To read this content please select one of the options below:

The moral arc of the library: what are our duties and limitations after 45?

Kelsey Cheshire (VCU Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA)
Jennifer Stout (VCU Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 11 April 2020

Issue publication date: 11 April 2020




This study aims to explore the question of whether or not librarians can ethically remain politically neutral in the wake of the 45th administration. The authors take a critical look at the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics, as well as the concept of vocational awe, and recommend challenging the “sacredness” of neutrality as a core tenet of the profession. Additionally, the authors describe the history of white privilege within libraries and argue that it is time to actively fight white supremacy and disavow the profession’s history of replicating racist social structures.


This study is a researched think piece designed to encourage critical thought about long-held idealistic beliefs in the profession.


This study suggests that despite the profession’s history of outwardly valuing “neutrality,” libraries are not and have never been neutral. Libraries have chosen, time and again, to value white privilege and a white frame of reference to the detriment of librarians and patrons of color. Because many librarians also see the profession as upholding “sacred” ideals like neutrality, we fall into the trap of being unable to criticize our own profession and practices and, therefore, are unable to make much needed changes.

Research limitations/implications

This study is based on the opinions of the authors and on the opinions of authors they have cited. It contains no original quantitative or qualitative research.


This study challenges the long-held assumptions that the profession has taken for granted over the past century. The authors argue that it is good and necessary to question the Code of Ethics, vocational awe and neutrality with the goal of improving the profession in light of the current cultural and political climate.



Cheshire, K. and Stout, J. (2020), "The moral arc of the library: what are our duties and limitations after 45?", Reference Services Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 219-225.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles