...articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom
Meaning and Importance of Competency
The profession of librarianship has a long and rich history with roots reaching back to ancient times. Throughout the centuries, libraries have played a variety of roles in society. Rubin (2004) describes how libraries have functioned throughout history in roles as diverse as records archives, centers of scholarship and research, emblems of personal status, places for spiritual and religious reflection, promoters of national pride, means for self-improvement, promoters of commercial profit, and servants of the public (chapter 7). From this long and rich history, which reflects the variety of fundamental missions that libraries have served, emerged, in the nineteenth century, a new mission: “the mission of serving the common person” (Rubin, 2008, p. 7). Although there are competing explanations of the rise of public libraries in America in the mid-nineteenth century, the growth and development of the modern public library has led to the emergence of key values and ethics within our field, including belief in intellectual freedom, belief in service and the public good, belief in education, and belief in preserving the cultural record of the past (Rubin, 2008, pp. 10-13). These values and ethics are practiced not only in public libraries but in all different kinds of libraries and information organizations today and are articulated in the mission, vision and values statements of different libraries and in codes and statements issued by our preeminent national professional association, the American Library Association (ALA).
In 1939, ALA adopted two important documents that articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom; these include the “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association” (ALA, 2008) and the “Library Bill of Rights” (ALA, 1996). The Code of Ethics “[recognizes] the importance of codifying and making known to the profession and to the general public the ethical principles that guide the work of librarians, other professionals providing information services, library trustees and library staffs” (ALA, 2008). According to the Code of Ethics, its eight principles “are expressed in broad statements to guide ethical decision making” and “provide a framework” but “cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations” (2008). The principles of the Code of Ethics uphold, among other things, our commitment to provide high quality and equitable services and access for all users (Principle 1), our commitment to intellectual freedom and resistance to censorship (Principle 2), our protection of users’ privacy and confidentiality (Principle 3), our respect for intellectual property rights and efforts to balance the interests of information users and rights holders (Principle 4), and our commitment to continued learning, professional development, and mentorship (Principle 8). The “Library Bill of Rights” (ALA, 1996), affirms six basic policies to guide the services of all libraries. These policies cover areas such as creating diverse collections (Policies 1 and 2), challenging censorship (Policy 3) and cooperating “with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas” (Policy 4), and providing equitable access to library materials and facilities (Policies 5 and 6). These two documents have been periodically updated, amended, and readopted over the years and continue to express the most important ethics, values and foundational principles of our profession.
In 1953, ALA, in conjunction with the American Book Publishers Council (now the Association of American Publishers), issued “The Freedom to Read Statement,” most recently amended in 2004. This statement provides a passionate defense of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read as essential components of American democracy and affirms the Constitutional basis of the freedom to read. The statement establishes seven propositions regarding the responsibilities of librarians and publishers with regard to intellectual freedom; these include “[making] available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority” (Proposition 1), not establishing “political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated” (Proposition 2), and “[contesting] encroachments upon [the freedom to read] by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large” (Proposition 6). “The Freedom to Read Statement” thus represents an articulation of one of the cornerstones of our profession, the promotion of intellectual freedom.
Libraries as institutions and library and information professionals face a variety of challenges in today’s world. In spite of our best efforts, we continue to face censorship challenges from within our communities, political efforts to eradicate privacy and intellectual freedom in the name of safety and security (such as the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act), and even conflicts between our personal and professional values. However, by understanding and continually reviewing and reaffirming the ethics, values and foundational principles of our profession, we will continue to fight for intellectual freedom and the freedom to read as essential components of our democratic society.
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my ability to articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom, I present coursework from three courses I took in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a reflective essay entitled “The Future of Libraries: A Value Proposition” that I wrote for LIBR 200, Information and Society, on the role of values in shaping the future of libraries. My second piece of evidence is another reflective essay I wrote for the same course entitled “Information Policy: Challenges for Libraries,” in which I discuss the information policy challenges the library profession will face in the future and the role of professional values in overcoming them. My third piece of evidence is comprised of two discussion posts I wrote on issues surrounding digital privacy and confidentiality for LIBR 210, Reference and Information Services, in which I consider the issues in light of librarianship’s traditional values. My fourth piece of evidence is the research paper I wrote for my LIBR 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues on the topic of Digital Copyright entitled “Libraries in the Creative Commons: Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities,” in which I argue that librarians should take an active role in educating users about copyright issues and solutions.
First Piece of Evidence: Reflective Essay 1, LIBR 200
In Fall 2009, I took the course “Information and Society.” Over the course of the semester, students completed several assignments designed to introduce us to the foundations of the library and information profession and to engage us in discussion and analysis of important issues facing information professionals today. Two of these assignments were reflective essays in which we were asked to reflect on a course topic based on readings from class or from the scholarly and professional literature. Students had considerable choice in selecting topics of interest.
