Week Nine Class

This week in class, we discussed ethical issues relating to libraries.  The first issue that we considered dealt with ebook vendors raising their prices to almost 300% the price of their analog versions.  I personally don’t find this to be an “ethical” issue, especially in regards to the ALA Code of Ethics.  I think that it requires an ethical evaluation on the part of the vendors (and I personally feel like they are failing miserably), but as far as librarians are concerned, our only choices are buy or don’t buy.  I think that boycotts are an option, but I also think that this goes against our standards for maintaining neutrality of personal opinions.  Libraries and librarians exist to support their communities, therefore their focus is always directed outward.  When our professional community reverts our focus inward, towards what would be best for the institution of libraries, we are missing the point of it all.  I think that libraries have an imperative to inform patrons as to why they are not able to meet their demands for a robust ebook collection but must allow patrons to make their own judgments towards the vendors.  I hate that ebooks threaten budget-strapped libraries, but our institutional values of outreach and neutrality must be maintained and that we must focus what resources we do have towards bettering our services.

The second issue that we discussed looked at the use of advertisements in libraries.  Toronto Public Library made a bit of a commotion when they tried to add advertisements to the back of circulation slips.  I also don’t see this as an ethical issue.  I don’t think that the mission of libraries/librarians has anything to do with providing circulation slips, therefore a couple advertisements on the back doesn’t phase me in the least bit.  I would be worried if commercialization threatened the essential services that libraries provide– if corporate funding maintained that librarians prefer certain sources of information over others or if they required access to library records in exchange for funding.  

I believe that corporate funding can be a big help for struggling libraries.  We need powerful advocates in our communities who feel as though they have a stake in our mission.  I see this relating to US food aid in developing countries.  One of the reasons why our government supports such a large amount of food aid is because we donate American goods and send them via American freight companies.  This means that the issue of food aid is supported by two enormous lobbies that might otherwise have no stake in the matter.  People and organizations tend to act in ways that benefit themselves, and I think that libraries could use a few more big supporters in the community who are also interested in keeping circulation numbers up in the community.


4 thoughts on “Week Nine Class

  1. Kristin says:

    Do you feel any differently about the move to add ads now that the TPL librarians are on strike? Was it a move made by the Board as an effort to show that it had exhausted every possible way of raising money, for example?

  2. Tyson says:

    Your approach is really interesting here; I think you articulate very well a sort of “realist” approach to ethics that isn’t advocated for as often, but adds a lot of depth to ethical conversations about libraries.

    I particularly like your response to the ebook issue. Seeing it as an issue of inward vs. outward focus is a pretty reasonable paradigm to me, and you make a really good case for what libraries should do in reaction to this situation even though you don’t see it as an ethical issue per se. Overall, I’m just really impressed by how you bring everything back to “what is the mission of libraries?” This is really important when you’re making decisions in any profession or endeavor– what is our mission and how does this fit in with that? Though it seems obvious at first blush, I don’t think a lot of institutions really do mission-based decision-making like they should, which leads to less than ideal consequences.

  3. Caroline says:

    I agree with you that this isn’t a time to be picky about funding as long as it doesn’t interfere with the library’s mission. The thing I’m stuck on is the library’s responsibility to patrons. (Random thought that popped into my head) It seems to me (and I could be very wrong) that people don’t question libraries. They question other public service providers, though – public school systems, police departments, public works departments, etc. Why is that? Is this a reflection of the community’s stake in the library system? (Sorry if I got off topic!)

    • Miss Masura says:

      What an interesting point! What is it about libraries that makes them unquestionable? Do people see libraries as morally righteous or morally neutral? You should definitely write more about this idea on your blog or bring it up in class! Fascinating!

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