ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement V: 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.
The introduction of technology into our libraries and schools has given an interesting twist to our collegial relationships. We as librarians have one role that has grown in importance, staff trainer, and another that has grown in complexity, staff watchdog.
As among the first adults in schools to make productive use of technologies, our role that Information Power described as “Instructional Partner” has increased in importance. For many librarians, we are expected to teach not just students, but staff members the productive uses of technology. We have a responsibility to our co-workers to teach safe and ethical technology use along with simple “how-to’s” – just like with our students. Protecting one’s privacy, guarding one’s property, and stressing the safe use of technologies, especially the Internet, is now one of the most important ways we “safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.” Sharing our expertise in the ethical use of information and technology is how we treat other educators with “respect, fairness, and good faith.”
It has always been a part of our job to help ensure legal technology use by both staff and students in our district, 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 by a staff member to make unauthorized copies of print and digital materials, to load software on more workstations than for which the licenses permit, or to set up a showing of a DVD that falls outside of public performance parameters is not an uncommon experience. In these cases, most of us 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 codes. A gentle reminder of how our own attitudes and examples as educators toward intellectual property set a powerful example for our students is also usually in order.
I would advise anyone not in an administrative role - librarian or technology integration specialist - to think of themselves not as a cop, but counselor in all legal matters. We can advise, inform, and report, but we cannot and should not attempt to regulate the behaviors of fellow professionals. This is the obligation of the school administrator. If one believes an illegal or unethical action was committed by another educator, inform the supervisor in writing and keep a copy of the notification of concern.
At some point, our knowledge of the violation of copyright or materials licensing by a colleague may become so egregious that we need to inform an administrator of the problem. We have an ethical duty to do so despite the uncomfortable position in which it places us. No district can guarantee that its staff is in perfect legal compliance with copyright, but a district and all of its employees do have the obligation to exercise due diligence in enforcing copyright laws by establishing policies, training staff, and taking disciplinary action when infractions are known. Large fines are given to districts that make no attempt or implicitly encourage copyright violation. Actions or inactions that lead to scarce school dollars spent on fines rather than student resources are unethical indeed.
Most schools’ Acceptable Use Policies also forbid the use of school resources for non-school uses. But more often than not, it may be best to turn a blind eye to personal use unless it is blatantly inappropriate and public. We need to strictly prohibit the use or distribution of pornography or any image that coworkers might regard as creating a hostile work environment.
The librarian should not tolerate harassment or entrepreneurship conducted using school networks by anyone.
But we do need to recognize that teachers email their kids in college, explore possible vacation destinations, or place an online order to Land’s End now and again. We need to recognize that these folks are professionals and that lessons will be planned and homework graded whether at school during a prep time or at the kitchen table after supper. It’s the nature of professionals. And professionals need to be accorded professional respect.
So why not take the hard line approach to enforcing a school AUP? It has everything to do with climate. Unless it affects job performance, personal Internet use makes the school a more enjoyable place to work. Teachers have enough stress in their lives. A little humor lessens the stress, makes for a happier teacher, and this is a good thing. After all, would you want your child with an unhappy teacher?
We can’t throw out the rules. We have a professional, legal and ethical responsibility to help enforce board adopted policies. We cannot tolerate Internet use in schools that involves harassment, encourages malingering, or supports a personal business.
But we can and should recognize that schools are comprised of human beings. And we need to do everything we can to make school a respectful, people-friendly place for both staff and students.