SI 643 Reflection of Readings week 08: Code of Ethics

11 Mar

Librarians in US have fought unwarranted restrictions of a patron’s “freedom to read” because they believe in upholding the principles of intellectual freedom and resisting any efforts to censor library resources. But Lenker (2008) raises a very interesting yet challenging question regarding librarians’ code of ethics. What if a librarian receives a “dangerous question” from a patron? How does she conduct a reference service?

The Article 7 of The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association stipulates that librarians should “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.” That is, the code of ethics of ALA advises that a librarian’s personal beliefs and judgement about the aim of reference questions should not involve in reference service. However, it seems to me that Lenker argues that instead of following blindly the Code of Ethics without considering circumstances, librarians need to be flexible to adopt virtue concepts in reference service, and that full-bodied virtual approach gives librarians a hint of how librarian resolve “ possible tension between the wishes of the patron, the safety of the patron and the public, her obligations to uphold legal and professional standards, and the demand of her personal ideals.” (Lenker, 2008, p.51)

At reference service, practically well-trained librarians often realize that the provision of a certain information may harm patrons’ welfare (Agostics Maybe’s “reference dilemma” case is a good example. See or the safety of the patron and the public (See examples in Lenker’s article) even though they do not judge a reference question by their own personal beliefs. Then what should librarians do in such a case? It is a real dilemma librarians face all the time. For example, If a librarian knows that the knowledge of cattle-roping is going to be used for children abuse, then what she needs to do? Refusing the reference service provides no better outcome than giving information about cattle-roping to a patron because she is ready to abuse her children whether a librarian gives the information of cattle-roping. Or it is possible that she has no intention to abuse her children and her inquiry of cattle-roping might be really a signal to ask for help with how to treat her unruly children. If I were a librarian, I would ask her some follow-up questions to find out what her real intention is. If she insists to know about cattle-roping, then I will have to provide the information but at the same time will let her know the counseling program about children’s misbehavior. Am I too intrusive or meddlesome? I really anticipate my colleague’s opinions on this issue in class.


Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “SI 643 Reflection of Readings week 08: Code of Ethics

  1. kirstenterry

    March 14, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I tend to think that asking more follow-up questions is the way to go. I liked the emphasis that the Lenker article placed on personal integrity. It was a good reminder that we’re not simply robots who give info without considering its ramifications. However, I’m still not sure if it’s our place to offer other recommendations, such as counseling options. Should we worry about offending people, or just take that risk if there’s a chance that harm might be done to others?

  2. halleyt

    March 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I also would have no idea what to do in that cattle-roping situation. Maybe instead of counseling, say you know a good babysitter, or mention free programs at the library that the kids could attend while the mom reads? I do worry about offending the patrons, but I also don’t want to be reason for someone to get harmed, you know? I think I would rather offend someone then have someone potentially do harm to others.

  3. chris.wolf

    March 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not sure how I feel about offering counseling options to a patron. In my experience, I have occasionally interacted with patrons who seem to have a mental illness or disorder, but I can’t imagine volunteering to give them resources for counseling, if say, they were asking for resources about how to find congressional debates.
    I know the cattle-roping scenario is a different situation, but again, I’m not sure how appropriate offering counseling options would be if the patron was asking about how to manage unruly children. In your example, you say you know the patron is finding out information about how to use cattle-roping to abuse her children. In my experience, I find this is be a very unlikely situation. I find a more likely situation to be when you have a feeling or think the information might be used to harm others, but you don’t know for sure. In that situation, I find determining the best course of action to be even more unclear, since you don’t know the whole picture.
    I think a big part of professional ethics is relying on your professional community. My experience working libraries has always been as a student, but I feel even in the professional context, I would confer with colleagues on issues that I truly did not know how to proceed.


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