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 http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/a-reference-dilemma/) 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.