Professional Ethics in the Library Program

Instructor: Emily Hamm

Emily has B.S. in elementary education and a M.S. in educational technology. She teaches full-time, works as an adjunct professor, and is a freelancer.

Lesson Objective: This lesson covers the eight statements put forth by the ALA that serves as a guide for professional and ethical decision making even when confronted with ethical dilemmas.


My American history teacher started a debate in our class over this scenario: a man runs out of his home screaming profanities. A woman across the street rushes to cover the ears of her child from the onslaught of verbal expletives. Who has more rights or personal freedoms here? The man to say the profanities, or the woman/child to be free from having to hear them?

Needless to say, that was a debate that I still ponder the implications of years later.

Just like in this scenario, a library can be in a bit of sticky situation when it comes to whose rights are most important.

Ethical Dilemmas

The American Library Association is heralded as the organization that advocates for the freedom of information, libraries, and their users. However, they also believe in intellectual property rights. At times, this balance between the interest of information users and the right holders can be tedious.

To strike a balance and provide a platform for guidance, the ALA has created a code of ethics that is to communicate the framework with which librarian should make decisions. The ALA understands that ethical dilemmas can occur because a librarian plays a center-stage role to when both sets of values might be in conflict.


The ALA concedes that each situation is unique and dynamic, but to provide some guidance when such ethical dilemma situations occur, they have a list of eight principals to form a code of ethics. To quote the American Library Association directly, here is the professional code of conduct:

'1 .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.

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

3. 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.

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

5. 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.

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

7. 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.

8. 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.'


1. The first of the professional code of ethics is about accessibility for all. No matter if that person is disabled. No matter if that is your ex-husband. No matter if you don't believe immigrants should be allowed to move to America. It is the job of a librarian to behave in a manner that provides open information and access to all users, not just the ones we like or that are easy to help.

2. _Censorship, or the suppression of material that is deemed inappropriate, obscene, or sensitive, is highly destructive to a library's purpose which is freedom of information for all. This ethic advocates for open opportunities to read or access materials that aren't vetted by another force.

3. Number three is about privacy. Just like in a doctor's office, you expect confidentiality about a medical condition. The same should apply to what you're reading or searching in a library.

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