Why We Do What We Do

By Gregory, Gwen M. | Information Today, April 2016 | Go to article overview

Why We Do What We Do


Gregory, Gwen M., Information Today


Why We Do What We Do Ethics and Values in Librarianship: A History by Wallace Koehler Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 ISBN: 978-1442254268 292 pages; $80, hardcover

Libraries and their caretakers have a long history. Since written books were created, they have been collected, stored, and protected. However, the purpose of these collections has changed over time, as have the values and duties of the librarians who care for them. Many of us have not thought about the history of libraries since graduate school. It is stimulating to step back, review our long history, and consider where we are heading. In his book, Ethics and Values in Librarians hip: A History, Wallace Koehler provides a thoughtful overview of library philosophy and history, focusing on our ethical perspectives.

Koehler is professor emeritus at Valdosta State University, where he served as director of the M.L.I.S. program from 2001 to 2014. He was previously on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma. He is the co-author of Fundamentals of Information Studies: Understanding Information and Its Environment and has thought deeply about, and researched extensively on, library ethics.

Back to the Beginnings

In this book, Koehler shares many insights about the ethics of our profession. In the preface, he cites S.R. Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science, first published in the 1930s, as a cornerstone of modern library ethics. He refers to the laws throughout the book. As a refresher, they are: 1) Books are for use, 2) Every reader his/her book, 3) Every book its reader, 4) Save the time of the reader, and 5) The library is a growing organism. If we define "library" and "book" broadly, including all types of information and their collections, these laws are still readily applicable. Koehler organizes his book into chapters that concentrate on different ethical themes. They include stewardship and service, classification, intellectual property, democracy, and librarian training and qualifications.

In the first chapter, Koehler says that "the ethics of librarianship and its practice are not fixed and constant." Rather, he proposes that most of our principles have changed over time. He carries this theme through the various chapter topics, using the writings of librarians and scholars dating back centuries to illustrate these changes. Koehler notes that the concept of librarian ethics is relatively new, only dating to the early 20th century. Before that, ethics may have been implied but not explicitly stated, he writes. He also asserts that libraries have been marginalized as social institutions, while our main product- information-has been increasingly commodified. Much of the book explores how we have defined ourselves as librarians and where that may lead us in the 21st century.

Ethics and Values in Librarianship is full of thoughtful analysis as well as historical detail. …

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