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Theft of Intangibles, the Duh Factor, and Law Librarians

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Some reference questions are of the Duh/Huh variety, by which I mean there is often a quick and dirty answer that could just as well be followed by a “how much time do you have?” response. This article linked to from today’s Library Link of the Day reminded me of a question I had last week, which was along the lines of, “a friend looked over my shoulder while I was on the computer and wrote down my password and I want to know if I have a legal remedy.”

The duh answer is easy and you see it as well as I do. Change your password, pal (and maybe rethink your ideas of what “friends” are). The not-so-duh answers are much more interesting, but they do call for a little conversation, which I chose to have afterward with my assistant who wanted to know what was going through my very non-linear brain after hearing me mumble (off-line) about 18 USC 1346, thefts of intangibles, and other such imponderables. I explained to her why the duh answer may not have been sufficient in different circumstances. Did the caller’s friend use the password, did he use it for “bad” (layperson’s bad”) or for unlawful “bad” purposes, did his “friend” (!) pretend to be the caller (my patron), etc. If the patron hadn’t in the course of our conversation answered the question himself (“ha, ha, maybe I should change my password”) then I may have probed a little bit (we try not to probe too much) and then referred him to consumer or criminal law resources.

I used to use 18 USC 1346 and the Privacy Act of 1974 when I taught legal research in my previous life and came to love them as statutory research teaching tools (they are excellent vehicles for teaching legislative history and codification (or lack thereof) in all their glory). Law librarians are weird that way – we have crushes on statutes – go figure. I once organized a tour of the U.S. Office of the Law Revision Counsel for a group of law librarians visiting D.C. Ten years later, when I run into those same librarians, the first thing they say to me is, “I remember that great tour!” See what I mean about law librarians? And it was a great tour. Who wouldn’t want to know how the USC comes into being?

Not that I don’t love my current job as a public law librarian, but it is so different from my previous one as to seem almost as if I’m in another profession entirely.

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