I thought it was interesting to me when, the other day, I was talking to somebody about this week’s blog post and how it was on ethics in libraries. She looked at me and said, “What ethics do you have to worry about in a library?” I scoffed at her, but asked someone else, and they basically gave me the same answer. Maybe I have ignorant friends. (Well, ignorant of that particular subject.) But it just seemed to me that for whatever reason, most people don’t think of librarians having to deal with ethical issues when, in fact, many librarians deal with them quite regularly.
I think (believe?) that we were required to read the Code of Ethics in 647, so for most of us, we’ve seen this Code before. Whenever I read it, I always get this sense of…responsibility, I suppose is the right word, when I think of what we do as librarians. I know a lot of people just think we sit around all day and read, while others do have a broader view and realize there’s a lot more to our jobs than that. But I think my favorite part of the Code is when it states “We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.” Because, ultimately, isn’t that what we’re all about? Making sure that information, whether it be contained in a physical book, an eBook, or online, is able to be freely accessed by everyone in the present, and in the future as well. For me, that line just sums up very concisely what we’re all about. I think another important point is that we, as librarians (and information professionals in general, really) are responsible for the “dissemination of information.” People are still constantly controlling information and what people can see or can’t see, and it’s been going on LONG before the internet was ever invented. (Book burnings, anyone?) As a librarian, I can’t control if the information is disseminated in that I can’t stand on a street corner with every answer known to humankind right at my fingertips. I can, however, make certain that everyone has equal access and help them if they need help in their quest for information. The last thing I’d like to point out about the Code of Ethics is the last part before it begins the list: “These statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.” I think this is important because there will always be unique situations where you, as the librarian, are going to have situations that aren’t going to be covered in the Code of Ethics. In 647, we were given situations that were extremely sensitive, and not really covered by the Code, and so while the Code is obviously important, there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Speaking of case studies, “Dangerous Questions” by Lenker was definitely an interesting read. Lenker talked about “virtue ethics,” and as far as I understand, it basically means considering what virtues you’re espousing when making an ethical decision. I’m not sure that the case study with Clark was perhaps the best one Lenker could have chosen simply because it’s something that’s now outdated; medical marijuana is now legal in several states, and so for a patron to come up and ask for a book on how to grow it would simply not even really merit a reaction other than helping him or her find the information. However, the situation with Hauptman provides a much clearer moral dilemma. If a patron were to ask for information like that, maybe he or she is writing a book and needs that information. Or, maybe, they want to build a bomb to destroy a suburban home. It’s really impossible to know. So what do you do? I’ve come across a few ethical situations working in a library, and every time, it’s been a struggle between my personal beliefs, the library’s beliefs, the patron’s right to information, and my duty to perhaps protect a patron or others from harm. I think Lenker has some points with his virtue ethics; of course, you always want to consider such things when making a moral decision. I think he also made a fair point that reductivism seems to have a place in ethics, but at the same time, Lenker never really says how to deal with situations where you simply can’t satisfy fulfilling your duty to the patron, others, the institutions and yourself. I think there are situations where you’ll never be able to balance them all. I suppose Lenker is saying that as a librarian you should consider all of those things and not simply the consequences of your actions; I’m not clear. I think I’m also a little unclear as to why my (my being the librarian involved) ideals are being considered. Lenker points out that perhaps you work in a community with ideals vastly different than your own, and in that case, he’s correct; you simply shouldn’t work there. In Clark’s case, he feels that drugs are a waste of time, but that view should never be known by that patron because it doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s doing it for a paper. Maybe he’s a medical grower. Maybe he lives in a state where it’s legal. But that patron should never know Clark thinks it’s a time-waster because librarians aren’t moral police. Some argue that an attitude like that lacks integrity, and argue they may, but you can strongly believe in something and not let it affect another person’s right to the access to the information involved. However, like I said, I think the Clark example isn’t great, so let’s go with the woman and her kids. (I was sort of unsure of what he meant by ‘cattle-roping’; apparently, he means it literally.) Let’s say instead of a book on cattle-roping, which seems a bit unlikely, she asks for a book that you know says that physical force is okay when disciplining children. That to me presents an interesting dilemma, because you as the librarian might disagree. So what do you do? Just because a parent spanks their child might spell abuse to you (or not), and the legal line is gray between physical force that constitutes abuse and what doesn’t. There’s no easy answer to that. And people say being a librarian is easy!
This is definitely an interesting week because I think ethics is an incredibly important part of a library science curriculum, and one that’s sometimes ignored. I’ll be interested to see what other people thought!