Libraries Empower Adults

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Libraries Empower Adults

Started by Jay Kolbet-Clausell 1547 days ago

Library Ethics System Inquiry

The information age threatens to create new class distinctions between those with access and those without. Many communities rely on libraries to provide their most substantial access point to the information network. Librarians need new ethical frameworks to meet the moral challenges technology spawns. Liberians must seek to overcome spontaneously arising barriers and cerebrate to develop a complete system to keep unwarranted mistakes from slipping through the cracks. Librarians were quick to identify these pitfalls and have begun to codify an updated code of ethics through the American Library Association. It will take more than this code to rise to the new challenges. Librarians must accept a system of inquiry to monitor the institution's effect on class stratification in the information age.

American Library Association code of ethics. See summaries of each of the eight statements that they have produced in the table below. These statements will provide the aim of a system of Inquiry.


Highest level of service to all library users; appropriate and organized resources; equal service; equal access; accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses


Intellectual freedom; resist all efforts to censor


Right to privacy and confidentiality of information sought, received, consulted, borrowed, acquired, or transmitted


Intellectual property rights; balance between users and rights holders


Treat coworkers and colleagues with respect, fairness, good faith, safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees


Not to advance private interests at expense of users, colleagues, or institutions.


Distinguish between personal convictions and professional duties


Excellence in the profession; enhance knowledge and skills; encourage professional development, and encourage new librarian employees


(American Library Association, 2008)

How to develop a system of inquiry. A system inquiry provides questions and processes to evaluate the effectiveness of ethical ideals in an organization (Ring Surf, 2009, ¶ 2). A code of ethics rarely produces ethical behavior without a complementing evaluative structure to monitor the organization's compliance. This structure must be resourced to adequate levels to discover truth and explained to employees through initial and reinforcement training.

The library institution presents unique problems for the system to overcome. How can the system impact librarian culture in a way that crosses organizational divides? Few to no umbrella organizations have financial stakes in multiple regions. The system must begin with the inclusion of highly diverse representation and reach out to the national government. The national government is one of the few stakeholders with significant clout to shape future library locations and services. The United States must also keep its institutions friendly to minorities with strict discrimination policies and the willingness to challenge ethical infractions. The government cannot enforce appropriate laws without watchdog think-tanks and none-profit professionals to alert agencies when infractions occur and produce fair field work to do the heavy lifting. Librarians performed a good exercise by agreeing to the summarized code of ethics (see appendix C for the complete text of the resolution), but librarians must be empowered to enact the code. Otherwise, individuals will take the easy road and ignore difficult problems.

Many recent news stories have criticized libraries who pressed anti-odor laws through local legislatures (Chicago Sun-Times, 2009). This type of law is clearly focused on the homeless population and on other groups within the exact socio-economic class that the ethics code was formed to protect. The Chicago Sun-Times article laments that the law will not be applied to those who put on too much perfume but toward those without the means to challenge the laws in the court system (2009). The system of inquiry must look into local policies to see if those policies further information dissemination or hinder access. It must also provide legal assistance to library patrons who consistently bare the burden of these policies. If someone exudes an unpleasant smell, other patrons can take a few steps away and get lost in a “good book” (Chicago Sun-Times, 2009).

How to Evaluate Applied Ethics with the System of Inquiry

The system inquiry and the ethics being applied can be tested against many metricizes. What restrictive policies exist in this country? Which of these policies seem to be gaining ground and which are dwindling? Some specific policies up for objective  review include but are not limited to the following: the distance required to travel to the library for each community in a region, library usage by minority groups, percent of repeat complaints in a specific location or region, computer and check out policies designed to prevent select groups from using the service such as requiring an email address, reports of illegal activity of any kind, and the presence of clear and transparent methods to file complaints against specific institutions.

Decision-making. Decision-making must have critical thinking processes at every level. One example is Library construction. Library construction requires years of planning and research. During this phase, ethics need to guide every choice that will affect patrons and employees. Clean open designs will discourage dangerous situations while still providing public access. The system of inquiry must be designed to identify incentives to include host communities in the planing process and focus particular attention toward regions with a poor track record meeting the demands of public access ethics. Once the project is complete, the system inquiry will not have the resources to interact on this level. The system of inquiry panel must exercise excellent listening skills and periodically evaluate past projects to conserve ongoing ethical objectives.

