Statement of Competency 1
Competency 1: Demonstrate awareness of the ethics, values, and foundational principles of one of the information professions, and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession.
Ethics is the philosophical study of morality, or what we ought to do. The principles and values that guide ethical behavior in the library profession are articulated and documented by the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship, Code of Ethics, Library Bill of Rights, and Freedom to Read Statement define ethical principles and values that help professionals navigate complex or contentious situations.
The Core Values of Librarianship, adopted by the ALA in 2004, identifies principles “define, inform, and guide professional practice” (ALA, 2004). These values address access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, the public good, preservation, professionalism, service, and social responsibility. Preer (2008) argues that a value system is part and parcel of what constitutes a profession (p. 5). It is interesting to note the date of ALA’s adoption of its Core Values, which was not until 2004.
Ranganathan’s Five Laws, which are also accepted standards that drive professional practice, reflect these values. The five laws of library science, defined by S. R. Ranganathan in 1931, are as follows:
- Books are for use.
- Every reader his book.
- Every book its reader.
- Save the time of the reader.
- The library is a growing organism. (Ranganathan, 1931)
Despite their age, these laws are still highly relevant to the library profession.
The ALA Code of Ethics “states the values to which we are committed, and embodies the ethical responsibilities of the profession” (ALA, 2008). The principles embody a philosophy that upholds intellectual freedom and free access to information, which in turn provide the basis for an informed public. Professional conduct must refer to these principles when conflicts arise to ensure essential rights to citizens. These rights allow citizens to exercise their responsibilities in a democratic system.
The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights defines six policies to guide services. Policies focus on the diversity of materials, variety of perspectives, opposition to censorship, support of free speech, and equal access to resources and services (ALA, 1996). The application of these principles in specific domains are addressed in the ALA’s Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights. It is crucial for library professionals to observe these policies, which are essential for participation in our democratic society.
The Freedom to Read Statement outlines seven propositions that ground library practices in constitutional rights guaranteeing intellectual freedom. The Statement concludes with a powerful claim that “what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society” (ALA, 2004). When confronted with challenges to intellectual freedom, library professionals must refer to this document.
The ALA’s provisions for defending individual rights to privacy, confidentiality, and intellectual freedom may conflict with law enforcement, public opinion, or individual patron viewpoints. In these circumstances, it is essential to have a firm grasp of guiding values and principles. Ethical conduct in the library profession can also be at odds with personal beliefs and values. Self-knowledge and awareness are imperative for upholding professional ethical principles. Individual perspectives and biases are unavoidable, but should not overrule neutrality and adherence to professional codes of conduct.
The following examples of my work demonstrate my skills in Competency 1:
- Government secrecy: An ethical dilemma, a paper from INFO 281 (Information Ethics)
- Libraries and civil rights, a discussion post from INFO 204 (Information Professions)
- Privacy and digital preservation, a discussion post from INFO 284 (Digitization and Digital Preservation)
- Librarians and free speech, a discussion post from INFO 210 (Reference and Information Services)
My mastery of Competency 1 is fully supported by this culminating paper for INFO 281 (Information Ethics). The paper studies the tension between secret government programs and the civil rights to privacy and intellectual freedom. The library profession, which endorses free access to information and condemns censorship, is directly affected by secret programs that exist ostensibly for the purpose of national security, but lack oversight. The paper examines the theoretical foundations of information ethics, and how they support constitutional rights. The reasoning behind secret programs and the laws and decisions that sustain them are discussed. The complexities of balancing public safety with democratic values are highlighted by examples from the documentary film, which provide a framework for examining these issues. Furthermore, the paper includes several accounts of involvement by the ALA, who questioned government policies and officials on several occasions.
In the summer of 2014, INFO 281 was the very first class I took in the SJSU MLIS program. If I were to approach to this paper today, I would have added a section on recommendations for further study. I recently decided to use this paper for my class of high school IB students, as an example of how to format an academic paper. I ended up inserting headings, a table of contents, and a clear research question at the beginning. The process led me to rethink the flow of the paper, and rearrange several paragraphs. I think the paper has improved since I first submitted it in summer 2014. However, I do not think that this would substantially alter the content of the paper, which I still find highly relevant and well presented.
INFO 204 Libraries and civil rights
This discussion post from INFO 204 (Information Professions) delves deeper into an aspect of the above paper on government secret programs. It describes the controversy between the ALA and Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding the USA PATRIOT Act. This work is evidence of my understanding of the role of information professionals, how they defend civil rights, and the surrounding complexities in real world practice.
INFO 284 Privacy and digital preservation
In this discussion post from INFO 284 (Digitization and Digital Preservation), I examine privacy issues related to the capture and preservation of born-digital content on social media. Secret and institutionalized government practices of gathering information from private citizens is a questionable practice that violates constitutional rights. The issues presented are highly relevant to the information profession, and display a deep understanding of the challenges we face in the “Age of Information.”
INFO 210 Librarians and free speech
This discussion post from INFO 210 (Reference and Information Services) relates a news story concerning a library professional who defended a patron’s right to free speech, even though the patron’s views were contentious. The situation faced by the library staff demonstrates the difficulties of applying guiding principles in a real-world context. The post provides evidence that I understand how modern library professionals are influenced by theoretical policies.
The four pieces of evidence above clearly demonstrate that I meet Competency 1. I am able to express the ethical principles of the library profession, and identify the documents in which they are articulated. I have provided examples of work from the SJSU MLIS program that substantiate my skills. I am ready to apply my knowledge to professional practice.
American Library Association (2008). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/ethics
American Library Association (2004). Core Values of Librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/corevalues
American Library Association (2004). Freedom to Read Statement. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/freedomreadstatement
American Library Association (1996). Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Preer, J. (2008). Professionalism, identity and values. In Library Ethics (pp. 1-26). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Ranganathan, S.R. (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science. Madras: The Madras Library Association.