Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Impact of the Code of Ethics on Workplace Behavior in Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Impact of the Code of Ethics on Workplace Behavior in Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

In information professions, the ability and willingness of those in service to act with integrity and for the cause of the greater good is a point of pride to those serving and an area fundamental to the peace of mind of those seeking assistance. Librarians, in particular, work diligently to serve their communities and advocate the ideals that are crucial to the stability of a democratic society and an informed citizenry: freedom of speech, free flow of and access to information, awareness and protection of intellectual property rights, and equitable treatment of those seeking information. However, while these values are generally upheld by the Library and Information Science (LIS) field, there has always been some contention surrounding the idea of librarianship as a profession in the areas of job function and educational requirements (Edwards, 1975; Salonen, 2003; Smith, 2006; Gordon, 2008; Lonergan, 2009), professional image and status (Lancour and Rossi, 1961; Shaffer, 1968; Wilson, 1979; McDermott, 1984; Arant and Benefiel, 2003; Luthmann, 2007), and relevancy, enforceability and usefulness of the American Library Association (ALA) Code of Ethics (COE), (Goode, 1961; Murray, 1990; Finks, 1991; Hauptman, 2002; Sturgeon, 2007; ALA, 2009). Books about the evolution of librarianship as a profession (Ennis & Winger, 1961; Shaffer, 1968; Budd, 2008) and library ethics (Hauptman 1988; Hauptman 2002; Preer 2008) have been written; and conversations about all of these concerns have found their way into new venues of communication, like web logs (Houghton-Jan, 2008; R. Deschamps, 2010; Deschamps, 2010). Sometimes, ruminations about the COE have been combined with discussions about academic library values (Peterson, 1983; Dole & Hurych, 2001), always with heavy acknowledgement towards parity between meaningful ethical principles and LIS' legitimate claim to professional status.

A quick review of the characteristics of a profession (body of theory, professional authority, community sanction, a binding code of ethics, and a professional culture) shows that librarianship still has quite a bit of ground to cover; however, some literature implies that it is librarians-not society-that keep them from enjoying the full benefits of professional status-namely, that the public easily recognizes librarianship as a profession (Schuman, 1990; Adams, 2000). Articles concerned with how librarians are perceived externally (and internally by other librarians) are numerous. Even the ALA's official publication, American Libraries, has a regular column titled "How the World Sees Us." However, upon closer inspection, we find that the negative archetypal image of the librarian may be decreasing (Kroll, 2004; Luthmann, 2007). Where there was once an old Caucasian spinster with a petty penchant for quiet and patron condescension, there is now the helpful guide on the side and bold adventurer. This change in public perception is crucial as we delve into issues of ethical behavior, not only because LIS professionals are in the public eye more often, but because that publicity stresses the importance of principled behavior with our communities and each other.

In 1968, Rothstein noted quite bluntly concerning the COE that "[L]ibrarians, like any other professional group, need some kind of statement which will indicate who they are and what they stand for. Indeed, we need such a statement more than most other professional groups, because we librarians have always had trouble in identifying ourselves to the general public-and even to ourselves" (p. 157). In turn, the trouble librarians have explaining their role in society has been linked to how they choose to adhere to their profession's core values (Usherwood, 1980). While discussions about the COE's pitfalls have always held the spotlight in LIS literature, Hoffman's 2005 survey of Texas librarians is the only one that begins to address COE knowledge and links to professional association membership. …

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