Tag Archives: Professional Ethics

Librarianship: A job or a profession?

I suppose this is a bit of a rant that I’d like to share. As a disclaimer, I do want to state that I’ve met many amazing people in this profession. However, those individuals who really stand out to me are the ones devoted to librarianship.

Being a relative newcomer to the profession, I often hear remarks such as “you’re still young”, “wait until you get older”, “you’re not jaded yet” from staff. I have chosen to use my words carefully in this regard. These comments tend to come from staff and non-professionals, not librarians. It surprises me that staff members would concern themselves with how much time I devote to the profession. My profession.

When I’m met with sarcastic remarks, my first reaction is to say something like, “of course you wouldn’t understand, it’s just a job to you” or, “I chose to go to school for this”, or even worse “I’m a professional, you’re not”. I would never actually say this given that it’s not only inappropriate but incredibly UNprofessional. However, I am tempted.

I applaud librarians who have been in the field, those of you who are not so new, and yet who continue to contribute to our profession. I don’t just work in a library, I AM a librarian, and it is part of who I am. I enjoy contributing to the profession and am sorry that staff who work in libraries can’t appreciate that. I hope that when I become too jaded or “old”, that I’ll be wise enough to retire.

In the end, I guess it boils down to this: Do you see what we do as a profession and yourself as a professional, or is it just a job?

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Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: That’s Not Professional Conduct

When we attend library school, we are united by our interest in joining the library profession. As a team of soon-to-be professionals, we work in groups to discuss current issues facing libraries; we collaborate on projects and talk about emerging trends. We are comrades and colleagues.

Unfortunately, when we enter library land, we tend to follow our interests and grow away from each other. Whether we choose reference, cataloguing, youth services or readers’ services, we follow our passion and feel that the area we have chosen is vital to the services that libraries provide. Because of this passion and dedication to our own area of librarianship, some professionals come to the conclusion that their interests and their services are more important to the running of the library than another area of librarianship. As a group of professionals, we no longer look at the importance of librarianship as a whole, but divide it into smaller parts, which results in an “us or them” mentality.

This problem is further exacerbated by budget cuts and library closures. In an effort to save their own job, librarians become even more divided as they seek to devalue another library service so that they remain “safe”. In essence, they are attempting to rob one area of librarianship to sustain another.

Unlike reference staff or readers’ services, cataloguing is a silent public service. As long as we are doing our job well, things run smoothly and therefore, we attract little to no attention. As a result, we are often forgotten. Most patrons are not even aware of our existence.  As such, we are hard pressed to defend ourselves to the public we serve when the services we are providing are denigrated by front-line staff. What is more disturbing is that many front-line librarians attempt to devalue our services and commiserate with patrons when they complain about Dewey or the library catalogue.

Is it really very professional to put down colleagues in order to make our own services more attractive? As professionals, we should be making ourselves aware of the importance of each service provided in the library – whether we like it our not. I have to admit, I dread the thought of sitting at a reference desk, and I certainly wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in children’s services. However, I discovered something while attending graduate school.  I may not like performing those aspects of librarianship, but they are a vital area of the profession and as such, it is important to understand them and why they exist.  Embrace the diversity of services that we offer – it is those services as a whole that we should be working together to protect.

As professionals, we should not be denigrating the services that our colleagues provide due to our own dislike or ignorance.  To bad-mouth one area of librarianship is to devalue the whole of our profession.  I suggest that in doing so, it exhibits a lack of professional conduct.

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Information Ethics : Our Standards, Responsibilities and Duties as Librarians

As many of you are aware from reading this blog, my husband is a lawyer. One of the areas he is most interested in is professional ethics, discipline and self-governance. While his interests are mainly focussed on professional ethics surrounding the legal profession, much of what we discuss together involves all professionals, our responsibilities, and how we conduct ourselves. Like lawyers, we serve the public and, as a result, are public figures. We hold a position of trust in the public eye.

Having developed an interest in professional ethics through our discussions, I have been reading articles on our own profession, and our responsibilities. The following excerpt is from an article I recently came across called Information Ethics: The Duty, Privilege and Challenge of Educating Information Professionals – University of Pennsylvania.

In our increasingly complex, multicultural, and information-intensive society, many critical issues related to information access and use are misunderstood, inadequately considered, or even ignored. These issues may involve balancing individual and societal needs (such as in protecting both an individual’s privacy and the public’s right to know); resolving conflicting views about library collection policies between librarians and parents of schoolchildren; resolving disagreements between individual archivists and retention policies concerning electronic records; understanding one’s own view of what is ethical; or many other topics. In a growing number of instances, decisions concerning information access and use are placing information professionals in sensitive, and sometimes vulnerable, positions.

Knowing how to create, find, manage, access, preserve, and use information effectively provides a form of power to the information professional, whether it is through speed of access to needed sources, the ability to hack into a system, or complex skills to find and create new multimedia information resources. Information professionals, as well as those who rely on them to provide a wide array of services to help people work more efficiently, compete with others, or improve the quality of their lives, must recognize and understand that with power comes responsibility. Like those who acquired power from their knowledge of how to split the atom, librarians, archivists, and other information professionals must learn to understand the possible and real consequences of their actions, reflect on the alternative choices they may make, and determine how best to use their power and act responsibly.

Individuals seeking to become professional librarians or archivists, or seeking to work in other types of cultural heritage institutions or information-related organizations must first learn to develop and hone their own individual sense of ethics, live an ethical life, and be educated about ethical issues in their professional life. In addition, the information professional must learn how–and be ready–to make ethical decisions and take ethical actions (Hammond, Keeney, & Raiffa, 1998).

What I find most intriguing about this article is the emphasis on the creation, retrieval, management and access to information. I have specifically chosen this excerpt because of the current movement among cataloguers to push for a larger cataloguing curriculum in library education. Cataloguing is more than just a skill set. What we do requires a high degree of professionalism. We make decisions regarding political correctness versus access, censorship, labeling, personal opinions, and much more. Information ethics is heavily imbedded in cataloguing. Before the information is ever accessible or organized for the public, it passes through our hands. As a result, our profession carries with it a large amount of responsibility.

While I am hopeful that increasing awareness in our professional responsibilities, as well as our skills and knowledge, will assist in developing a higher level of education among current library students, I am also bringing attention to ethical standards because I believe this area of librarianship has been neglected. I also believe that in an increasingly information-centered world, our ability to outline exactly what our code of ethics is and how we govern ourselves will become even more important.

As a result, I hope to explore this topic further in future posts and look forward to any feedback from you in this regard.

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