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Sunday
Jun192016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement II

I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. J.K. Rowling

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement II: We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

Technology has opened floodgates of information into schools, primarily by way of the Internet. Along with marvelous resources on topics of curricular and personal interest, the flotsam and sewage of the Internet has become readily available as well. Materials and ideas that had been in the past physically inaccessible to students now can be viewed at the click of mouse button.

The potential of student access to unsavory and possibly unsafe materials on the Internet has made the support of intellectual freedom both more challenging and more important. It is difficult to justify a resource that allows the accidental viewing of graphic sexual acts by second-graders searching for information on “beavers” or communications by an anorexic teen with fellow anorexics who encourage the continuation of the disorder. Defending unfiltered Internet access seems quite different from defending The Catcher in Rye.

Yet the concept of intellectual freedom as expressed in both ALA’s “Library Bill of Rights” and “Freedom to Read”  statements is as relevant to information in electronic formats as it is in print:

We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they need the help of censors to assist them in this task.

As expressed in “Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” 

Although the educational level and program of the school necessarily shapes the resources and services of a school library media program, the principles of the Library Bill of Rights apply equally to all libraries, including school library media programs.

While it must be recognized that preventing access to pornographic or unsafe materials is the reason given by those who advocate restricted access to the Internet in schools, there are political motivations behind such attempts to require blocking and monitoring software as well. The fight for intellectual freedom in schools is more important today than ever.

To a degree, CIPA (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) has taken the decision to use or not use Internet filters out of the hands of local decision makers. Districts who receive federal funding, including E-rate telecommunications discounts, must install and use an Internet filtering device to be in compliance. Yet a strong commitment to intellectual freedom on the part of the librarian is possible even in a filtered environment.

Internet filtering can have a wide range of restrictiveness. Depending on the product, the product’s settings, and the ability to override the filter to permit access to individual sites, filters can either block a high percentage of the Internet resources (specific websites, email, chat rooms, etc.) or a relatively small number of sites, narrowly defined. In our role as proponents of intellectual freedom, we need to strongly advocate for the least restrictive settings and generous use of override lists in our Internet filters. We need to make sure that at least one machine that is completely unblocked is available to the librarian so that questionably blocked sites can be reviewed and immediately accessed by staff and students if found to be useful.
Librarians also have the ethical responsibility to help 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 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 a learning environment that promotes the use of the Internet for accomplishing resource-based activities to meet curricular objectives

I have to admit that after crusading for nearly six years for filter-free Internet access for my school district and then being forced by CIPA to install a filter, the sun still rises. And in some sense, I believe our schools are more ethically responsible for using a limited filtering system that keeps the little ones from accidentally accessing inappropriate websites. When configured and monitored as accurately as possible, our filter becomes a selection, rather than censorship tool.

Friday
Jun172016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement I

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement I: 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.


Information technologies – the automated catalog, electronic databases, and access to the Internet – have allowed even the most humble school library to offer services even research libraries could only dream only a few years ago. But, our jobs have become increasingly complex as a result. It should go without saying that the ethical, or just plain competent, librarian should provide the highest level of service. Let’s look at each of these qualities of service in turn to see what issues are emerging as a result of new technologies.

Resources
School budgeting is a “zero sum” game: there is a finite, and usually inadequate, number of dollars that can be spent by a school district in any one year on the total educational program including class size, basketballs, toilet paper, staff development, and superintendent’s transportation allowance. What this means is that every dollar spent on technology or library resources is a dollar that cannot be spent for other potentially worthwhile purposes. Ethically, we must spend every dollar in ways that will do the most good for our staff and students, keeping the entire school funding picture in perspective.
As informational resources become available in both in print and digitally, we need to carefully appraise which format best suits curricular purposes and our budgets. Collection development strategies are more important than ever as our scarce resources need to be stretched to cover ever higher demands. Materials purchased “just in case” or for a “well-rounded collection” that remain untouched by human hands are not just unwisely, but unethically, acquired.

It is ethically irresponsible not to have a budget. Too often we confuse having a budget with having a fully funded budget. Every library needs to have a written, goal-oriented, specific proposed budget. If students are to have access to the resources necessary for an effective educational program, all school librarians must accurately inform decision-makers of the cost of those resources. The greater outlays necessary for technology in schools, among other things, makes this more critical than ever.

Policies
The use and abuse of technology resources requires that the librarian must be able to create good policies and rules related to their use. While we are rightfully expected to enforce board adopted policies such as the Acceptable Use Policy, each individual library has its own set of expected rules and consequences for their infractions that are set by the librarian and library advisory committee or school leadership team.

