Competency A

articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom;

Many professional organizations have a code of ethics to guide their members. One of the main professional organizations for librarians, the American Library Association or ALA, advocates the ethics of the profession. Of course, other associations for librarians and information professionals have respective codes of ethics and while each one has a particular focus, there are some similarities. The introduction to library science course focuses extensively on the values and ethics of librarian science. However after reading and reviewing the material over the course of my studies, it is clear the importance of ethics and values are carried throughout the program in other classes.

There are eight principles or concepts in the ALA code of ethics. Taken as a whole, the code covers service, intellectual freedom, censorship, privacy of patrons, intellectual property rights, treatment of colleagues, balance of professional and personal ethics, and professional development. Each of these concepts is reflected in the courses of the MLIS program. For example, when a librarian strives to provide exemplary reference service when asked for information that may conflict with his or her own personal ethics. In this case, the code is upheld. This question is, when does providing particular information stop being a personal moral conflict and become and issue of safety? Is that for a librarian to judge? After reading, analyzing, and puzzling over this particular competency, I have found myself with more questions than answers.

What the ALA does state on the website is, the codes are guidelines and not absolutes. The code of ethics allows the librarian a way to separate out his or her ethics and decide based on the situation as presented. Blaise Cronin makes an interesting point in his recent collection of essays about children and freedom of information. “Now, hardware store owners don’t usually let kids play with, or purchase, chain saws.” (Cronin, 2003, p. 13) He contends there is a difference between protecting children from being hurt by pedophiles and the suppression of information. Most public libraries do not even collect pornography so why be concerned about not allowing it in the digital format? For me, the question is why the digital format is considered to be acceptable when libraries do not carry issues of Hustler or Playboy? The San Francisco Public Library clearly states it does not filter Internet connections. “As with other library materials, restriction of a child’s access to the Internet is the responsibility of the parent or legal guardian.” (Internet Use Policy, ¶ 6) The library has a children’s webpage to point out tips on safe Internet browsing. Having been at the library many times and seen plenty of people viewing very graphic pornography, I am perplexed about this issue as potential librarian.

To show how the values of librarianship are expressed, I included a paper on digital image reference. This type of digital reference shows the dedication of librarians to make information available in new formats. I believe it relates back to ethics and values because the goal is to provide information. If librarians refused to use computers or digital assets, we would quickly be out of touch with our client base. Since one of the values of librarianship is to make information accessible and be helpful to patrons, it makes sense to meet the patron on the new technology’s turf. Reference is a main route of librarian to patron for the exchange of information and it can be a powerful service offered by the library. In order to meet the ethics code of outstanding service, the sources we use need to be easily used. The other paper I chose to include is a review of a usability study because of the need for accessible information. While the digital library and usability papers are focusing on the technology, I believe it shows how dedicated librarians are to working on following the patrons into other mediums of information.

I noticed the strong theme of professional ethics throughout my studies here when reviewing my work for the most relevant work. I included my history paper on the Oakland Free Public Library (OPL). I chose this work because it shows the reasoning behind creating libraries. The point of libraries is to make information accessible to all citizens, not only the wealthy or those in a high social ranking. The first public library in Oakland started as a circulating library in 1854 with approximately 25 members. There was not a person in charge of the library, so it quickly failed. Once the town grew large enough to have grade schools there was enough backing for a public library. A subscription library started in 1869 but it could not cover the needs of the growing population in Oakland. The patrons had to pay to use it so it did not exactly hold up to the ALA guidelines of free information. However, there was a reading room started by Hon. Henry Vrooman which was free to the public. The Union Temperance Association liked the reading room because good books made young people less disposed to drinking, fighting and getting into trouble. Eventually the reading room and the circulating library merged and became funded by the city.

While the ALA’s code of ethics makes no mention of books to keep people out of trouble, it is a common theme when looking through the history of the public library here in the United States. American libraries were frequently created and run by women in the community with the aim of making education available to everyone. The author Ray Bradbury is a famous example of a person who considers himself educated by the public library. He has been and is a vocal advocate of the public library system. Recently, he helped the Ventura County Public Libraries raise money after their budget fell with the property values. “Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” (Steinhauer, 2009, ¶ 6) There have been others who feel similarly about the education available at the local library if a person is driven to find and use it.

For comparison, the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) have a code of ethics for a business practice but the focus is on the business and legal issues of providing information. AIIP lists items such as honesty, confidentiality, giving the client accurate information, the legality of projects, intellectual property rights, and so on. The only item dealing with colleagues and management is the request to maintain a professional relationship with libraries and to comply their access rules. The ALA’s code of ethics has a socially conscious foundation. It is true that librarians are motivated and want to help their patrons with information needs. Another code of ethics to consider is the Library Services and Technology Act created by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It directly addresses access of information as being key to an informed and educated citizenry, which the ALA barely mentions. Yet again, the theme focuses on education and providing a useful service to the citizens.

In my personal career, my concern is how to serve the patron and who, exactly, will be my patron. This is a profession where one can feel good about the difference made in a person’s life. Whether it is teaching a child to love books, or helping a student find information on colleges, or just recommending a good novel, there is a chance it can be a positive encounter for both parties. The code of ethics can give the professional a starting point. When I started this competency, I had firmly believed was only one possibility for censorship or information freedom. However, after reading the ethics, Blaise Cronin’s book, and thinking more carefully, I discovered it is a messier answer, rather than a simple yes or no. Perhaps the point of having a structured ethical code as part of a professional association is that it forces the librarian to try and see each side of the problem.

References

AIIP Code of Ethical Business Practice AIIP Ethics. (n.d.). Retrieved September 3, 2009, from http://www.aiip.org/CodeOfEthics

Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2009, from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm

Internet Use Policy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 3, 2009, from http://sfpl.lib.ca.us/sfplonline/internet.htm

Library services and technology Act. (n.d). Retrieved September 3, 2009, from http://www.imls.gov/about/about.shtm

Steinhauer, J., (2009, June 19). A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library [Electronic version]. New York Times. Retrieved September 3, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/us/20ventura.html

Artifacts

Article Review - State Digital Library Usability

Current Concerns in Reference Services

Shaping the Oakland Free Public Library