The importance of our professional values

Case study

Module

Ethical Behaviour

Topic

All

Abstract

A characteristic of a professional association is the existence of a code of ethics or a code of conduct for its members. The code outlines the general principles of professional behaviour which should be followed by members of the association in order to act in a appropriately moral way and to avoid the risk of misconduct. This case study provides a brief overview of codes developed by the Thai Library Association (TLA) and the Colegio de Bibliotecarios de Chile (CBC).

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. The importance of ethical behaviour as professional and social responsibility
  2. The reputation of library and information professionals in the wider community
  3. The need for professional accountability and transparency in all business transactions
  4. How professional values might be reflected in a code of ethics
  5. The role to be played by a library association in detailing the set of principles that guide professional behaviour
  6. The benefits of being a member of a library association

Profile

One of the key elements that identifies a ‘profession’ is the existence of an effective code of conduct, which is regarded as an important way to enhance the status of the profession. A code of conduct outlines ‘how to be professional”: the code “essentially instrumentalizes a code of ethics, making clear the applications of ethical concepts in everyday professional practice” (Freeman, 1996, p.17). It can provide a strong central defining function, contributing to the overall identity of the profession itself.

However, not all countries have codes of conduct or codes of ethics for the LIS profession; some have partial solutions, as for example in Chile, which has a code of ethics, but only for members of the Colegio de Bibliotecarios de Chile (CBC) who have an academic degree (Koehler, 2003), or Norway, where the code of ethics applies only to those working in academic and special libraries (Vaagen, 2002).

Much has been written on the ethical aspects of library and information science, which takes into account the many different types of library and information services (academic, public, school and special libraries), as well as the diverse roles that information professionals play in society at large.

Academic discussions are primarily presented from the perspective of Western ethical traditions, meaning that some cultural traditions may have different values and alternative perspectives (Rubin & Froehlich, 2010). While the American Library Association (ALA) published its first Code of Ethics for Librarians in 1938, most associations adopted their codes in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Thai Library Association (TLA) proclaimed its Code of Ethics in 1977. The TLA was established in 1954 with the goals of supporting and promoting librarianship and library education in Thailand and of safeguarding the welfare and status of library personnel. The association’s activities focus on setting up library standards, professional publications, professional workshops and training programs, strategies to upgrade the status of Thai librarians, and the development of an ethical code.

The Code of Ethics developed by the Colegio de Bibliotecarios de Chile (CBC) was also released in 1977. Koehler (2003) points out that in South America, many ‘colegios’ have legislative and regulatory responsibilities, so that to be a practicising member of the profession, a person must be a member of the ‘colegio’. The Chilean code therefore is a judicial code that that defines the librarian’s duties and rights in law.

Discussion

The idea to develop a code of ethics was conceived at the TLA 1976 Annual Conference. A Special Committee was formed to develop the code, which was proclaimed in 1977. The code was amended in 1986 and in 2007.

The TLA Code of Ethics has five foci:

  • Ethics towards users: to perpetuate the good relationship between the library and its users
  • Ethics towards the profession: to ensure the responsibility for the development of the profession and to promote excellence amongst library professionals
  • Ethics towards colleagues: to strengthen the cooperation among library professionals and to increase good relationships with colleagues and other members of the profession
  • Ethics towards the organisation: to uphold and give due respect to the Library as an integral part of the organisation or institution
  • Ethics towards society: to affirm the library status and roles in providing information for the advancement of society.

The code outlines the duties of the library professional: the librarian “should” demonstrate behaviours that will ensure high quality library services and equality of access; contribute to the development of the profession and avoid damaging the reputation of the profession; respect and support professional colleagues; represent the organisation in an honourable way; and strive to develop the Thai society into an intellectual and learning community that will benefit the people and the country (Chevalit, 2002; TLA, 2008).

The TLA code of ethics articulates the core values of the LIS profession, which are commonly shared across the world. The values include “service, access equality, respect, confidentiality and privacy, protection of intellectual property rights, literacy, technical literacy, stewardship, and professional and social obligations” (Koehler, 2005, p.86-7). Participants at TLA’s annual conference take the solemn oath to strictly observe the code of professional ethics.