Since technology is an unfamiliar resource for many adults, our policies tend to be overly harsh in proportion to the importance of the act committed. I too often hear a student losing “Internet privileges” for an entire year or semester for a minor or first infraction of a rule. When formulating consequences for rule or policy infractions, librarians need to:

  1. Examine the existing consequences for other similar improper activities. If a student sends a harassing email, for example, the consequences for harassment already in place should apply.
  2. Graduate the penalties. Students should not be denied access to the Internet for an extended period of time for a first infraction of the rules. One might ask, “Should a child be banned from reading if he/she was caught reading something inappropriate?” If the inappropriate behavior repeats itself, the penalties can be increased.
  3. Bring parents in on any ethical use violation.
  4. Allow and encourage student personal use the Internet. If the Internetworked computers are not being used for curricular purposes, students should be allowed to research topics of personal interest (that are not dangerous or pornographic, of course), chat, or send email to friends. One reason for allowing this is that students are far less likely to risk loss of Internet privileges if it means losing access to things that they enjoy.
  5. Make sure all rules are clearly stated, available, taught as part of library orientation, and consistently enforced.
  6. Develop school-wide ownership of the rules. Having a site-based leadership team or library committee that helps set the rules of technology for a school keeps the librarian from having to be the “heavy” and results in rules that more accurately reflect the culture of the school.

Access
The librarian has an ethical duty to advocate for liberal access to electronic resources for all students in a school. Home access and public library access to information technologies alone will not close the “digital divide.” This means serving on building technology teams and advocating for:

1.    Access to technology for all students. Too often technologies have been acquired and sequestered by certain departments, grade levels or individual teachers within schools. Librarians must voice the need for non-departmental (library) access to information technologies that are available before, during and after school hours. Our “whole-school” view puts us in a unique position of knowing which children are getting technology skills and access in our buildings.

Adaptive technologies have made more resources available to the physically challenged than ever before. The librarian needs to be the voice for awareness and adoption of such technologies. We also need to help schools understand and be in compliance with ADA regulations such as the mandate that all school webpages be machine readable by providing alternate text descriptions of all visuals.

2.    The least restrictive use of information technologies. The pursuit of information by students to meet personal needs should be encouraged in schools. Life-long learning strategies, practice in information evaluation, and experiences in building effective communication strategies are all reinforced when students use information technologies to meet personal goals.

As educators, we need to lighten up a little in regard to what students are doing with the Internet in our libraries and classrooms as well. The Internet has vast resources that are not directly related to the curriculum but are of high interest to students at all grade levels. Information about sports, fashion, movies, games, celebrities, and music in bright and exciting formats abounds. 

The use of the Internet for class work of course must be given priority, but computers should never sit idle. And there are some good reasons to allow students personal use of the Internet:

  • It gives kids a chance to practice skills. After all that’s why we have “recreational” reading materials in our libraries. Do we really subscribe to Hot Rod or Seventeen because they’re used for research? If we want kids who can do an effective Internet search, read fluently, and love to learn, does it make much difference if they are learning by finding and reading webpages on the Civil War or Civil War games?
  • It gives weight to the penalty of having Internet access taken away. The penalty for misuse of the Internet is often a suspension of Internet use privileges. As a student, if I were restricted to only school work uses of the Internet and had my Internet rights revoked, I’d pretty much say, “So what?” and wonder what I had to do to get my textbooks taken away as well. But if I am accustomed to using the Internet each morning before school to check on how my favorite sports team was faring, the loss of Internet access as a consequence of misbehavior would be far more serious.
  • It makes the library media center a place kids want to be. Many of our students love the library for the simple reason that it is often the only place that allows them to read books of personal interest, work on projects that are meaningful, and explore interests that fall outside the curriculum in an atmosphere of relative freedom. Kids need a place like that, and we should provide it – even at the Internet terminals.

 

3.    The greatest range of electronic resources. Email, chat, and instant messages are often banned by schools, fearing their misuse by students. Yet such resources can put learners in touch with one of the best primary resources – the human expert. The ability to access sound and video files and computer programs is also often banned, even when there is demonstrated instructional need.

Accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests 
One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons has Calvin on the phone asking if the library has any books on “why girls are so weird.” Frustrated when his need goes unmet, he concludes: “I’ll bet the library just doesn’t want anyone to know.” For some requests it is genuinely difficult to give an “accurate, unbiased and courteous” response.

Anyone who has worked with children and young adults knows that they have probably as wide a range of interests and information needs as adults. While giving priority to requests for help meet academic needs, we need to honor all information requests, keeping in mind that we do have a responsibility for providing guidance to our young charges as well. Personal interests can motivate reluctant readers to read, reluctant technology users to use the Internet, and library-shy students to use our resources.

And I sincerely hope we never forget that courtesy is a part of our ethical code. Opinions about libraries and librarians are formed at a young age and are often life-long. The kids we serve today will be our school board members and legislators of tomorrow.

Thursday
Jun162016

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.

Tomorrow: 

  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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