Core Competency A: Ethics
“Articulate the ethics, values, and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom.”
The foundational principles that define our values and inform our ethics should also guide us through life, both professionally and personally. As a member of the Library and Information Science (LIS) field, I feel deeply connected to those ethics and values encapsulated by the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics (2008), Library Bill of Rights (1996), and Freedom to Read Statement (2004). I believe that my profession should intersect with my passions, and thus my personal principles, including lifelong learning and collective leadership, tie in.
Libraries are magical. They serve so many different users in so many different forms that to define “library” is actually quite difficult. And yet, people know a library when they see one, and they appreciate the fact that libraries serve willingly, while asking for nothing in return. Access to reading material has always been a core service of libraries, and libraries have always valued providing reading material that represents all perspectives. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Freedom to Read Statement declares that “we trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe,” (2004). The statement goes on to express that censorship pressure is increasing with the expanded influence of the internet, but instead of caving to restriction, libraries must strive to provide access to all information.
Rather than censorship, educating patrons is a better way to fight misinformation. Here my personal principle of lifelong learning intersects with the LIS profession. We must provide educational opportunities to users of all ages and backgrounds, and as diverse as these users are, so must be the opportunities. From reference interviews to distance learning tools to instructional courses, libraries have the ability to host all sorts of lifelong learning. The ALA’s Bill of Rights (1996) reinforces that library materials and space must be inclusive, and that their access to users must also be so. Through educating library users, we can help ensure their ability to access, and also evaluate, uncensored information.
As society changes and resources evolve libraries also adapt, though the values and ethics that shape them remain constant. In his article “Libraries: The Next 100 years,” Bonfield (2012) claims “the environment that fosters more art and scholarship is an environment that values and protects intellectual freedom, both for its producers and its consumers.” As discussed above, lifelong learning opportunities are one avenue to protecting intellectual freedom. Another way to support intellectual freedom is to define the future of libraries through collective leadership.
Collective leadership is the idea that individuals have unique perspectives and talents to contribute to the greater good, and a shared product deserves a shared process. Because libraries are important to such diverse stakeholders, they are particularly good candidates to incorporate collective leadership principles in. Library patrons, employees, political contributors, and communities must engage each other in determining the future of their institution. This future should look different for different libraries, as each interprets and applies the ethics and values of the ALA to its own situation. For instance, exclusion is a practical necessity, but also a form of censorship if applied incorrectly. In order to provide uncensored materials, a library serving a population of lawyers will need access to different resources than another serving children. As the ALA Code of Ethics (2008) states, we must provide “appropriate and usefully organized resources,” in addition to responding sincerely to requests for assistance. Collective leadership can help ensure that services and opportunities match the needs of the users.
Defining values such as lifelong learning and intellectual freedom is important because shared values bind communities. The ALA’s Code of Ethics (2008) enumerates additional library values: user confidentiality; intellectual property rights; employee welfare; and professional development, cooperation, and inspiration. Each of these embodies serving the public interest, a core goal of libraries. Likewise, individual librarians must set aside their personal interests to serve their patrons. Together, through shared ethics and values, libraries and librarians can protect and promote an essential American institution.
I see ethics and the values that define them as an integral part of my life, both professionally and personally. In addition to those defined by the American Library Association discussed above, I value lifelong learning and collective leadership, and my decision to earn a master’s degree in Library and Information Science embodies my values. The evidence presented below is a small selection that exemplifies how I incorporate values into my coursework.
EVIDENCE 1. LIBR 200 – Information and Society provided me with many opportunities to discuss LIS ethics and values with classmates. In one such discussion I question the role of the Internet Public Library, a resource we were referred to in our coursework. Based on the shared foundational principles of LIS, censorship is inhibiting and must be avoided; however, I feel that the Internet Public Library essentially presents a censored list of topical links by promoting itself as more comprehensive than it actually is. This observation raises further questions for me about how to define a library, what should be included in a library, and the extent of assistance we should provide to patrons.
EVIDENCE 2. In this discussion post from LIBR 210 – Reference and Information Services, I viewed and critiqued six videos related to library reference interviews. This discussion is relevant to our conversation on ethics here because it comments on specific techniques librarians can use to facilitate lifelong learning through reference interactions.
EVIDENCE 3. The final evidence I am presenting for this competency is a paper I wrote for one of my undergraduate courses at the University of California Santa Cruz, EDUC 160 – Educational Reform Issues. The paper, titled “Education Reform Case Study: California’s Regional Occupational Centers/ Programs,” examines how regional occupational centers/ programs (ROCPs) became an integral and very successful aspect of California’s education system. Although this paper does not mention libraries specifically, I find it very relevant to my discussion above about the role libraries and information organizations play in promoting intellectual freedom through lifelong learning. Additionally, ROCP has been successful in part because it localizes individual program governance and uses collective leadership to tie program goals to business-community collaborations. Libraries are often partners in ROCPs, and promote them to patrons looking for job-training opportunities.
As the American Library Association declares in their Code of Ethics (2008), “ethical dilemmas occur when values are in conflict.” I appreciate the definitions provided by the ALA in their Code of Ethics, as well as the Freedom to Read Statement (2004) and Library Bill of Rights (1996). These documents are a foundation for other information organizations and LIS professionals to connect to and bridge off of in terms of their own principles. By linking all of these principles to a common foundation, we avoid internal conflict between ethics and values, and we form a stronger alignment network to support both the library and information science field, and, more importantly, its patrons.
American Library Association. (1996). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
American Library Association and Association of American Publishers. (2004). Freedom to read statement. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/freedomreadstatement
American Library Association. (2008). Code of ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
Bonfield, B. (14 Nov 2012). Libraries: The next 100 years. In the Library with the Led Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2012/libraries-the-next-hundred-years
Haycock, K. (8 Feb 2007). Working in teams. SLIS Colloquia Series. Retrieved from http://amazon.sjsu.edu:8080/ramgen/wiab/colloquia/sp07/1haycock/collHaycocksp07v2.rm