Problem solving. The system of inquiry must stay on the side of the librarians by sympathizing with their challenges and helping them solve their problems; however, ethical infractions are ongoing. Whether one considers library density in wealthy verse poor regions, targeted banns toward specific social groups, or business campaigns furthering agendas at the expense of library users, the system of inquiry will be judged on its ability to solve the problems that lead to these issues. The system should develop organizational intelligence over time to put the right people in communication with library staff and library users. Libraries are cultural formations that uniquely reveal local attitudes. No one strategy will effectively address problems tied to local politics. Basic ground rules must come from the national government but local attitudes can only be changed through two way interactions and partnership.

Behavior. Everything will boil down to the behavior of the library staff. Training materials could be created to empower library management to spread the ethical code's vision. The system of inquiry panel could develop those materials with library managers in periodic seminars and provide them for free. The materials could be used to help managers take personal ownership of the code, so they are less likely to ignore lapses on the home front. Creative ideas will also spread faster in print than in word of mouth alone. The primary audience members are librarians after all.

Considerations for the System of Inquiry

 It will be difficult to balance everything that the system of Inquiry will be required to address. Resource management will make or break the panel. Priority decision trees are one way to address this concern. The step by step trees help decision makers flexibly respond to unique situations by providing rationality and not excluding the human element.

The scope of the institution must also be remembered. Libraries are one of the oldest and most successful institutions on Earth. Cultural equivalents were invented in almost every society. The Inca people kept boxes of knotted ropes. The Mediterranean cultures placed scrolls in clay pots. Asian cultures invented paper. Libraries represent wealth and power. If countries fail to keep this institution up to date, the result may be tons of unintelligibly knotted ropes. This generation could simply fail to share the wealth with future generations.

Implementation of the system of inquiry. Undoubtedly, a few individuals in a think-tank cannot account for all the diverse needs and obstacles standing in the way of individual librarian professionals in America and abroad. Even with all the attempts to include diversity, the system must have built in humility in order to earn enough respect to remain effective.

            The system should include incentives for two distinct groups. The first incentives should be proactive. Donors could be connected to institutions seeking to further ethical library practices in areas without the resources to develop them on their own. The second should be reactive. The system will discover institutions and individuals successfully working to implement library ethics. These parties could be given awards of acknowledgment and national exposure.

                                               Possible reactions from employees to the system of inquiry. Professionals among all the diverse librarian jobs consult very different philosophical ideals and motivations to achieve information access. For example, fringe groups may not have any respect for intellectual property rights. These groups should be empowered with knowledge about Creative Sharing Licenses and discouraged from harming library reputations through illegal duplication. The system can meet resistive cells with positive advice before those cells engage in negative confrontation with their communities or international businesses.

            Librarians who upon investigation continue to be harmful to a specific minority group may resist corrective action. Networks of respected professionals must be maintained to limit the negative behavior.

                                               System of Inquiry effects on the library institution. The ALA estimates that America has 123,129 libraries (2009). The system must rationally identify libraries equipped to affect library culture while balancing this need with libraries equipped to meet the most need. For example, a library near a densely populated poor community in a large city would likely meet both requirements. The most important effect the system will help to reinforce is greater capacity. Through simple division,  calculations estimate that every library must serve 2,436.5 people at today's current capacity (300,000,000 people in America divided by 123,129 libraries). Considering the small size of most libraries, this statistic is abysmal. Library professionals are swamped and need the extra encouragement and resources that a system of inquiry could bring to the profession.


Most libraries would welcome proactive participation by their communities in an systematized accountability structure. As more people become invested in library development, more public and private resources will be funneled to close the socio-economic information gap. Librarians created the ALA code of ethics to communicate a critical vision to their communities. As a country of professionals, each person can participate in a movement to include everyone in the information age; a few individuals must reach out further to monitor the institution as a whole and help guide the everyday choices that form the outcome.



American Library Association. (January, 2009). ALA Library Fact Sheet 1. Retrieved        May 13, 2009, from

American Library Association. (2008). Code of Ethics of the American Library                         Association. Retrieved May 9, 2009, from

Chicago Sun-Times. (April 16, 2009). Libraries shouldn't raise a stink. Retrieved May 8,             2009,   from

Ring Surf. (2009). The Ethical Grounds that Connects Business and the Society.    Retrieved May 10, 2009, from   

Community Building

Resource for developing neighborhood associations and interest clubs

Note from the Team

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