Professional Code of Ethics: Robert Chrystal, M.L.S.
As an information professional (a librarian), I will use the following code for making decisions in my career. This is not a list of hard and fast rules, but rather a collection of guidelines upon which I can reflect, drawn from professional codes discussed in the appendix below.
I. Commitment to the Library System and to Colleagues
- I will treat my colleagues fairly and with respect.
- I will recognize and value the range of cultures, religions, ages, races, ethnicities, disabilities, genders, sexual orientations, and other areas of diversity represented by the employees and patrons of the library.
- I will not act upon my personal beliefs while representing the library, and I will provide equal access to information for all library users.
- I will resist all efforts to censor library resources.
- I will admit mistakes and correct them as soon as possible.
II. Commitment to the Patrons
- I am committed to protect every patron‟s right to privacy and confidentiality, not only with regard to his or her personal information, but also with regard to records of library use.
- I will consider the effects of my attitude and actions on patrons and try to promote and support the well-being of all visitors to the library. My goal is to provide a positive and informative experience to patrons.
III. Commitment to Myself
- I will continue to further my education, to improve my skills and to inspire other employees who want to follow their own path of self-improvement.
- I will not use my position to misrepresent myself. I understand that as an information professional, I can provide access to information, but I am not (for example) a doctor, or a lawyer. Therefore, I should not give advice to patrons about their health or legal problems, but rather I should direct them to resources about these subjects.
- I will contribute to the information science community by writing and submitting relevant articles to journals and by contributing to the national conversation between librarians. I will allow my peers to review my work.
IV. Commitment to Society
- I will resist all efforts to censor library resources, to further the right to free speech.
- I will respect intellectual property rights.
- I will seek to educate and inform the public on the proper use of the library catalog, reference materials and electronic databases in order to empower library patrons in their search for information.
V. Additional Values and Commitments to the Profession
- An information professional should be adaptable, authentic, competent, courteous, honest, tolerant of others, and respectful to employers, to colleagues, and to patrons.
- Often librarians and circulation assistants must work together on projects, for example, shelving returned books. I will remain humble and helpful, and be a good collaborator, in order to provide the best service possible to our patrons.
- I have a duty to those around me to admit when I am wrong and to correct my mistakes, to show gratitude to my co-workers when they assist me, to keep my promises, to be good to all library visitors, and to maintain a healthy work-family balance.
The argument for the necessity of a code of ethics is contained within the code itself. A code gives us an opportunity to show integrity in our profession.
Finally, my ethical code will help me to avoid the potentially dangerous „either/or‟ way of thinking, and to see the spectrum of options available to me and to patrons. A code of ethics is an excellent aid in the art of ethical self-examination. It will help me to ask the difficult questions and to do the hard work of reflecting on the reasons for my actions.
The career of information professional (in a library or digital library setting) requires the ability to be self-motivated and thorough, to work independently, and to provide consistent service to library visitors. A librarian meets new people many times every day. Each interaction requires the librarian to put away his or her own prejudices and assumptions and to decide to follow the guidelines of the institution in which he or she works.
Thinking and reflecting on our interactions with people, in the moment, and also throughout the day, are an integral part of our job. A librarian must make a commitment to excellence and integrity not only at work, but also in his or her personal life. After all, the issues with which we deal are applicable also to our friendships, our family responsibilities, and our communities. Working with the public is not always easy, but it can be very rewarding.
Are Codes of Ethics Necessary?
Information professionals need a code of ethics. The reasons are many. I will begin by addressing human nature. People frequently (by default) choose the easiest way to complete a given task. Information ethics sometimes asks us not to do the easiest thing, but to behave in ways that cause us to sacrifice personally. A code of ethics is a reminder to us to think through our decisions and to avoid simply acting on our impulses.
Humans easily fall into prejudice and self-deception, so creating a code of ethics is a good way to keep ourselves on track when our emotions and egos are in danger of going out of bounds.
A code provides clarity of our values and our principles. This is beneficial to us as librarians, to our patrons, and to the library system. It inspires group unity and confidence in our profession. One example of this is the issue of censorship. By creating a code that gains high support from the librarian community, information professionals are united on a national level and a kind of grassroots “campaign” launches that can benefit our patrons and our nation.
An ethical code is a great complement to the regulations posted around the library. Rules only give us the dos and the don'ts. A code works as a guide, giving people the reasoning behind the rules. A rule might be - “Do not download attachments on public computers.” A guideline is more helpful - “We normally do not encourage downloading attachments on public computers because they can infect the operating system with viruses and spyware.” This type of reasoning helps us on a daily basis with decision-making.
Finally, a code of ethics can foster a sense of pride in what we do and it reminds us of our commitment to this important profession. Our commitment and the consistency of following a code will help to increase the amount of trust that the public and fellow employees have in our work. However, one more thing is necessary. We must share our code of ethics with the community, so that people will know what we stand for and why we choose to act in a certain way. The ability to say what you are going to do and also why you will do it is one of the elements of integrity.
Comparing Various Codes of Ethics
Before I began to prepare my own professional code of ethics, I compared and contrasted several different codes. I consulted the websites of the following organizations:
- The American Library Association (ALA)
- The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)
- The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
- The Bloggers' Code of Ethics
- The Code of Ethics for Archivists
- The Society of Professional Journalists
There were striking similarities in the codes of these organizations. First, most of them contained a disclaimer stating that a code cannot dictate behavior, but rather should provide guidelines for making decisions. In addition, they call their members to apply the principles in each code to the public, to employers, to employees and to their users.
Second, I noticed a reference to the Fundamental Moral Experience in all of these codes. They speak of treating all people fairly, and they call upon members to treat other human beings with respect.
Third, some overarching issues showed up in all of the codes. Here are a few: equal access, privacy, confidentiality, integrity, trust, conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of one‟s qualifications, and self-improvement.
The differences in the codes seem to relate to differences in vocation rather than differences in ethical models. Computer organizations address harm done to others through their profession. There is a long discussion of copyright infringement in these codes. Computer organizations also ask members to educate the public about computer use so that computer experts will not have exclusive control of information about computer use (empowering the public).
Only the bloggers' and journalists' codes ask members to expose the unethical practices of their colleagues. The Society of Professional Journalists' code speaks of building trust with readers (although I feel library codes should include this principle, too). The journalists' code is the only one that mentions sexual orientation specifically in its list of stereotypes.
Finally, only the librarian codes ask members to resist censorship in all forms.