Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

My review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives by Menzi L. Behrnd-Klodt (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 2009.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives is an updated version of 1985’s Archives and Manuscripts: Law from the Society of American Archivists’ Basic Manual series. Since the earlier volume’s publication, laws have changed significantly and society has become increasingly litigious. Attorney and archivist Menzi Behrnd-Klodt created a new handbook for an intended audience of “archival professionals, including employees, consultants, and volunteers in public and private institutions; in business/corporate, religious, academic/scholarly, historical society, museum, and governmental settings; those who spend their professional lives among archival colleagues, and those who are ‘lone arrangers’” (v). In other words, anyone who works with records of enduring value will find this book useful at all stages of their career.

Aiming to provide a volume to serve archivists for decades, Behrnd-Klodt provided general legal information in succinct chapters. Divided into four sections by theme, the volume is to be “dipped into” when archivists need “complex issues … explained simply” (vi). The first section sets the legal framework for the rest of the book, explaining policies and procedures, working effectively with counsel, and explaining legal processes and civil litigation. Section 2 explores issues of acquisition and ownership, including transfer, appraisal, loans, abandoned materials, tax issues, and risk management. The third section—the largest—deals with administration and access to the archives, privacy, and confidentiality, as well as implications of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Family and Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and cultural property laws. The final section provides advice on copyright and intellectual property law.

The chapters stand alone and are accessible as need and time permits, which enhances the book’s value as a source of timely advice flexible enough in format to serve as a ready reference book. Each chapter explains why the content is important and who will find it most useful, allowing the busy professional to select chapters relevant to their interests. For instance, laws regulate access to legal, educational, medical, public, and presidential records; those who do not work with these records may want to skim or skip chapters pertaining to them. Of particular interest to most archivists, especially in smaller institutions in which records programs are part of their duties, is the chapter on legal issues of records and information management. Also included are sample legal documents and forms, such as donor, deaccession, and loan agreements; important statues; a copyright term chart; and an extensive notes section.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives
offers vital, laconic information for the industrious archivist seeking informed discussions and practical recommendations for the myriad legal issues abounding in an increasingly complex information age. This reference book of legal information through the prism of archival management deserves a rightful place on the bookshelves of all archivists.

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