Ethics. Each graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program is able to demonstrate awareness of the ethics, values, and foundational principles of one of the information professions, and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession.
Principles of ethics are inextricably embedded in the fabric of librarianship. Ethical norms and core values guiding the work of librarians and information professionals are codified in the governing documents of the American Library Association: Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read Statement, Code of Ethics, and Core Values of Librarianship. The core values passed by the ALA in 2004—access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, the public good, preservation, professionalism, and social responsibility—inform the actions and the work ethics of LIS professionals across the nation.
As an aspiring librarian, I strongly believe in providing high quality service to all library users. In that, I find a direct correlation between the ALA core values and the first principle of the ALA Code of Ethics: “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests” (American Library Association, 2008). The eighth ALA Code of Ethics principle resonates, in particular, with professionalism and education and lifelong learning: “We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills” (American Library Association, 2004).
Intellectual freedom and equitable access to information are central to the library profession. These two values form the underlying premise of the Five Laws of Library Science by Ranganathan (1963):
- Books are for use.
- Books are for all.
- Every book its reader.
- Save the time of the reader.
- The library is a growing organism.
Unarguably, as future information professionals, it is our obligation to provide all library users with equitable access to information free of censorship or bias. The first, second, and seventh principles of the ALA Code of Ethics, as well as the access, democracy, and intellectual freedom values of librarianship, unequivocally mandate us to do so. The second principle, in particular, instructs: “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources” (American Library Association, 2004). “All information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, and equitably accessible to all library users,” the access core value of librarianship mandates (American Library Association, 2004).
As an individual, however, I have certain values that may not necessarily align with the values of those library users who request materials related to weapons, drugs, violence, etc. There may be moments, therefore, in my future practice, when I may find it difficult to make a choice: Do I provide access to materials of problematic nature? Or, do I limit access to such materials? Protecting intellectual freedom while providing unlimited access to information presents librarians with an ethical dilemma.
“We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources,” the seventh principle of the ALA Code of Ethics maintains. It is this principle, along with the social responsibility core librarianship value, in my opinion, that information professionals should follow closely, while tackling ethical challenges. Librarians must recognize the broad social responsibilities, “defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service” (American Library Association, 2004).
True to the social responsibility value, Wilkinson proposes a fiduciary model for dealing with ethical challenges while maintaining the patrons’ intellectual freedom. He explains that if librarians’ professional roles are socially constructed by a community, then the librarians should act on behalf of their community. Often, “our professional codes come into conflict with our other community-specific norms. When this happens, we need some way of weighing and balancing our competing ethical demands,” the author explains (Wilkinson, 2012). I agree with Wilkinson that, while responding to ethically questionable information requests, we need to consider the stakeholders in our community, the limits of our expertise, the patron’s autonomy, and the practical consequences of whatever decision we make.
The equity of access represents a social justice concept calling for non-discrimination against all users, wherein everyone deserves and should be given access to knowledge regardless of their social, health, or economic status. As future information professionals, we need to ensure that underserved population groups, such as non-native English speakers, low-income users, and people with disabilities, have equal access to information, in particular as it relates to increasingly popular digital library environment.
To support my skills in this competency, I present the following examples of my work:
- The Code of Ethics discussion post from LIBR 200 (Information and Society)
- The Moral Responsibility and Information Service case study from LIBR 200 (Information and Society)
- The Copyright Assignment from LIBR 284 (Seminar in Archives and Records Management – Topic: Digitization and Digital Preservation)
- The final paper from LIBR 200 (Information and Society), Intellectual Property in Online Educational Multimedia Resources
LIBR 200 Code of Ethics discussion
The first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a discussion post from LIBR 200 (Information and Society). In this discussion, I reflect on the statements from the ALA Code of Ethics that speak most to the way I imagine conducting my professional work. I then look into the principles that strike me as problematic and propose the ways in which they could be improved. Issues covered in this post include privacy, intellectual property, fair use, employment, and professionalism. This assignment helped me not only better understand the professional code of ethics, but also see how the ALA ethical guidelines align with the current library landscape, as well as reflect on how they can better serve the information professionals of the future.
LIBR 200 Moral Responsibility and Information Service case study
The second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is the Moral Responsibility and Information Service case study from LIBR 200 (Information and Society). In this assignment, I explore an ethical dilemma related to reference services in a public library. This piece of evidence shows my acknowledgement of the importance of grounding my decisions in the ethical obligations of intellectual freedom, as well as the ALA core values of professionalism, democracy, social responsibility, and public good, while facing ethical dilemmas in public library youth reference services.
LIBR 284 Copyright Assignment
The third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a Copyright Assignment from LIBR 284 (Seminar in Archives and Records Management – Topic: Digitization and Digital Preservation). In this paper, I explore the key issues of the intellectual property law, limitations on exclusive rights, public domain, and orphan works—as they arise in considering the candidate materials with unidentified copyright status slotted for digitization. During my work on this assignment, I gained knowledge of the intellectual property laws and regulations and then learned how to put this knowledge into practice by providing recommendations on how to proceed with the copyright clearance of selected works while planning for digitization.
LIBR 200 final paper, Intellectual Property in Online Educational Multimedia Resources
The fourth piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a final paper from LIBR 200 (Information and Society), Intellectual Property in Online Educational Multimedia Resources. In this paper, I examine how intellectual property—one of the central issues in education, librarianship, and scholarship—plays out at the stages of development and online distribution of educational multimedia. The analysis focuses on the copyright legal framework, public domain, fair use, Creative Commons licensing, and copyright clearance process. A case study from my own professional experience—work on an online multimedia resource—is included to demonstrate practical application of the intellectual property law to educators working with multimedia and digital collections. This piece of evidence showcases my understanding of the important intellectual property considerations that librarians and educators must keep in mind while following the ALA ethical principles and core values in support of intellectual freedom and equitable access to information.
Through the coursework I have completed in the MLIS program, I have gained a deeper understanding of the ethical principles and core values of librarianship. Equipped with this knowledge, I have already begun applying it in practice, in my current work in an online educational environment at a university setting. I will carry on in upholding the ALA Code of Ethics and the core values while aspiring for a career in blended librarianship—a vocation that combines elements of traditional librarianship with the skills of educators and technologists. Ethical competence affords me the opportunity to have a true sense of professionalism, while providing the global learning community with the equitable access to human knowledge.
American Library Association. (Last amended 2008, January 22). Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
American Library Association. (Adopted 2004, June 29). Core Values of Librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues
Ranganathan, S. R. (1963). The five laws of library science. Bombay, New York: Asia Pub. House.
Wilkinson, L. (2012). It’s not just privacy, porn, and pipe-bombs (Libraries and the ethics of service). Sense and Reference: A Philosophical Library Blog. Retrieved from http://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/its-not-just-privacy-porn-and-pipe-bombs-libraries-and-the-ethics-of-service