In Chile, the CBC (1976) code of ethics has 7 key foci:

  • General rules: outlining the scope and purpose of the code
  • Duties of the librarian in relation to society: as the steward for cultural and intellectual heritage, providing equality of access to resources that present different views and perspectives, and protecting the privacy of users
  • Professional practice: to behave with integrity, respect, honour and dignity, to uphold professional standards, and to help find solutions to new challenges
  • Relations with colleagues and other professionals: to enhance the profession through mutual respect and honest actions, avoiding unjust, unprofessional and unethical behaviour; to report professional misconduct to the Council of the colegio
  • Duties of the librarian to himself/herself: to be responsible for upholding the profession and to show commitment to and participate in professional activities
  • Relations with the institution: to show loyalty to the Library and perform the required duties honestly and responsibly
  • Relations with ‘Colegio’: to enthusiastically contribute to the collective success of the ‘colegio’, to abide by its regulations and to ensure the timely payment of membership fees.

The quasi-legal dimensions of the Chilean code means that specific norms of professional behaviour are prescribed by law. The code also promotes members’ respect for and commitment to strengthening the profession. Significantly, there is a responsibility to report any transgressions against the professional norms so that disciplinary action can be taken. However, some commentators have questioned the limitation of ethical behaviour to those who hold an academic qualification. “What is to be done for the larger proportion of library workers who do not have professional degrees and who have primary contact with the public? Shall we not require ethical behavior from these personnel?” (Fernandez de Zamora, 2003, p.2). It is argued that the values that are central to library and information practice should be embraced by everyone who works in the sector.

Summary

It is important to realise the core values that support the ethical principles of individual professional conduct. While there are societal and cultural differences that need to be taken into account, the values of library and information service should become an intrinsic aspect of an individual’s personal values. Ethical conduct needs to be promoted by professional associations to ensure that the standards of conduct are consistent with the highest levels of professional service (Rubin & Froehlich, 2010). A code of conduct can promote ethical understanding, and the library association can offer training and advice in ethical conduct to ensure that individuals and library institutions comprehend the distinction between ethical and unethical behaviour.

Questions

  1. What do you believe are your own most important professional values?
  2. To what extent do you think that professional values may reflect national or cultural differences?
  3. Does your library association have a code of ethics? If not, is there an umbrella association that has a code of ethics that your association draws on?
  4. What does the code of ethics address?
  5. Do you believe that it is important to have a code of ethics? Why – or why not?
  6. Should a code of ethics be limited to members with academic qualifications?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: Thailand, Chile
Region: Asia and Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean
Agency: Thai Library Association (TLA), Colegio de Bibliotecarios de Chile (CBC)
Topic: Ethical behaviour
Keywords: code, ethics, conduct, professional values

Source

Chavalit, K.M. (2002). The Code of Ethics of the Thai Library Association. In R.W. Vaagen (Ed.), The ethics of librarianship: An international survey, pp.265-282. IFLA Publications 101. Munich: K.G.Saur.Colegio de Bibliotecarios de Chile (CBC). (1976). Código de ética. Available online: http://www.bibliotecarios.cl/acerca-del-cbc/legislacion/Codigo.doc Word Document

Fernandez de Zamora, R.M. (2003). Codes of ethics in Latin America. World Library and Information Congress: 69th IFLA General Conference and Council, Berlin, 1-9 August 2003. Available online: http://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/papers/087e-Fernandez-de-Zamora.pdf

Freeman, M. (1996). Living by the code: Some issues surrounding a code of conduct for the LIS profession. New Library World, 97(1129), 17-??

Rubin, R. & Froehlich, T.J. (2010). Ethical aspects of library and information science. In: M. Bates (Ed.), Encyclopedia of library and information sciences, 3rd ed., pp.1743-1757. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Thai Library Association (TLA). (2008). Ethics for librarians and information professionals of the Thai Library Association under the Royal Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Available online: http://tla.or.th/document/TLA%20Code%20of%20ehtics.pdf

Associations, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012