Library ethics is important to me as a librarian, especially since I plan on working with children and teens. As gray as the gray areas are in answering what Lenkes calls “dangerous questions” for adults, it gets even murkier in dealing with children. This came out during our book club discussion on young adult books and appropriateness, where Sarah talked about the responsibility that school librarians have to act as the makeshift parent to children and try to protect. them. It’s something that makes me a little uneasy; I’m a firm believer in the freedom to read, and yet I don’t want to risk the safety of others or my job to give a student any information they could possibly want. We discussed ethics in a previous class, but I felt like in that discussion we were encouraged to just follow the ALA Code without any potential concerns over what can happen when we give readers certain information. It really bothered me; again, I think everyone should be able to read what they want to read and the information they are looking for, but I also don’t want to be a part of someone’s self-harm or harm towards others or their property. It’s a really dicey issue, and there are no easy answers, but as librarians we need to know what we would do in certain situations.
I really liked Lenkes’s approach to “dangerous questions” in his article, looking at all factors of the situation in order to come to the best decision. The ALA Code of Ethics is great; I think it’s crucial that we have a document that protects the freedom of our patrons. However, in some ways I don’t think it accounts for every possible scenario, which would be impossible in one document. Lenkes considers the idea that it’s not always best for a librarian to give certain information to a patron. There’s a fine line between giving a patron the information he or she asks for and protecting people who might be hurt by that information. There are legitimate reasons for people to look up certain explicit or potentially harmful information – for example, they could be doing some sort of research. But at the same time, we can’t know for sure what a patron’s motives are, especially since we are supposed to protect their privacy and we don’t want to make patrons uncomfortable by delving into their history. And as I mentioned, it gets even more complicated with minors and what their parents’ wishes are and whether we as librarians know what the parents may want for their children and whether we should act in place of the parents.
The ethics of reference service are tricky – trickier than how they were discussed in previous coursework. As always, I wonder where our class will take this conversation. I think it’s something that I will need real-world experience in before I can really get a feel for how to make the right decisions, but it’s important to be thinking about it as I learn about librarianship so that I can have a solid foundation upon which to base such decisions.