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87 Law. Libr. J. 515 (1995)
Chicken Little at the Reference Desk: The Myth of Librarian Liability

handle is hein.journals/llj87 and id is 517 raw text is: Chicken Little at the Reference Desk:
The Myth of Librarian Liability*
Paul D. Healey**
Mr. Healey explores a popular theme in library literature: the fear that
librarians can incur liability for activities conducted at the reference desk.
He concludes that librarian liability is a myth, finding no reported court
decisions or any established legal theory to support the concept.
I. Introduction
One of the definitions given for myth in Webster's Third New International
Dictionary is a belief given uncritical acceptance by the members of a group,
esp[pecially] in support of existing or traditional practices.' A common theme
in modem library literature is the danger of legal liability, often referred to as
librarian malpractice, for activities that take place at the reference desk. Over
and over again the specter is raised of the possibility of a librarian or library
being sued for giving out incorrect or incomplete information, or for other acts
of reference misfeasance or malfeasance. Many of the writers of these articles
have theories of how such liability could come about, and most begin with the
assumption that the rising tide of litigation currently loose in the land will
eventually flood libraries as well. But this wealth of literature fails to mention
any specific or actual cases of librarian liability. In short, the inevitability of
librarian liability seems to be a belief given uncritical acceptance by the library
Why, if there are no actual instances of librarians being found liable, is
there so much concern about it in the professional literature? Is this concern
justified, or is it based on untested assumptions and faulty reasoning? To put
it allegorically, are these just the cries of Chicken Little, or is there some reason
to believe that the sky might actually be falling?
* @ Paul D. Healey, 1995. This is a revised version of the winning entry in the student division of
the 1995 AALL Call for Papers competition.
** Reference/Instructional Services Librarian, Warren E. Burger Library, William Mitchell College
of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota. I am indebted to Dr. James Rice of the University of Iowa School
of Library and Information Science for his guidance, supervision, and advice in the writing of
this article.


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