Student Learning Objective 1
The student assesses the philosophy, principles, and ethics of the library and information field.
Ethics in librarianship are well stated in the eight statements of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. The code reflects a philosophy of the supreme importance of information and principles requiring democratic access to all information. At a high level this is very simple with librarians providing access to all information to everyone. At a low level limits exist on the information libraries and librarians provide. Some information is confidential such as information about patron activity. Other information involves intellectual property rights that must be respected. Information available needs to reflect the mission of the institution of which the library is a part. No collection contains all information so choices are made in what to provide in the collection. These choices must be made on the basis of institutional mission and patrons being served with no regard to the personal preferences of the librarians making the choices. There is never a place for personal censorship in librarianship. Providing good library service requires thoughtful effort and continual growth on the part of librarians and it is every librarians obligation to provide good service to all patrons.
Ethics was not something I considered an important topic as I began my study in the MLIS program at UNCG. My impression was the ethics of everyday life where everyone is treated with respect and honesty seemed adequate for library work. This indeed served as the foundation of library ethics, but the nature of libraries required more detailed specifics as collection management study clearly demonstrated. Limited resources required choices be made in the materials purchased and provided at every library. Guidance provided by the ethics of librarianship was essential in making choices for use of limited resources. Prior to my study at UNCG several instances occurred where I added books to the collection I manage simply because I liked them and they were related to the curriculum. While the books were not necessarily bad choices, the criteria of being books I liked and representing my point of view I now see was not appropriate. A broader look at books available and choosing books supporting the curriculum area based on best available without regard to my personal preference was the better way to make such purchase decisions. The addition of the input of others on such choices removed my personal preferences from such decisions.
Censorship is a key point of contention in a school library especially in a school serving students in grades pre-kindergarten through twelve like the one in which I work. The phrase "resist all efforts to censor library resources" is clear enough, but so is the sentence, "The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors)." found in the Children's Internet Protection Act. I find there is no shortage of individuals advocating for limitations so I concentrate my efforts on pushing to be as open as possible. Making a case for open access to information in a school is best done by focusing on the intellectual growth of the students. Few people will argue against intellectual growth so demonstrating a resource provides growth opportunities is typically enough to remove barriers to access some seek to impose. Making the discussion about growth rather than access and focusing on "intellectual freedom" is the key to overcoming efforts of others to censor in a school library.
Schools have specific goals and clear boundaries on their communities that simplify ethical choices. Public libraries serve a broader, ever-changing community with less clarity in choices to be made. While it may appear simple to engage patrons in determining collection choices, it is also necessary to engage potential patrons in the broader community to see if collection choices are causing them to not utilize the library. A passive acceptance of the status quo is no an acceptable position for librarians. Providing the "highest level of service" includes informing non-users of available services and making available services non-users desire to use. Library ethics affect collection management and marketing profoundly in a public library.
The key to ethical librarianship is to remember it is about providing service to others. Service needs to be provided to all who are entitled to use the particular library. Collection decisions are based on institutional goals and the needs of patrons. Management of libraries needs to make the most of the available resources and the greatest possible impact on the community served. Libraries and librarians need to continually change and grow to serve the communities around them. This is why ethics specific to libraries are required and are important to understand.