Week Nine Reading

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.

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4 thoughts on “Week Nine Reading

  1. Meggan says:

    I also wondered how the code of ethics has changed since it’s ALA first adopted it in 1930-something. I’d be interested to see what that first one looked like.

  2. linguomancer says:

    I think you’re right that Lenker doesn’t really provide solutions that will help guide behavior in a real situation. It seems like this might be an area where library administration could take a bigger role, and could help by providing some training and guidelines for how employees should handle ethically difficult situations. Even if this is something that needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis, more training and discussion within an institution could give librarians a more solid place to stand when faced with these issues.

    • Tyson says:

      A lot of people probably feel this way about Lenker’s approach, and it’s true that it doesn’t provide any concrete solutions. But that sort of the point, isn’t it? I agree that this is where administrators need to step up. I think introducing Lenker’s article as a jumping-off point, and then following up with more specific discussion to your environment, would be a great way for library administrators to discuss ethics. Expanding it to situations outside reference would be particularly helpful, I think. I’d like to think Lenker would agree that what he proposes is a starting place that librarians and library administrators can use to lead to other places that will bring interesting and useful discussion of ethics.

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