CALAseminar.041210 - UNC School of Information and Library

Ethics for Academic Librarians
Presentation for CALA, December 10, 2004
*Title slide
All professionals face ethical dilemmas
Ethics = whether an action is right or wrong
In a moral sense
Not just efficiency, productivity
Requires a value judgment
Dilemma = there is no “perfect” action that can be taken
Every possible action is “right” to some degree and “wrong” to
some degree
Academic librarians are no exception
*Ethical issues in librarianship
Some of the most common areas in which academic librarians might face ethical
Intellectual property
Is it wrong to copy artwork from a website for use in a presentation?
Information accuracy
Does a librarian have a moral obligation to ensure that every reference
question is answered correctly?
Access to information
Should everyone have access to all library resources? Should Braille
editions of all books be purchased?
Access to technology
Does a public university have a moral obligation to provide computer
resources for members of the public?
Is a reference interview a private conversation?
CALA Seminar, 12/10/04, page 2
*Reasoning about ethical issues
Not every ethical issue can be anticipated in advance
Skills in ethical reasoning can be developed, in order to be able to face future
ethical dilemmas
Begin by clarifying your personal and professional values
Personal values based on those learned from your family or from your
religious upbringing
Professional values espoused by particular professional associations
ALA Code of Ethics ** new slide
Adopted by the ALA Council in 1995
 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.
 We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all
efforts to censor library resources.
 We protect each library user's right to privacy and
confidentiality with respect to information sought or received
and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
 We recognize and respect intellectual property rights.
 We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness
and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that
safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our
 We do not advance private interests at the expense of library
users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
 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.
 We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and
enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the
professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the
aspirations of potential members of the profession.
CALA Seminar, 12/10/04, page 3
*Ethical reasoning
Based on the consequences of your action
Most well-known theory: utilitarianism
Basic idea: When considering alternative actions, choose the one that has
the best overall consequences for everyone concerned
Rightness/wrongness of an action is based on its consequences
The amount of happiness and unhappiness that an action causes are the
only things to be taken into account when judging whether it is right or
The judgments of happiness/unhappiness must be impartial, i.e., noone’s
happiness is more important than anyone else’s happiness
Based on some type of principle or rule
Most well-known: Kant’s categorical imperative
As Kant said it:
“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law.”
For example: do not lie, do not steal, do not kill
*One illustrative case: privacy issues associated with chat reference services
Imagine a chat reference service being offered by the UNC Health Sciences
Transaction logs are kept of all the transactions
What happens to them?
Where are they stored?
Who “owns” them?
Who has access to them?
What information is contained in them?
Is this information considered private? By whom?
Is it confidential?
Should any of the information be shielded from access? By whom?
What moral obligation does a library have to protect the privacy of those
engaged in chat reference sessions?
The patron
The librarian
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