and
* date of payment and pay period covered.

Federal law requires no breaks, but state law may. If breaks are offered, those from 5 to 20 minutes must be paid by federal law while meal periods lasting 30 minutes or more do not need to be paid as long as the employee is completely relieved of their duties during this time. provides links to the state labor offices. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines part-time employment as working less than 35 hours a week.

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

FMLA applies to public employers with at least 50 employees and provides a means for employees to balance their work and family life through an entitlement of up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period. The employee must provide 30 days notice if the leave is foreseen and have worked for at least one year and for at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. Unpaid leave must be granted to care for the employee's child whether by birth, adoption or foster placement; to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition; or if the employee has a serious health condition making them unable to perform their job. Any health coverage is protected and maintained, by the employer, for the duration of the leave. Upon returning, the employee must receive their original or equivalent position, pay, and benefits without losing any accrued benefits. The employer can require medical certification and, at their expense, require second or third opinions when taking FMLA leave.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

HIPAA limits exclusions for preexisting medical conditions to 12 months and provides for certificates of prior coverage to reduce or eliminate the exclusion period when switching insurers. HIPAA provides new rights that allow individuals to enroll for health coverage when they lose other health coverage, get married, or add a dependent. HIPAA guarantees the availability of coverage for small employers and provides protections for renewing coverage.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

IRCA requires employers to assure that all employees hired are legally authorized to work in the U.S. All employers are required to complete and maintain an Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) Form within three business days of hiring an employee. The I-9 form must be correctly filled out and kept on file the longer of 3 years or 1 year after the employee ceases to work for you. IRCA also prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin or citizenship for those authorized to work in the United States.

Internal Revenue Service

IRS allows income deductions for donations to charitable organizations, the public library being one of the most important ones. Federal Income Tax 1040 Schedule A states that individuals may deduct contributions or gifts they gave to religious, charitable, educational, scientific, or literary organizations. Examples of these organizations are federal, state, and local governments if the gifts are solely for public purposes, i.e. public libraries. Libraries can not put a value to any gift.

Library Services and Technology Act

LSTA contracts require abiding by several additional federal laws and regulations. Consult with the organization providing the funding.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

PDA states that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions must be treated the same as persons not affected for all employment-related purposes. PDA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Public Forum

Any meeting room, bulletin board, or display case open to the public is a public forum. Public libraries may not restrict usage on the basis of content or viewpoint, i.e. religious uses. Libraries may restrict narrow groups, like political parties, from using meeting rooms unless the meeting is open to everyone for participation and discussion. Public libraries may place limits on the number of times and the hours that groups can use meeting rooms or displays. Speech reasonably expected to provoke violence can be limited, but not the discussion of violence. Groups that damage the meeting room or library property may be banned based on their past history, no matter their content or viewpoint. Rooms, boards, and display areas used only by the library are not public forums.

Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989

WPA creates a clear remedy for all cases of retaliation or discrimination against whistleblowers that raise or report safety or other concerns. Do not change how you treat employees who criticize you or the library.

State Laws and Regulations

The Law Librarian's Society of Washington, D.C. maintains links to all of the state administrative codes, laws, and regulations at Start with your state library agency, network, or commission since they often have a compilation of state laws affecting libraries. The Library of Congress maintains a page,, with links to all of the state library organizations.

At Will Employment

Most of your employment will be at will, meaning that either the employer or the employee may terminate the relationship at any time, for any reason or even for no reason, without legal liability. While there is no formal contract in at will employment, many employers have a signed form stating this information and requesting a two week or longer notification. This ensure both parties understand the employment arrangement and allows for counteracting claims of verbal or implied contracts in a court of law.

Civil Rights, State

State Civil Rights Agencies are listed on FindLaw at In addition to the groups protected by federal law, state statutes often provide protection for others.

Freedom of Information Act

All persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees. There is a Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applying to federal government and organizations. Public libraries are subject to the different state versions of this law and need to be familiar with them. Public records include any writing prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body in the performance of an official function. An employee, usually the director, should be designated the Freedom of Information Officer (FOIO) and be responsible for replying, within the law's time limits, to any requests. The FOIO is required to keep a copy of all written requests on file for at least a year. Those requesting information are not entitled to compilations or analyses, all that must be provided is the basic information and raw data. Many things we would consider private can actually be obtained through these laws, such as salaries, wages and personnel records. For this reason, all medical information including doctor's notes must be kept separate from an employee's personnel file. It is best to consult a lawyer before releasing any personnel information. You may charge fees for the staff time, using the lowest hourly wage capable, and actual copying.

Stay in compliance with state privacy laws regarding library patrons at all times. Library patron records, even simple lists of patrons, are usually exempt under an aptly named Library Privacy Act or similar state legislation.


Be sure to have proper property and liability insurance for your library. "Library boards should meet annually with an insurance professional to audit applicable insurance policies and ensure that coverage is in place for cyberspace activities and other intellectual property, advertising, and publishing exposures, and to verify that there are not any gaps in coverage."2

There is little chance of librarian's or libraries being successfully sued for malpractice of negligence during normal operation. Materials with libelous, dangerous, incorrect, or misleading information are not the responsibility of the library even if housed in their collection. Providing advice on law, medicine, taxes, and other areas outside an employee's training is against the law. We can point people to the correct information or even point out things they have overlooked.

