Libraries, Social Media & the Law

Todd Vandenbark

logos of social mediaToday the Utah State Library offered a two-hour presentation on “Social Media and the Law” by Randy Dryer, a social media attorney, which I attended. At the beginning of his talk, he asked how many libraries had a social media policy. Only a handful, including myself, raised their hands. Dryer then went on to briefly outline how social media has changed our society’s communications models from a one-to-many to a many-to-many form. Roles once held by main stream media can now be assumed by anyone with an Internet connection — broadcaster (YouTube), journalist (CNNiReport), expert (Wikipedia), critic/reviewer (Digg), or even a network (Facebook, Doximity and others).

Social media is an inexpensive and flexible way to market and promote library services, engage with users, and provide new ways to utilize library content and discovery tools. Dryer recommends that if a library utilizes social media, they need policies in order to:

  • Provide guidelines to employees and patrons.
  • Teach employees about the benefits and dangers of social media.
  • Minimize legal risks to the library and its employees.

Dryer’s talk provided much useful information on best practices for dealing with user/patron-posted content, issues and concerns related to children and social media, and free speech issues.

Generally speaking, if a library site (website, social media, etc.) allows for patron posting of content, it is considered a “limited public forum.” Content on such a forum is best managed by adopting a policy that meets First Amendment considerations; clearly defines the purpose of the forum; and reserves the right to remove content unrelated to that purpose.

As readers of this blog know, Eccles Health Sciences Library has a Facebook page, Twitter feed, and this blog. At the present, only library faculty and staff are allowed to post to these accounts, and we have developed internal policies to guide their use. If you represent a library and would like to read our policy, please email me at   email Todd Vandenbark