For my first reflective essay, I considered the questions of what the future holds for libraries and what factors are shaping and will continue to shape that future, questions that had come up repeatedly throughout our class discussion. In my essay, entitled “The Future of Libraries: A Value Proposition,” I argue that although many outside forces—such as technology, politics, and economics—may influence libraries and library services, our values as librarians are what determine what our institutions become and our relationship to and influence upon the world in which we exist (p. 2). I consider the diverse historical roles and functions of libraries, pointing out that not only are libraries fundamentally adaptable but we also have a history of “early adoption” of new technologies (p. 2). I assert that, “In the context of values, the willingness of libraries to address social needs and their openness to new technologies indicate a high value of efficiency and a desire to provide easy and open access to high quality information with a minimal investment of time and effort on the part of library users” (pp. 2-3). Our openness and adaptability suggest that we possess the strength necessary to survive the influence of technology and societal change that has led some to question our continued relevance.
In my essay, I go on to consider Rubin’s discussion of some basic values of librarianship, including service to the patron, intellectual freedom, information literacy, and equal access (2004, p. 302), which have emerged from ongoing debate (p. 3). I argue that “The fact that there is disagreement about values not only indicates that different libraries serve different purposes but also suggests that each and every library needs to identify and articulate its own values and mission in order to remain relevant” (p. 3). Because different libraries serve different communities, it is important for libraries “to align their values and missions to the values and needs of the communities they serve” (p. 3).
My paper goes on to confront the often-heard assertion that libraries, due to the influence of information technology, are becoming irrelevant. I provide a number of reasons why this simply isn’t true. I cite Rubin’s discussion of the continued growth and increase in libraries and library services and describe many of the important roles that libraries currently play in society, including provision of access to technology and information, community-building, information literacy instruction, and preservation (pp. 3-4). I conclude by considering Bell’s argument that “libraries can offer meaning across the entire spectrum of what is important to people” (Bell, 2009, p. 52), “by helping them gain a sense of accomplishment, being a place where they can indulge in the appreciation of the arts, stimulating creativity, and connecting them to their communities” (p. 4). I assert that by continuing to participate with our users in meaningful human experiences, libraries will remain relevant and vital institutions in society.
In this essay, I articulate some of the values and foundational principles of library and information professionals. Although my essay does not explicitly discuss intellectual freedom, its argument that our professional values determine our influence upon our communities suggests that the formation and articulation of values is a vital component of libraries’ success in carrying out their missions. Since the promotion of intellectual freedom is a fundamental role of libraries, by effectively formulating and articulating our values, we can not only ensure our survival and relevance to our communities but also continue to promote intellectual freedom throughout society. This essay therefore demonstrates my ability to articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom, and I submit it here as evidence of my competence in this area.
Second Piece of Evidence: Reflective Essay 2, LIBR 200
For my second reflective essay for LIBR 200, entitled “Information Policy: Challenges for Libraries,” I considered the question, What do you foresee as some of the information policy challenges the library profession will face in the future? In my essay, I assert that “answering this question, and developing or revising the resulting policies, is one of the most important responsibilities that the next generation of librarians faces,” and I argue that our traditional values can help us make sound decisions and create strong policies (p. 2). My essay considers four information policy challenges as well as specific professional values that can help us to successfully overcome them.
The first policy challenge I consider is how to sustain library services with less money (p. 2). I identify two professional values—providing quality service and providing easy access to information—that can inform our decisions in this area. I describe how some libraries handle these types of challenges by implementing or revising their materials loan policies, which govern such things as the number of items each patron can check out, the length of the checkout period, and the number of items each patron can have on hold at a given time. By upholding our values of quality service and easy access to information, I argue, such policies can be written to enable libraries to maximize circulation of materials throughout the community while preserving staff and services (pp. 2-3).
The second policy challenge I consider is how to define eligibility requirements for library services (p. 3). I point out that the increasing mobility of students and workers and social problems such as homelessness can pose challenges in establishing whether certain patrons meet eligibility requirements for services, especially when eligibility is based on residency in a certain geographic area. I identify two values—inclusiveness and transparency—that can guide our service eligibility policy decisions. I argue that “policies that allow patrons to qualify for membership in multiple ways will help to ensure that libraries remain open and inclusive” and that providing clear and forthcoming “terms of service” will enable patrons to make informed decisions about their library usage and remove barriers to access for various segments of the community (p. 3).
