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Library ethics for non-librarians scenarios

I am leading a session at our state school library/tech conference ITEM on Friday. Here's the description:

Whether called librarians, media specialists, technology integrationists or the job title du jour, students and staff deserve service guided by professional ethics. What do those who may be running our libraries but may not by training be librarians need to know about intellectual freedom, copyright, privacy, and other essential concepts? And how do make sure all schools have an advocate for ethical information and technology use?

The core of the session will be the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association which we will review. But the bulk of the time will be spent apply the code to what I hope are real-world situations.

I've found:

In doing workshops on library and tech ethics for a long time, I've found one of the most effective ways to help others "find" and clarify their ethical values is through the discussion of situations where such choices must be made. So here are the scenarios from which participants will be able to choose in their small groups

    1. The building tech specialist decides to subscribe to an e-book service that offers a wide-range of reading materials rather than purchase any new print resources for the media center.
    2. The principal decides that if a student is caught accessing an inappropriate site on the Internet, their computer access will be suspended for two weeks, with multiple violations increasing the length of suspension.
    3. Ms Sanchez is an early adopter of technology at Trump Elementary School and has managed to acquire 20 iPads for her 4th grade classroom through donations and fundraisers. No effort has been made to supply classroom devices for classrooms in the building.
    4. The rules for the 1:1 project at Clinton Middle School are that the devices are to be used for "school work only" and both media services (YouTube, Pandora, Netflix etc) and social networking sites (Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, etc) are blocked by the Internet content filter.
    5. A parent e-mails the technology integration specialist demanding that the Planned Parenthood website be blocked at school.
    6. Teachers lobby the building tech specialist to purchase a program which allows the remote monitoring of student devices. The cost of the system, which is significant, will be paid with funds that normally pay for full-text databases.
    7. The school secretary has created a publicly-accessible website of all students who have overdue books and other materials along with the titles of those materials.
    8. A teacher has asked the lab manager for a list of the sites a student has visited during the previous hour to determine if the student is on task, looking for materials related to the research requirement and of a suitable reading level.
    9. The district technology director regularly visits classrooms throughout the district, taking photos of students using technology. He tweets these photos out to the public using a school-associated hashtag.
    10. The teachers at Sanders HS rely on Turniitin to detect plagiarism without teaching the concept to their students or adjusting research assignments to encourage personalization or application of the research findings.
    11. A teacher asks the tech specialist how to download a YouTube video and then add it to his learning management system.
    12. The building technician is asked to load licensed software on all computers in a lab for which the district only has a license for 10. The teacher who asks this states that no more than 10 students at any one time will be using the software.
    13. The tech specialist in the building when working on a teacher's computer sees in the browser history that the teacher has been doing online shopping using his classroom computer and reports this to the building principal.
    14. At a conference, the technology director is invited to dinner by a major computer company who openly solicits the district's business. The cost of the meal and drinks is about $50.00.
    15. The local computer store sells Chromebooks for approximately 20% more than a national vendor. The technology director buys from the local company citing better customer service.
    16. As an avid environmentalist, a teacher does not allow her students to print any of their digital products, insisting they be share only electronically.
    17. The principal gathers input from her parent advisory committee to determine building policies on things like cell phone use, use of computers in the library, and filtering questions. Some teachers object on the grounds that these decisions should be made by professional educators.
    18. The curriculum department chair refuses to purchase any online reference materials, stating that all the information students need is free on the Internet.
    19. The digital learning specialist refuses to attend the state technology conference stating that all she needs to know about current practices in educational technology can be gained through her Twitter feed.
    20. The district decides to implement a reading program as part of an intervention program for struggling students. A classroom teacher who firmly believes that such programs kill the joy of reading refuses to use the program.

    For their selected scenario, participants will discuss:


    • Is there an ethical choice that must be made?

    • What additional information would be helpful in making this decision?

    • What might be the consequences of a poorly made decision be on students?

    • Under which ALA Code principle might this fall?

    • How might librarians help non-librarians facing these decisions

    If lucky, all of us will come out of the session confused at a higher level!

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    Reader Comments (7)

    I like these scenarios - it often seems like the introduction of technology is something that everyone wants but very few take the time to consider all of the issues (besides cost). What I have found out is that there seems to be a "they learned that already" idea with many applications and hardware - which usually means "they" only figured out what "they" needed to solve a single problem at a single point in time.

    I realize there is a different between just-in-time learning and just-in-case learning...but it seems that with the proliferation and ubiquitous use of technology, more and more topics are becoming just-in-time.

    October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

    Hi Kenn,

    Thanks for the observation. I would add that the addition of technology raises issues that we could not have predicted as well, necessitating a lot of learning on the fly!


    October 15, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

    This is an interesting list of scenarios - it goes to show that fast-changing technology shapes our culture and how what we view as a norm differs as well.

    Doug, do you anticipate a change in values "on your watch", e.g. do you think the same scenarios will produce a different reaction from you and others as culture and norms change with the pace of technology adoption in both professional and every day lives? For example, filters for social sites and limitations of use of school computers. Outside of financial institutions, very few companies block anything on their employees computers, which is why everyone is checking their personal emails, news and Twitter feeds during their lunch breaks (especially Fridays!) as can be seen on many industry reports.

    October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLilia Tovbin

    This list of scenarios had a surprise for me - the right/ethical choices are not at all obvious on all of them! The discussions would surely be super helpful to consider a variety of views and angles.

    October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda


    The biggest change I predict is that as those who have grown up with the Internet move into leadership positions, there will be less "singling out" of technology as an area of ethical concern. Currently, we still separate technology into an area where special rules need to be made. But that's just a guess!


    Thank you, Amanda. I appreciate the comment.


    October 18, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

    Thanks for the guess Doug - that just makes perfect sense. I was thinking the shift would be a bit faster, but you are right - it will take a change in leadership for the shift to actually happen rather than just be discussed. Thanks again,

    October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLilia Tovbin

    Love the halloween-themed logo, very clever!

    October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLilia Tovbin

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