There is no duty to wait with children after hours or offer aid to someone outside the library. When you do help, you must exercise due care. Your liability actually increases when you wait with a child or help someone. It's a crazy country.

Your library may want to consider errors and omissions insurance too. E&O insurance policies "typically provide coverage for defined damages and associated defense costs that a policyholder becomes legally obligated to pay because of a negligent error or omission in providing certain defined insured services to others."3

Library Privacy Acts

State privacy laws regarding library records are listed at If law enforcement or others with court orders arrive, always tell them you need to consult with your attorney first. Inform staff of the applicable law, or exception to the state open records law, that establishes library privacy in your state. Most states simply prohibit releasing any patron information to someone other than that patron. With the patrons consent, records can usually be released and materials picked up by another person. Have forms available for any consent issues in your state. Some library privacy acts do not even allow the library to tell a parent or guardian what their child has out. In this situation, parents and guardians always have the opportunity of not allowing their child a library card or asking their child to tell them what they have out.

Your policy may always protect more information than required by law. Regularly clear the cache, history, bookmarks, and cookies from web browsing, ideally between each patron to use the computer. Ask your Internet service provider, ISP, what records they keep of the Internet traffic flowing through their computers. Shred any sign up lists as soon as the statistics have been taken from them, ideally nightly. Before implementing a privacy policy, have it reviewed by your attorney. Librarian observations generally are not covered by library privacy laws and can be shared at the discretion of the staff member.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

OSHA assures a safe work environment for employees. OSHA does not cover state and local government employees unless that state sets up its own program. States with their own OSHA programs are Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Find their policies online through Other states may still choose to provide workplace safety and health protection for government employees. Check with your state if it is not listed above.

Open Meetings Act

Public libraries are responsible for adhering to their state's open meetings provisions. In all cases, what is stipulated is the minimum the library and its board must comply with and they may always let the public know more of what happens. Meeting notices must contain the name and contact information for the public body, be posted at the principal office and at any parent organization, and contain the date, time, and location of the meeting. The notice usually must be posted at least two days prior to the meeting but varies by state with some requiring meetings for the entire fiscal year be posted near the start of that year.

Public meetings must be held in a public building with no registration required to attend. Meetings may be tape recorded, videotaped, or broadcast live by anyone attending. A time during the meeting needs to be provided for any public comment and the board can require a person to give their personal information before speaking. Board members should abstain from voting on the minutes of any meeting where they were not personally present. Amendments or changes to the agenda set for a specific meeting must be voted on before they can take effect. The board cannot discuss or take action on any item of business not listed on the agenda. A public body may not meet informally prior to a public meeting to determine what will be decided at the meeting, but social gatherings are not subject to the act, including conferences and workshops the entire board may be attending.

Most open meetings acts require that minutes be kept at every meeting including the date, time, place, members of the board present and absent, and any decisions made. Minutes must be made available to the public at the library. Until approved, usually at the next board meeting, the proposed minutes shall be available. There is often a deadline of approximately a week and half after the meeting for these minutes to be released. The same is true after the minutes are approved at the next board meeting.

Right to Work

Right to work states ensure that employees cannot be forced to join unions in order to qualify for or continue employment.


State acts provide for the payment of unemployment benefits to eligible claimants. Unemployment normally provides workers, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with monetary payments for a given time or until they find a new job. This financial support allows employees to take the time to find an equivalent job without financial stress. The state law is based on federal standards and requires approval from the Secretary of Labor. Most nonprofit organizations and government entities can choose to not pay state unemployment insurance contributions and simply reimburse the state for any claims made by former employees.

Worker's Compensation

Worker's compensation is required by law in all 50 states. See "What You Need to Know about Worker's Compensation Insurance" made available online by AllBusiness at Worker's compensation ensures employees injured or disabled on the job of monetary compensation, often 2/3 of their normal monthly salary plus any medical or job retraining expenses, without having to litigate. Worker's comp provides benefits to dependents of workers killed by accidents or illnesses at work. Problems caused willfully by the employee or through intoxication are not covered. Even if your state does not require the purchase of worker's compensation insurance, it is still highly recommended you have this insurance.

Hiring & Firing

Always watch your hiring practices. Requiring only certain applicants to perform tests or receive a medical exam is asking to be sued and signing on ten white females in a row is never a good practice. Any size employer can be sued based on employment patterns or for not employing enough minorities or women. Recruit from the widest practical population by posting your open positions in both newspapers and on the Internet. To increase diversity in your pool, place additional ads in minority papers or ask for referrals from agencies working with minority groups.

