Magazine article American Libraries

Lessons School Librarians Teach Others; Class: The Subject Is Integrity

Magazine article American Libraries

Lessons School Librarians Teach Others; Class: The Subject Is Integrity

Article excerpt

The school library media specialist (SLMS) has stepped up to the professional plate as a primary policymaker, staff trainer, and expert on information and technology ethics in our schools.

We place equal or greater importance on the teaching of safe and ethical use of complex technology than on teaching the simple technological "how-tos." Protecting one's privacy, guarding one's property, and stressing the safe use of technologies, especially the Internet, are among the most important ways we "safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions," as the ALA Code of Ethics suggests. We have accepted that as part of our mission, and take charge of the ethical education of our students and, to some degree, their parents and our fellow educators.

One of our longstanding roles--teacher--has grown in importance; another--watchdog--has grown in complexity. It has always been part of our job to help ensure copyright compliance by both staff and students in our districts--not just through training, but by monitoring as well. This is not a task most of us would choose for ourselves, but one that is thrust upon us because of the resources we control. Being asked to make unauthorized copies of print and audiovisual materials, to load software on more workstations than permitted by a license, or to set up a showing of a videotape that falls outside of public performance parameters are not uncommon requests. In these cases, we have learned to quietly, politely, and firmly just say "no" and explain how such an action violates not only the law, but our personal and professional ethical values as well.

But the ethical leadership of school library media specialists extends beyond being the copyright cops of our schools. We face five other major ethical challenges on a daily basis.

1. Encouraging intellectual freedom in a filtered environment.

To a large degree, the Children's Internet Protection Act has taken the decision of whether to use Internet filters out of the hands of local decision-makers. Districts that receive federal funding, including e-rate telecommunications discounts, must install and use Internet blocking software to be in compliance. Nonetheless, a strong commitment to intellectual freedom on the part of the SLMS is possible even in a filtered environment.

Internet blocking software offers a wide spectrum of restrictiveness. Depending on the product, its settings, and the ability to override the filter to permit access to individual sites, filters can either block a high percentage of Internet resources (i.e., specific websites, e-mail, chat rooms) or a relatively small number of sites. In our role as proponents of intellectual freedom, we strongly advocate for the least restrictive settings and most generous use of override lists by our school's Internet filter. We make sure that the SLMS has available at least one machine that can access the complete unfiltered Web so that patrons can review questionably blocked sites and, when the contents of those URLs are found to be useful, restore immediate access for staff and students. In turn, when anyone asks that a specific Internet site be blocked, we treat the request like any material challenge.

The SLMS also has the ethical responsibility of helping ensure patrons use the Internet in acceptable ways by:

* Helping write and enforce the district's acceptable use policy.

* Developing and teaching the values needed to be self-regulating Internet users.

* Supervising, and possibly limiting, computers with Internet access and making sure all adults who monitor networked computers are knowledgeable about the Internet.

* Educating and informing parents and the public about school Internet uses and issues.

* Creating learning environments that promote the use of the Internet for accomplishing resource-based activities to meet curricular objectives. …

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