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On the ethics of social network research in libraries

Sara Mannheimer (Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA)
Scott W.H. Young (Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA)
Doralyn Rossmann (Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 9 May 2016




In this paper, faculty librarians at an academic institution explore the ethical dimensions of conducting research with user-generated social networking service (SNS) data. In an effort to guide librarian-researchers, this paper first offers a background discussion of privacy ethics across disciplines and then proposes a library-specific ethical framework for conducting SNS research.


By surveying the literature in other disciplines, three key considerations are identified that can inform ethical practice in the field of library science: context, expectation, and value analysis. For each of these considerations, the framework is tailored to consider ethical issues, as they relate to libraries and our practice as librarian-researchers.


The unique role of the librarian-researcher demands an ethical framework specific to that practice. The findings of this paper propose such a framework.

Practical implications

Librarian-researchers are at a unique point in our history. In exploring SNSs as a source of data to conduct research and improve services, we become challenged by conflicting and equally cherished values of patron privacy and information access. By evaluating research according to context, expectations, and value, this framework provides an ethical path forward for research using SNS data.


As of this paper’s publication, there is no existing ethical framework for conducting SNS research in libraries. The proposed framework is informed both by library values and by broader research values, and therefore provides unique guidelines for the librarian-researcher.



The authors would like to thank the members of our Research and Writing Group for their feedback and support: Ryer Banta, Susan Borda, Kirsten Ostergaard and Leila Sterman.


Mannheimer, S., Young, S.W.H. and Rossmann, D. (2016), "On the ethics of social network research in libraries", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 139-151.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, 2015 Sara Mannheimer, Scott W. H. Young, Doralyn Rossmann.

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