Ethics in Librarianship

Back between undergraduate and graduate, I was a shelver at a public library. I interviewed for couple of  these positions before I got one. It turns out having a lip ring and mohawk affects your ability to get a job, who knew? The question of ethics was always on the interview set of questions for these positions. I remember thinking to myself, my third or fourth attempt to answer the question, how utterly helpless the question made me feel as a future librarian. On one hand, I understood that as a shelver I shelve the books no matter what. But am I not also a human being? Am I not a mere question answerer, but also a guide to users through information on a larger level?

There is this conundrum at the center of the librarianship right now between librarian as social worker and librarian as repository of information. As a repository of information, I am obligated to help people pursue information. But as a participant in an active community of learners, I am also obligated to make the world a better place in whatever way I can possible. I feel like the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association definitely sees the librarian as a repository of information. In some ways I found it to be a very dated. Librarians (or at least the sort of librarian I want to be) don’t go around giving out answers. In fact, I feel like we are getting worse and worse at doing that. I think we are wayfinders, advocates, teachers and listeners. The idea that a librarian could be the only path to information is just silly. I think the Lenker article is attempting to consider the social work aspect of what librarians do.

I’m not means saying that we should be censors. I just think that our attempts to cast ourselves as neutral impersonal information vessels just deflates much of what librarians do. My job is help people find what they need, not just fact and figures.


About Ilana the Librarian

I am an aspiring librarian at the University of Michigan.
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One Response to Ethics in Librarianship

  1. adamsliz says:

    I really like your definition of librarians as “wayfinders, advocates, teachers and listeners.” Those are things that we are, or at the very least, aspire to be. As much as it begrudges us to admit it, the internet does occasionally do our work for us (perhaps not well, but still…); we need to re-define ourselves within that context, and I think that ethical codes that stringently rely upon the concept of information-seeking harm that. I’m still not sure that I would define the ALA’s idea of a librarian as a “repository for information.” For me, it seemed as if the Codes focused more upon those broad *yet poorly defined) ideas of fairness, equability, and respect. As you say, searching for information is certainly one piece of that puzzle, but I think there are broader issues at work within the code.

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