ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 2, November 1994) -

Table of Contents

                 "TALK THE TALK, WALK THE WALK"
                       Jennifer S. Kutzik
                     Library Technician III
                   Library Technology Services
                    Colorado State University
A recent article in "Library Mosaics" examines the evolving roles
of today's library paraprofessionals, or support staff.
"Paraprofessionals in many libraries are already managing
departments and divisions, making programmatic decisions,
committing resources and serving on committees which direct the
future of their libraries," wrote the authors (Kalnin May/June
1994)).  Numerous paraprofessional managers are fortunate to have
background training in budgeting, supervision, preparation of goals
and objectives, and the myriad of other duties involved in
"managing".  Some are mentored by a colleague, while others learn
step-by-step, crisis-by-crisis in the school of hard knocks.  So,
where does the need for an ethical code fit into this picture?
The field of librarianship is a profession with a service
orientation our commonality of purpose.  As with other service
professions (medical, legal, educational), we approach our everyday
work in the context of basic ethical principles.  Not surprisingly,
Sharon L. Baker, in a 1992 article, cited a study confirming that
people in managerial positions face far more (an average of five
times more) ethical dilemmas in their jobs than persons in non-
managerial positions (Baker 1992).  So, in myriad libraries,
support staff and MLS-degreed librarians stand an equal chance of
"hooking a big one".  One approach to resolving these ethical
dilemmas is to look to the ALA code for guidance.
The ALA first recognized the need to spell out standards of
professional conduct in a formal ethical code in 1938.  it was
apparently never emphasized in the typical library school
curriculum, however, and the literature of the time seems unanimous
in belittling its value.  Samuel Rothstein summed up the criticism
as vague idealism, fatuous adjurations, pompous platitudes, major
points of principle mixed up with minor matters of etiquette and,
almost to ensure their being ignored, no method of enforcement
(Rothstein 1982).
"The Librarians' Code of Ethics" has been updated periodically
since that time, most recently in 1981, to reflect changes in the
nature of the profession.  The text of the 1981 code promoted six
principles that were to guide all librarians in their everyday
work.  Although the word "Librarians" begins each point, I would
submit that the phrase "ALA members" or "Library workers" may be
substituted with equal outcome.
                  _Librarians' Code of Ethics_
                         (1981 revision)
1.   Librarians must provide the highest level of service through
     appropriate and usefully organized collections, fair and
     equitable circulation and service policies, and skillful,
     accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests
     for assistance.
2.   Librarians must resist all efforts by groups or individuals to
     censor library materials.
3.   Librarians must protect each user's right to privacy with
     respect to information sought or received, and materials
     consulted, borrowed, or acquired.
4.   Librarians must adhere to the principles of due process and
     equality of opportunity in peer relationships and personnel
5.   Librarians must distinguish clearly in their actions and
     statements between their personal philosophies and attitudes
     and those of an institution or professional body.
6.   Librarians must avoid situations in which personal interests
     might be served or financial benefits gained at the expense of
     library users, colleagues, or the employing institution.
The code strives to address diverse types and sizes of libraries
and diverse positions within those libraries.  In brief, concise
statements, the framers of the code emphasized the values of
maintaining the highest levels of personal integrity.  But it is
exactly that brevity and controlling tone of commandment which has
led many to voice doubt of the relevance of this code, or any code,
in our modern and complex society.
A proposed revision, issued on February 6, 1994, attempts to expand
on the 1981 code.  No action was taken on this revision at the ALA
annual meeting in Miami, but discussion may yet take place at ALA
Midwinter 1995 in Philadelphia.Most of the revised statements still
begin with the dictum "Librarians must..." and still speak in
generalities, not specifics.  Nonetheless, there are several new
notes sounded in the revision which are worthy of discussion.
Point 1.  The word "resources" is substituted for the former term
"collections", while the words "circulation" and "skillful" are
deleted.  Libraries today are much more than the sum total of their
volume count, and exchanging "resources" for "Materials" wherever
it appears in the Code reflects the richness of information enabled
by the technological revolution.  However, one wonders at the
deletion of "skillful" as a response goal.  Is this a nod to the
challenge of staying proficient at accessing that ever-expanding
pool of knowledge?
Point 2.  Add ending statement "...or to compromise the library's
commitment to intellectual freedom".  This reaffirms the
profession's goal of creating an environment where freedom of
inquiry, thought and expression can thrive.
Point 4.  Reword to read: "Librarians must treat colleagues with
respect, fairness and good faith, and will advocate conditions of
employment which guarantee the rights and welfare of all employees
of the institution".  This statement has more "teeth" and
measurable guidelines than the former statement.  Advancing the
rights and welfare of all employees is not only good management
practice, it's the law!
Point 5.  New added:  "Librarians strive for excellence in the
profession by maintaining and enhancing their own knowledge and
skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers,
and by fostering the professional aspirations of current and
potential students."  One might paraphrase this to read "Do it
better every day, mentor others and share the excitement of your
library career".
Former points 5 and 6 have been reversed and renumbered to points
6 and 7 with some revision.  It was perhaps inevitable that the
phrase "moral judgments" has crept into Point 7.
All current and former employees, volunteers or friends of
libraries are eligible to join the American Library Association.
Those who join may do so for many reasons, but one primary reason
is that they feel a basic responsibility to support the
profession's major organization.  Some support staff may believe
paying the annual dues to become a "card-carrying" ALA member
places them squarely in the librarian ranks.  But is that really
all there is to being "professional"?  The day-to-day expectations
which ALA has for its members are summarized in the Librarians'
Code of Ethics.  They are offered as a resource guide for the
library profession.  As support staff accept the career challenges
of managing, leading and staffing library resources, we must show
that we are ready not only to "talk the talk" but to "walk the
walk" of professional ethics.
Kalnin, Mary, Eyler, Wendee, and Ryan, Susan.  "The
     paraprofessional in today's libraries".  _Library Mosaics_.
     May/June 1994.
Baker, Sharon L.  "Needed: an ethical code for library
     administrators".  _Journal of Library Administration_.  V.16,
     no.4, 1992.
Rothstein, Samuel.  "Where does it hurt?  Identifying the real
     concerns in the ethics of reference service".  _The Reference
     Librarian_.  V.4, 1982.  p.48.