There is one other area which should be included in your library's procedure manual: the issue of offering personal opinions and recommendations. Especially in the areas of medicine, law, and consumer products and services, librarians should help patrons find information, but must avoid giving advice. The difference between information and advice is really one of fact (information) and opinion or interpretation (advice).
When providing legal reference service, it is okay to help patrons locate information, but do not attempt to explain the content of the material or interpret the law. Do not attempt to apply information to a particular case or tell a patron whether something is legal or illegal. Do not make recommendations about lawyers.
Suppose a patron asks you what to do to obtain a divorce or file for bankruptcy. You may direct the person to the laws in the Idaho Code. You may also refer Idaho residents to the Court Assistance Offices Project; this is a good starting point for people who want to represent themselves, as well as those who are looking for background information. In addition, this web site explains how low-income individuals can obtain legal services.
The same basic guidelines apply to providing medical advice or information. It is okay to help patrons locate medical information, but do not attempt to explain or interpret the content of the information. In addition, do not recommend a specific method, procedure, treatment, or specific drugs. Do not assist patrons in self-diagnosis or recommend specific physicians or clinics.
You may want to recommend that your patron go to a search engine directory, such as the Google Directory, and search "Health and Resources" and "Consumer Information" for a number of reliable web sites. Encourage patrons to get basic information so they can return to their doctors, prepared to ask informed questions.
People will also come to your library asking for a recommended brand of product (for example, lawn mower, air conditioner or electric toothbrush) to purchase. Although you may have strong opinions in this area, you will be safer to refer customers to the research of reliable and impartial organizations which have made rigorous comparisons between similar brand products. Consumer Reports is the best-known magazine which publishes the results of such testing, but your patrons can find a surprising number of additional product evaluations in LiLI-D's MasterFILE Premier.
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