Information Ethics for Librarians

J.D. Hendry (Cumbria County Council)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




Hendry, J.D. (2000), "Information Ethics for Librarians", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 252-260.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

We live in an age where information is generally regarded as a marketable commodity and not necessarily a right of the citizen. The global economy, knowledge industries, the Information Society – all familiar as phrases if not always tangible to the ordinary man or woman in the street – drive our society and our values. The market, we are told, is supreme. It is both heartening and timely therefore to review, and in so doing to re‐examine in a personal sense, the ethics of our profession within the context of this work. For a philosophical understanding of the nature of information is essential for a comprehensive rethinking of the information ethic for librarians. This work aims to contribute to that thinking. And as Alfino and Pierce recognise, they would be hard pressed to deny that the enormous and fascinating changes in social life, in ICT, and the very structure of knowledge itself, were not driving us to a fundamental reassessment of how these phenomena are affecting librarianship and its professional practice. Many of us who thought initially that information technology would pose new, even dramatic, means of dealing with traditional library tasks have had to reassess these assumptions. For technology has altered so much more than the way we handle these traditional tasks. Not only have the means of organising and assessing information changed; so too have substantive issues about what information contributes towards knowledge, how one manages library collections in the new circumstances, and how our mission as librarians, and those of our library institutions, relates to other institutions and professions with which we have to integrate our work. The authors hold, too, that in the United States at least (and this is very much an American work and standpoint), social attitudes towards libraries are also “in a state of flux”. Those changing attitudes alone will oblige the library profession in America to adopt new ways of thinking as it faces potential social changes. And if this is manifesting itself in the United States, it will not be long before these phenomena have arrived at our British doors.

The text is organised in what are in effect six sections: a long introduction discusses in a broad sense a series of specific issues and the methods which the authors aim to employ in examining them. Chapter 1 deals with traditional moral theory and practice in librarianship; 2 is a study of professional identity and organisational environment for librarians, with the aim of identifying a new mission‐centred view of the profession; 3 focuses on the social, political and intellectual history of the profession in America over the last 150 years. The final practical outcomes of this study are reflected in Chapters 4 and 5, and contain a description and robust defence of the ideals of librarianship within the context of its professional practice. However, this is not all in the abstract for there are specific analyses of ethical issues such as neutrality, collections and service. A final Conclusion details an integrated vision of “the Information Age librarian.”

Their overall conclusion looks to the ideal librarian of the future, although the personal view of this reviewer is that this future has already arrived. The authors believe that such a professional will be willing to make judgments about the quality of different resources, and will be more active in community affairs which affect the public’s access to information. In essence, this librarian will become less of a “collector” and more of a “selector” or “presenter”. The result, in my opinion, can be a renaissance for library managers as proactive rather than reactive professionals. By investing in new areas of specialisation such as information systems, community affairs, or public policy, librarians will be able to offer more sophisticated consulting and educational services to the community, for example, in acting as mentors or gatekeepers to the new information poor who will otherwise be disenfranchised from ICT and therefore from the information they need to access to live their lives. For we are now on the threshold of a very new order of things, and as Macchiavelli observed in The Prince, “there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, not more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

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