Ethics in Context

This week’s discussion of the ALA Code of Ethics was interesting, and it hit on a lot of the concerns I had when first blogging about this topic. It was good that people pointed out that the code specifies that it does not hold in all situations, which is what I am worried about as someone planning to work in a school. I am still concerned about how to uphold the freedom to read while working with youth, but there is some comfort in knowing that other people have the same concerns at all levels of the profession. I think someone also said something along the lines of “having a Code of Ethics means that there are no easy answers.” It is such a great thought and I think it points to why something like the Code was created – in order to protect our patrons and their privacy, intellectual freedom, and freedom to read, while still acknowledging that there are some situations in which there may be times that the Code may not fit. In all, it was a very realistic discussion about library ethics, and I’m interested to see if and how it affects our one-shot workshops.

Speaking of ethical issues, I actually had a situation the morning of our last class that played all too nicely into the week’s theme. In short, a patron told me that he wanted to print out a large portion of a book and I suggested that he not do that and I helped him instead track down a physical copy. I felt great about this at first: I saved him prints, I saved paper, and I preserved the copyright of that text! (It was a published study guide of some sort.) Then I started to worry a bit, since previous discussions of library ethics had been about pretty much letting the patron do what he or she may do and let the consequences come, if they do. The more I thought, the more I realized that I was okay. The patron had told me that that was what he intended; he just came right out and said it. It was the only way that I knew it was what he intended. And I helped him try to get what he needed. It was a way for me to balance helping the patron with protecting intellectual property.

But this scenario deals with some other concerns I have about intent to use information. In my previous post, I voiced concern about patrons harming themselves or others with information that I provide. We as librarians can’t know intent if people don’t truthfully tell us what they are doing with the information, since we don’t want to prod too much. So someone could find what they need in order to do something hurtful. I don’t want to keep information from people, but I also am a person who doesn’t want even a minor part in someone harming someone else. I will have to do my best to believe that people will be responsible with the information they get in the library. But I also don’t want to abandon my concern for others. It’s a fine line that I’m struggling to balance on. I’m hoping that it will get at least a little easier with time and experience.

Okay, enough of me brooding over library ethics. Time to talk about workshops! I’m a little concerned about how little time we have, but I am looking forward to trying out our workshop for our group. We’re talking about librarian collaboration, which is something I have become interested in since I attended the public and school library collaboration panel at KidLibCon. I can’t wait to hear what others have to say on the topic. I am curious to see what others are thinking about it.

As for the structure itself, I love how many options we were presented with. The different activities fit into different types of workshops. I’m hoping we made the right choice for what we’ve included. I guess we’ll find out soon enough! Krista and I had communicated a little online about what we are doing, but we had a great planning session on Sunday where we worked through our workshop in a relatively short amount of time. There is still work to be done, but we’ve got a pretty good handle on it. Now to just try it out and hope we didn’t plan on too much content. I think a lot of the value of this will come in practice, with trying to adapt to the time that we have and how the group responds on Thursday. Like the book club, I am glad that we are getting a fairly receptive audience who will do just about anything we ask. All we can do at this point in refine the plan and put it into motion.

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2 thoughts on “Ethics in Context

  1. I think you handled the situation with the patron very well. It’s ok to do some non-invasive contextualizing through the reference interview to get a better understanding of the patron needs. You were able to discover that a hard copy of the guide would suit the patron better and saved him prints, and you protected copy right. The ALA Code of Ethics even lists as one of its points the need to balance the interests of information users and of rights holders. I definitely get your concern about being indirectly involved in doing harm by providing certain information, and how hard it is to determine if harm would be a result of provided information. While professional and institutional ethics are certainly a priority, your individual ethics do play a part in determining how to handle a situation. And I think it’s really hard for other people to judge what the best thing to do in a situation would have been if they weren’t in it themselves–you should respect your own judgement. An important resource will probably be to seek the guidance and debrief with supervisors and colleagues who are more experienced until we create a strong sense of confidence dealing with these situations.

  2. Intent is a tricky issue to decipher for any profession and librarians and information professionals are no exception. Breaking the rules should not be condoned in any situation. In some cases, I think the motto “Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” is the unspoken golden rule of information professionals.

    “I will have to do my best to believe that people will be responsible with the information they get in the library.”
    I think your conscious will be your best guide in your future profession Mollie. However, even in this instance, believing in people is an ethical choice you will have to make.

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