The third policy challenge I consider is issues surrounding security and library codes of conduct (pp. 3-4), citing Janny Scott’s 1993 Los Angeles Times article “No Longer a Refuge for Readers,” about the rise of “crime and lesser disturbances” in public libraries serving communities with significant social problems, including homelessness, drug abuse, and untreated mental illness. I also cite an example involving library policy on service animals, which I drew from my own experience handling behavioral issues at The Seattle Public Library (SPL). In formulating policy in this area, I suggest placing the highest value on creating a safe and enjoyable environment for both library patrons and staff. I advocate a policy emphasizing behaviors rather than personal traits, with clear standards for acceptable behavior.
The fourth and final policy challenge I consider in this essay is how to develop and maintain a collection that adequately represents the diverse perspectives of the community (p. 4). Our traditional values of equal access for all and meeting the needs of all users dictate that our collection be developed based on sound principles. By creating collection development policies based on solid community analysis and needs assessment, I argue, we can create broad, balanced, well-rounded collections that fairly represent diverse perspectives.
In this essay, I identify several traditional values of librarianship that can help guide us to make sound decisions and create effective policy given the challenges that libraries face today. Since the pursuit of intellectual freedom is a cornerstone of our professional ethics, we must be vigilant in examining, understanding, and affirming our professional values, as they are what will guide us in charting our future course. This essay recognizes the role of ethics, values and foundational principles in the promotion of intellectual freedom and the achievement of the core mission of libraries. I therefore submit it here as evidence of my competence in this area.
Third Piece of Evidence: Discussion of Digital Privacy and Confidentiality, LIBR 210
In Spring 2011, I took the course “Reference and Information Services” with Dr. Michelle Holschuh Simmons. Some key topics of the course included core values of reference service, reference principles and ethics, and reference policies. One way in which students engaged in learning about these topics was through assigned readings and group discussion on our weekly discussion forums in D2L. Two of our course readings dealt with the topic of digital privacy and confidentiality, a topic that speaks to the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom. I am thus submitting two discussion posts I wrote on digital privacy and confidentiality as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
In my first post, “Privacy concerns with digital reference services,” I respond to Radford’s (2006) advocacy of using written records from digital reference sessions to conduct research. I begin by acknowledging my agreement with Radford “that written records from digital reference sessions can be useful for research about the quality of digital reference services” (p. 1). I also, however, identify several issues related to digital reference and privacy which should be considered before such research is undertaken. I begin my argument by reasserting the past efforts of libraries to “uphold patron privacy and confidentiality as values of the highest importance and [to make] concerted efforts to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patron information in both the digital and analog realms” (p. 1). I go on to raise several questions that libraries should consider in creating policies and procedures in this area.
I point out several significant implications of privacy and confidentiality with respect to digital reference services. Since many users are accustomed to a degree of perceived anonymity in using the Internet, some may be deterred from using digital services if they are unable to remain anonymous. Because many users are accustomed to seeing terms of service and privacy notices prominently displayed on other websites, library websites should prominently display this information wherever digital services are offered as well. Finally, I argue, “If libraries and researchers wish to retain information from digital reference interactions, this should be stated up front and users of the services should have the ability to opt in or out” (p. 1). By continuing to uphold our traditional values and practices around privacy and confidentiality across the various channels by which we serve our users, and by being transparent and forthcoming about our policies and use of information exchanged in digital reference services, I argue, we can build trust with our users and ultimately achieve greater success in our mission.
In my second post, “The importance of digital privacy and confidentiality,” written in the week following my first discussion post, I respond to Neuhaus’ 2003 article “Privacy and Confidentiality in Digital Reference,” which, I acknowledge, “provided a much more in-depth treatment of this topic than…my post on the topic” (p. 2) from the previous week. I begin by recognizing the usefulness of the article to library managers and administrators. I consider Neuhaus’ discussion of Americans’ value of privacy and its status as a penumbra right—one which flows from other rights—rather than something with a Constitutional basis. I argue that because Americans value privacy, “we must actively strive to protect our privacy, for it is not necessarily assured. As librarians, we are in a position to help protect the privacy of our patrons” (p. 2).
I go on to draw attention to the fact that today, “perhaps due to the influence of our digital society, many Americans seem more willing than ever before to ‘waive’ their privacy rights or to subordinate privacy to other values or concerns” (p. 2). I surmise, based on my own experience, that many people have privacy concerns but choose to subordinate their privacy concerns to their “desire to remain socially networked” (p. 2), as a loss of some privacy seems to be a condition of participation in many of today’s online social networks. I conclude by asserting my hope that, “in the future, libraries will be in a position to offer valuable and useful digital services to patrons without requiring them to sacrifice their privacy or confidentiality” (p. 3).