Job interview and application questions must be related to the job and may not be asked for the purpose of discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, birthplace, age, or physical disability. "Don't ask questions or qualifications of one group (women, racial minorities, disabled, veterans, etc.) that you wouldn't ask the majority group (such as white males). Practically speaking, ask the same questions of all applicants; if in doubt, don't ask."4 Applicants under 18 should be informed of the labor laws for minors and then asked if they can work the schedule you need. People may not be limited in hiring, terms of employment, training, promotion, advancement, firing, or working conditions, because of age for persons over 40, disability, race or color, national origin, religion, sex, and pregnancy. Employees are also protected from discharge or demotion for jury service, filing workers compensation or OSHA claims, or testifying in court. Civil-service rules governing employees have to be observed: these employees may not be demoted without cause, transfers not involving reduced salaries or reduced duties are permissible, and any testing must be objective and based on the job description.

Questions to Avoid on Applications and in Interviews

* "Are you a U.S. citizen?; Where were you/your parents born?; What is your "native tongue?"
* How old are you?; When did you graduate from college?; What is your birthday?
* What's your marital status?; Who do you live with?; Do you plan to have a family?; When?; How many kids do you have?; What are your child care arrangements?"5
* Will your family object to travel?; What is the occupation of your spouse, parents, etc.?
* What is your religious affiliation?; Do you attend church?
* What is your view on civil rights, religion, feminism, etc.?
* "To what clubs or social organizations do you belong?
* How tall are you?; How much do you weigh?
* Do you have any disabilities?; Please complete the following medical history.; Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? If yes, list and give dates.; What was the date of your last physical exam?; How's your family's health?; When did you lose your eyesight?"6
* Have you ever been hospitalized?; Have you ever been treated for any mental condition?; Are you taking any medication?; Have you ever been treated for alcoholism or other addiction?
* Is there any health-related reason you may not be able to perform the job?; How many absences have you had from work?
* "Have you ever been arrested?
* If you've been in the military, were you honorably discharged?; In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?"7

Application Forms

Ask if they can perform the job functions or tasks with or without reasonable accommodations and for permission to check with their current employer and other references. Other questions good for an application form are: "To enable us to check on your work and education record, is any additional information necessary relative to change of name, use of an assumed name or a nickname? If yes, please explain. If hired, can you show proof of age? Are you over eighteen years of age? If under eighteen, can you, after employment, submit a work permit? Can you, after employment, submit verification of your legal right to work in the United States? Have you ever been convicted of a felony (time period), or a misdemeanor, which resulted in imprisonment? A conviction will not necessarily disqualify you for the job. Please list job-related organizations, clubs, professional societies, or other associations to which you belong — you may omit those which indicate your race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or age."8 You can also ask for their place of residence, state that a job offer may be made contingent on the applicant passing a job-related physical exam, and ask if they are available to work during any of your regular hours (and if not, when they are available).

Checking on References

Limit inquiries to applicants you plan to hire and avoid the human resources office. Ask "Would you hire this person again?" Assess the applicant's ability to do the job, get along with coworkers and their supervisor, and attendance and punctuality. Only ask about information relevant to your open position and treat all information received as confidential. Work to collect all relevant information on a candidate before making a job offer. If you have suspicions, probe deeper. "Be especially careful when potentially involved with at-risk employment settings, safety-sensitive ones, or caregiver or custodial situations."9 Wise to do police background checks on any person who is to work in the children's area.

Firing an Employee

Treat all employees the same. Constructive discharge, where you make an employee's job harder or difficult so they quit, is against the law. Do not allow anyone to get back on their computer after being fired since they could destroy your entire system, but let them gather any personal items and make sure you retrieve all company property. If they ask whether they should quit instead of being fired, do not advise them. Simply explain about COBRA and unemployment insurance and let the employee know you will only verify the dates and positions they worked if you are contacted for a reference. Mail their final paychecks. The employee's dismissal is a private matter and you should never talk about firing them.


This chapter is intended as a guide to compliance with the various laws affecting small public libraries. While there are a number of fairly specific references, it is not intended to be all inclusive. Consult with an attorney before making any legal decisions or entering areas that are unclear.


1. Janis H. Bruwelheide, Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators, Second Edition (Chicago: American Library Association; Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1995): 40-41.
2. Michelle Worrall Tilton, "Transferring risk through appropriate liability insurance," Library Administration & Management 15:1 (Winter 2001): 30-38.
3. Ibid.
4. Thyra K. Russell, "Interviewing," Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 9.
5. Illegal interview questions, January 1, 2001, available at Accessed 1 October 2004.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Guidelines for Pre-Employment Interview Questions, 2003, available at Accessed 1 October 2004.
9. Mary Minow and Tomas A. Lipinski, Library's Legal Answer Book (Chicago: American Library Association, 2003): 286.


* Search for the name of the law or act as a phrase, in quotation marks, followed by summary, i.e. "Fair Labor Standards Act" summary. This usually will bring up a law firm or law school posting of a summary of the bill and its ramifications. If you need advice, contact a lawyer.
* Bruwelheide, Janis H. Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators, Second Edition. Chicago: American Library Association; Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1995.
* Minow, Mary and Tomas A. Lipinski. Library's Legal Answer Book. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.
* Torrans, Lee Ann. Law and Libraries: The Public Library. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

© Edward J. Elsner, 2005

Edward Elsner Library Consulting

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