Friday, July 08, 2005

The ethics of academic librarianship

At the ALA Annual conference last month, I attended a session that explored the ethics of academic librarianship. It was a wide-ranging discussion, and there were few answers to many of the ethical quandaries that librarians face everyday in the college or university. At the present, the library profession is guided by the American Library Association Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement. I keep a copy of the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics taped on the wall near my computer so they are always in view.

One of the ethical dilemmas that was mentioned involved equitable service. As one of the speakers asked, do we really provide equal levels of service to college or university library users? For example, suppose you are helping someone at the reference desk, but then you receive a call from the college president's office, requesting some reference assistance. Would you finish helping the patron you are currently working with, or would you give preferred treatment to the president? The president, after all, influences college policy and makes decisions that directly affects the library. But according to the first part of the Code of Ethics, librarians provide "equitable service policies" "to all library users."

These and other issues are challenges librarians face everyday. It is important that we reread the Code of Ethics and other such documents frequently to remind ourselves of the basic principles that we as the profession have agreed should guide our behavior and services.

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