In these two discussion posts, I articulate some of the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals—namely the protection of privacy and confidentiality—that play a role in libraries’ promotion of intellectual freedom for all users. I argue that we must be forthcoming and transparent about our policies and strive to protect patron privacy and confidentiality in all of our services, including digital ones. These discussion posts thus demonstrate my competence in this area, and I submit them here as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
Fourth Piece of Evidence: Research Paper, LIBR 281
In Fall 2011, I took Mary Minow’s Seminar in Information Science on the topic of Digital Copyright. Over the course of the semester, students learned about the wide range of copyright issues libraries face, copyright law and library exceptions, tools for determining the copyright status of particular works, Fair Use analysis techniques, licensing and rights management, creative approaches and alternatives to copyright, enforcement and liability, and copyright activism and advocacy efforts. For our final research paper, students were assigned to produce original thinking on important topics in the realm of copyright as it relates to libraries and information services. We were asked to come up with a novel position and to write an argumentative paper, based on research, in support of it. In my paper, which I submit here as evidence of my competence in this area, I argue that libraries and librarians should take an active role in educating users about copyright issues and solutions. This argument supports the ethical principle codified as principle IV in the “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association” (2008): “We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.”
I begin my paper by providing some context: “We live in an age of information networks” in which people love to connect and share information online (p. 2). Because many people are uninformed about copyright and intellectual property law and the creative solutions—such as Creative Commons—that have arisen in response, they may unintentionally or unknowingly infringe upon the rights of content creators. I point out that values around intellectual property are shifting, and that nowadays, in our “read/write” culture, many people want their content “shared, remixed, mashed up, and redistributed” (p. 2). Because libraries and their staffs are in a position which strives to balance the rights of both content creators and content consumers, it is important that we approach copyright in an informed and intentional manner. I argue that educating users about copyright issues and solutions is an extension of the instructional services librarians already provide.
Drawing on primary sources such as the U.S. Constitution and Title 17 of the U.S. code, in which U.S. copyright law is codified, as well as secondary sources such as Hirtle’s Copyright & Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, & Museums (2009), I provide background and identify the ways in which copyright law impacts library services as well as areas of vulnerability and opportunity for libraries and their users who provide and use copyrighted materials. I reiterate the fact that libraries must abide by copyright law while simultaneously protecting the public interest, which forces us to balance the rights of both copyright holders and library users, and that organizations such as Creative Commons and Gluejar offer solutions which also attempt to balance these competing interests. I go on to cite several articles from the scholarly and professional literature which support my thesis and provide examples of libraries that are leading the way in the pursuit of user education and use of creative copyright solutions. I conclude my argument by highlighting efforts being made by organizations such as ALA and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to “effect changes in the law that will benefit the general public” (p. 13) and “[meet] the needs of libraries in the 21st century” (IFLA, 2011) and arguing that library professionals “from all areas and at all levels” should join in the advocacy efforts (p. 14).
Copyright has a far-reaching influence on the provision of library services, which we provide in support of our mission of promoting intellectual freedom. Our professional values, including literacy and learning, service, and equity of access, suggest that we ought to become informed copyright experts and use our expertise to educate our patrons and to model how we can protect the rights of copyright holders while also promoting “the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (U.S. Const. art I, § 8), which is the primary aim of copyright in the United States. Because it speaks to the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom, this paper demonstrates my competence in this area and I therefore submit it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
Looking back, I realize now that it was the ethics, values and foundational principles of librarianship that led me to pursue a career in this field in the first place. Having worked both in libraries and in the corporate sector, I realized that the values of librarianship resonated strongly with my own personal values, while many corporate values clashed with my own. I strongly believe in the importance of intellectual freedom and education, the preservation of the cultural record, and service in pursuit of the public good. Librarianship as a career allows me the opportunity to contribute to society in a positive way and also brings meaning into my life. I am interested in many issues pertaining to the values and ethics of our profession, including copyright, self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, celebrating diversity, empowering users, information literacy instruction, digital privacy and confidentiality, and information policy. Because of my awareness of and engagement with the ethics, values and foundational principles of our profession, I feel confident that in my future career I will be able to make sound and principled decisions and provide services that promote intellectual freedom, advance the public good, and promote the democratic ideals upon which our nation was founded.
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Bell, S. J. (2009). From gatekeepers to gate-openers. American Libraries, 40(8/9), 51-53.
Hirtle, P. B. (2009). Copyright & cultural institutions: Guidelines for digitization for U.S. libraries, archives, & museums. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library.
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Neuhaus, P. (2003). Privacy and confidentiality in digital reference. RUSQ, 43(1), 26-36.
Radford, M. (2006). Encountering virtual users: A qualitative investigation of interpersonal communication in chat reference. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 1046-59.
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Rubin, R. E. (2008). Stepping back and looking forward: Reflections on the foundations of libraries and librarianship. In K. Haycock and B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 3-14). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Scott, J. (1993, August 10). No longer a refuge for readers. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1993-08-10/news/mn-22346_1_public-library
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8.