ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 2, November 1994) - associates.ucr.edu
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"TALK THE TALK, WALK THE WALK" ETHICAL STANDARDS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY by 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 actions. 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. Sources 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.