Ethics and the library profession

Todd Vandenbark

On the third Tuesday of each month, our library offers staff development presentations on a wide range of topics — health, technology, etc. Today we enjoyed a presentation on library ethics by Dr. Jean Preer, who recently published a book on this topic. Her presentation from Indianapolis, IN, was communicated via a polycom audio and video connection  in one of the fully equipped classrooms in HSEB, and was recorded and archived so staff who were unable to attend could view it at a later time.

Dr. Preer began her talk by talking about the history of library ethics, and pointed out that libraries did not develop a code of ethics until the early 1900’s. Next she outlined four core aspects of current codes of ethics written by the American Library Association, the Medical Library Association, and the American Association of Law Libraries. All of these codes, and many others like them, share commitments to:

  1. Provide the highest level of service.
  2. Provide access to diverse points of view.
  3. Avoid conflicts of interest, both philosophical and financial
  4. Protect patron confidentiality.

After some interesting discussion, Dr. Preer went on to outline six principles of ethical practice in libraries:

  • Abide by ethical values and practice
  • Provide consistent service
  • Provide identity-free services.
  • Apply rules in a content-neutral way.
  • Distinguish between personal beliefs and professional responsibilities.
  • Make principles exceptions.

Discussions both during and after the presentation showed significant staff engagement with the topic, and the presentation was timely and highly relevant to our work.

Jean Preer is a professor in the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science-Indianapolis. A graduate of Swarthmore College, she earned her MLS degree at the University of California-Berkeley and a J.D. and a Ph.D. in American Civilization at George Washington University. Before joining the Indiana University faculty in 2002, she taught at the library school of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where she also served as Associate Dean. In 2006 she received the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2007, her essay, “Promoting Citizenship: Librarians Help Get Out the Vote in the 1952 Presidential Election,” won the Justin Winsor Prize awarded by the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association. She is the author of Library Ethics, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2008 and honored as the 2009 winner of the Greenwood Publishing Group Award for Best Book in Library Literature.