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« Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement I | Main | MASA article - Is your district moving to the cloud? »

Library ethics for non-librarians - introduction

As is the case in an increasing number of districts, technology integrationists are replacing elementary media specialists in our district. Our secondary media specialists are taking responsibility for technology integration.

Our "digital learning specialists", experienced classroom teachers with a passion for using technology with kids, will do a fine job in our schools working with both students and staff. Their commitment to using technology to promote the 4 Cs of Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking will, I firmly believe, fundamentally improve our children's learning experiences and make them better prepared for the future.

Yet this professional role transformation concerns me as well. As a life-long library advocate, I worry that some fundamental skills that classically trained librarians use in their work will go undone - competent materials selection, knowledge of children's and YA literature, promotion of voluntary free reading, information literacy instruction including critical evaluation of information sources, and materials organization among them.

But of even greater concern may be that schools will no longer have an advocate for the traditional values and ethics of librarianship. While one does not need to be a librarian to maintain these ethical values, the library profession has codified them and placed them front and center in practice.

So for at least the technology integration specialists in our district, I am going to review the ethics of librarianship, especially as they relate to technology. And you, Blue Skunk reader, are welcome to come along.

First things first:

Code of Ethics of the American Library Association

As members of the American Library Association, we recognize the importance of codifying and making known to the profession and to the general public the ethical principles that guide the work of librarians, other professionals providing information services, library trustees and library staffs.

Ethical dilemmas occur when values are in conflict. The American Library Association Code of Ethics states the values to which we are committed, and embodies the ethical responsibilities of the profession in this changing information environment.

We significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information. In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.

The principles of this Code are expressed in broad statements to guide ethical decision making. These statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.

  1. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
  2. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
  3. We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
  4. We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.
  5. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
  6. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
  7. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
  8. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

Adopted at the 1939 Midwinter Meeting by the ALA Council; amended June 30, 1981; June 28, 1995; and January 22, 2008.

Over the next eight days, I will be looking at each of these ethical codes, updating and revising my interpretation of them from a chapter  I wrote for Carol Simpson's book Ethics in School Librarianship, Linworth 2003.

I fully recognize that it is a dangerous thing to set oneself up as an “expert” about ethics. One is held to very high ethical standards by others and there always seem to be folks sniffing about for hypocritical behavior on the “expert’s” part. One runs the chance of appearing holier-than-thou and having folks feel uncomfortable in one’s presence. But probably the worst thing is that one quickly realizes there are few ethical absolutes, and one is regarded as an anal retentive or as a godless situational relativist depending on the audience. But ethics is an interesting and import topic which needs to be brought out into the sunshine and aired on a regular basis if we are to serve our students well.

In the end the best thing we can do is to be thoughtful and listen to own consciences. As human beings we constantly make moral judgments, decide issues of right and wrong, and attempt to determine what behaviors are humane and inhumane. We want to feel both our professional and personal actions and attitudes:
    - promote the general health of society
    - maintain or increase individual rights and freedoms
    - protect individuals from harm
    - treat all human beings as having an inherent value and accord those beings respect
    - uphold religious, social, cultural, and government laws and mores
In other words, we want the decisions we make to not only not have a damaging impact on ourselves, on those we serve, or on our society, but improve our world as well.


  1. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

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Reader Comments (6)

Good source of information

June 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commentertheophilus

A similar discussion occurs in the public library field when we discuss ways to make it easier for small libraries to maintain their charters. Doing away with the requirement for an MLS degree is often one of the suggestions. While I am clear that the degree gave me little useful experience in human resources management or many of my other administrative tasks, I am equally sure that the training I did receive in privacy issues, ethics and other library issues and practices is critical in the proper operation of this unique public institution.

June 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

Thanks for this, Doug. It will also a very useful for teachers moving into school libraries where there are shortages of school librarians. Yes, there are shortage areas.

And there are many districts where elementary librarians lead the way in tech integration as well--and still bring the librarian magic to the job. You have a big job ahead of you to try to bring that knowledge, that focus to your digital learning specialists. Are some school librarians being considered for the positions? Hope so.

June 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns

Thanks for this comment, Annie. I serve on a couple library school advisory committees and hear these concerns from my public library colleagues.

All the best,


HI Sara,

Yup, big job ahead. And yes, our elementary librarian was asked to be one of the tech integration specialists (begged to, actually) but she took a MS media job. Ah, well.


June 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I can't help but feel that much will be lost with the fact that school librarians at the elementary level arenow being replaced by technologists. I know you realize this but it seems a real loss for literacy beyond the technological.

June 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

Hi Floyd,

As you know, I worry about that a lot as well. But I am less worried about job titles than I am about the skills and beliefs these folks bring to the school. I can't simply bemoan what seems to be a national trend, but have to take at least the limited actions I can. Wish I had it figured out!

Thanks for the note.


June 25, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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