Module 6: Professional Ethics

Ethical considerations and responsibilities to patrons are part of reference service.

A Context for the Reference Process

Library work has a set of ethics that all libraries and librarians should understand. This set of ethics helps us to preserve our users’ right to privacy, to fair and equitable treatment, and helps ensure that people who need information have access to it.

These are guidelines only. Many of the issues are very complex, and there are not always easy answers to every situation. Please check with your supervisor if you are not sure how to handle a situation. You should also be familiar with your own library’s policies and procedures.

While the term “librarian” is used frequently in the following guidelines, everyone who works in a library should be working to apply these guidelines in transactions with the public.

American Library Association (ALA) Code of Ethics

The following is taken from the Code of Ethics:

The principles of this Code are expressed in broad statements to guide ethical decision making. These statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.

I.  We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

II.  We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

III.  We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

IV.  We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.

V.  We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.

VI.  We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

VII.  We 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.

VIII.  We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

[Adopted at the 1939 Midwinter Meeting by the ALA Council; amended June 30, 1981; June 28, 1995; and Jan. 22, 2008.]

Major Point: Library work has important ethical considerations. Many of these are expressed in the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association.