Personal ethics in the library

Morgan at Exploded Library got me thinking about this more fully with his recent blog post “Living with myself as a law librarian“. He pondered his dilemma – “what happens if I am indirectly helping a client do things which conflict with my personal values?” He also ponders whether “these questions are a lot easier for people who work in public libraries or school or academic libraries”.  Check out the blog post to find out what he has discovered.

As a long serving public librarian, I think we have the same sorts of issues, but maybe with a slightly different view. I have concerns about teenage girls taking out items on astrology and witchcraft, but that is a personal issue which I have kept out of my professional work. New age and Feng Shui are not for me neither, but if that is what a user wants, I am professionally obliged to help them find it and I do. I would love to see people read more good fiction or non-fiction, but if they want graphic novels and paperback romances, I am happy to provide them with those – they are still reading.

I don’t like all of the books, DVDs, CDs, magazines etc that we purchase for our collections, but I can’t censor those collections based on my preferences, because not everyone likes the same things that I do. My job as a librarian is to try to meet our users’ needs, not mine. As a librarian colleague once joked, if it was up to her, she would just run a mobile library service with only paperback romances and Where’s Wally (Waldo for US readers) and the circulation stats would go through the roof! But on the otherhand, our membership would be reduced by 90%, but they would be awesome borrowers! πŸ™‚

On the other side of the ethical question, we had a borrower this week, who almost accused us of stealing some money that had been left in a returned library book. When she realised and the book was traced, the money was not there. I was one of the staff members working on the day this allegedly happened and was surprised and indignant. Not only would neither I or any of the staff think of taking any money found in a book, but we would usually be so shocked that we had found it that we would announce it to all and sundry, so it would not be able to be kept secret. Most librarians I know are honest and committed to their work and the community they serve and doing such a thing would never cross their minds for a second.

Library staff can be highly ethical creatures and will do much to serve our users and to protect their interests (including potentially lost property, however insignificant to us). That doesn’t mean we are perfect, maybe its more a case of library work drawing those who are community minded, etc. That’s who we are, both personally and at work. I work with a fantastic group of people, both librarians and library officers and I have yet to discover in my 23 years in public libraries, of one instance where someone I know or work with has been unethical in any way.

So that’s my public librarian’s view of the ethical question. I would love to hear if your views as a public librarian are similar or not, or what sorts of ethical issues you have to deal with as a school, academic or special librarian.


1 ping

    • morgan on June 8, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Hi Michelle, this is a very interesting post, apologies for the delayed response. I think I should probably have drawn a distinction between facing particular ethical dilemmas as a librarian and the ethical issues inherent in just being a law firm librarian. I have no doubt that public librarians can face just as sharp ethical dilemmas. My most severe ethical dilemma was when I worked in an academic law library – I think I’ll tell that story in my next blog post.

  1. Michelle, I really appreciate this post. It isn’t easy putting aside our personal beliefs for professional ethics. I work in a community that has a high percentage of citizens who disagree and are often very angry when they find out that we have books about witch craft, tarot cards, homosexuality, and graphic novels. It’s difficult trying to maintain a balanced collection in this kind of environment, exhuasting even.

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