Librarians as information intermediaries: Navigating tensions between being helpful and being liable

Jessica Vitak, Yuting Liao, Priya Kumar, Mega Subramaniam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations


Librarians face numerous challenges when helping patrons—particularly those with low socioeconomic status (SES)—meet information needs. They are often expected to have knowledge about many different technologies, web services, and online forms. They must also navigate how to best help patrons while ensuring that personally identifying information (PII) is kept private and that their help will not hold them or their library system liable. In this paper, we explore data collected in eleven focus groups with 36 public librarians from across the U.S. to understand the information challenges librarians encounter when working with patrons who have low digital literacy skills but must increasingly use the internet to request government assistance, apply for jobs, and pay their bills. Findings highlight the thin line librarians must walk to balance issues around privacy, trust, and liability. We conclude the paper with recommendations for libraries to provide additional training to librarians and patrons on privacy and information technology, and we suggest ways for librarians to fulfill their roles as information intermediaries while minimizing legal, ethical, and privacy concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTransforming Digital Worlds - 13th International Conference, iConference 2018, Proceedings
EditorsGobinda Chowdhury, Julie McLeod, Val Gillet, Peter Willett
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9783319781044
StatePublished - 2018
Event13th International Conference on Transforming Digital Worlds, iConference 2018 - Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: Mar 25 2018Mar 28 2018

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
Volume10766 LNCS
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


Other13th International Conference on Transforming Digital Worlds, iConference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Computer Science(all)

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