Representative : Nadia Gianoli, Christoph Stueckelberger

Ethical Dilemmas of Librarians and Archivists

by Nadia Gianoli

On the 14th and 15th of August, a meeting was held near Geneva, Switzerland, on Ethical Dilemmas in the Information Society : How Codes of Ethics Help to Find Ethical Solution.

Information Ethics considers various questions and issues related to the handling and manipulation of information, such as how it is collected, recorded, distributed, and processed. Examples of issues that arise from this might be individual’s right to privacy (or right to be forgotten), or the plethora of ethical question surrounding copyright.

This is especially relevant to the work of information specialists, such as librarians and archivists, and this is one of the main areas of work for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) which founded the Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), an initiative which aims to "raise awareness of the essential correlation between the library concept and the values of intellectual freedom."

During 2011 and 2012 a working group from FAIFE had drafted and consulted extensively on a draft international code of Ethics for librarians, and although the Code has now been launched and accepted as an official policy of IFLA, the FAIFE group considers that the work should continue, because a code of ethics must be a ‘living document’ and because ways have to be found to implement ethics and ethical reflection more deeply in the day-to-day work.

On the 14th and 15th of August, a satellite meeting was held near Geneva, Switzerland, on Ethical Dilemmas in the Information Society: How Codes of Ethics Help to Find Ethical Solution. With topic in mind, the Code was used as an incentive to bring ethical issues more prominently in the professional and public debate, and brought about several productive discussions. One recommendation that was mentioned repeatedly was the need for case studies that could accompany the code of ethics. They would serve to better inform information professionals of how the IFLA code could be implemented.

This need is especially seen, for example, in a survey that was conducted and presented by Dr Lili Luo. Despite the fact that large number of ethical issues that reference librarians regularly face, and that around 60% are at least ‘moderately familiar’ with IFLA’s code, only 20% said they have applied it in dealing with these issues. This was understood to imply that a better understanding of how the code could be implemented would be very useful of information professionals.

A variety of further issues were also brought up, such as the information ethics issues that arise from the global North/South divide, how the internet is filtered in public libraries, and how documents are either chosen to be preserved or removed from archives. All papers and discussion from them will soon be made freely available as a publication at globethics.net/publications, along with the presentations themselves.

The event was also live-tweeted, so go visit us at @globethicsnetto read a real-time report of the conference, as it unfolded. Some of the more memorable points are below.

Pascale Chavaz-Bengoa, Globethics.net Library Assistant
Ignatius Rautenbach, Globethics.net Network Assistant

Published on: 30 August 2014
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