This week, we read the ALA Code of Ethics– a short yet succinct document that contains a list of ethical principals that guide the entire field of librarianship. As I was reading this document, I was sort of checking off things that I felt really resonated with my perception of what librarians care about most. Equitable access, check. Censorship, check. Privacy, check…. Everything on this list has really become a rallying cry for professionals in the field. This made me think about two things: 1) How will this code have to change to meet the needs of our generation of librarians? 2) I think that the changes that are occurring in our profession have really been propelled by these ethical concerns, but is this really the case?
We also looked at the issue of ethics at the reference desk, which coincidentally has been on my mind tonight. I just attended a fundraising benefit for the Center for Bipolar Research which showcased a movie chronicling the life and suicide of a 15 year old with bipolar disorder. A Q&A session with the filmmaker/mother of the victim and other knowledgeable panelists followed. A couple of the questions focused on the role of schools and families in supporting victims of mental illness, but the whole night got me wondering about ways that libraries can support community members dealing with these issues. What is our role? If a young child wanted information about suicide, how could you handle it?
In the article, “Dangerous Questions at the Reference Desk,” Lenker discusses the value of a virtue-based approach to issues such as this. I think that his approach adds a more holistic outlook to ethical quandaries in information services than ALA’s professional codes, however fails to really guide behavior or decision-making.
During the panel discussion tonight, the speakers kept reiterating the importance of education in prevention. Victims of mental illness (along with their family and community members) need access to quality information about their illness, from treatment options to care facilities to support groups, and “dangerous questions” can be the connection that allows you to provide the resources and services that victims so desperately need. I like to think of these situations as “teachable moments” that, if treated with the appropriate balance of virtues discussed in Lenker’s article, can result in positive experiences.