Competency A

Demonstrate awareness the ethics, values, and foundational principles of one of the information professions, and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession.

Statement of Competency

Competency A requires a library and information professional to adhere to the guiding principles in the practice of librarianship which includes responsible stewardship of information. These principles ensure that the service provided by the librarian is based on ethical practices that do not disenfranchise any group or individual, reflect the values of the profession and institution we work for, and provide the best possible access to balanced information and promote intellectual freedom by allowing individuals to explore all available points-of-view on a particular matter.


Merriam-Webster (2015) defines “ethics” as an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior. Although most people are born with an innate “moral compass,” the workplace requires a more stringent set of standards. Most codes of ethics are created by professional organization and serve to guide members in the performance of their duties and also communicate a set of values to the wider world (Hauptman, 1988). The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA, 2012) created its code of ethics because it believes that “librarianship in its very essence, an ethical activity embodying a value-rich approach to professional work with information.”


The American Library Association, along with other documents and policies such as the Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights, has developed an “essential set of core values that define, inform, and guide our professional practice” (ALA, 2004). These values include access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, preservation, the public good, professionalism, service, and social responsibility. These go beyond Raganathan’s 5 laws of library science and even Michael Gorman’s more recent values of stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, rationalism, literacy learning, equity of access to recorded knowledge and information, privacy and democracy (Foster and McMenemy, 251).

Gorman (2000) explained that values are important because they are how we measure our conduct and actions as we work towards our goals in comparison to the accepted ideals. Our value system gives meaning to what we do. He suggests “there are now more librarians who question what they do – the underpinnings of their working lives – than ever before (p. 4-7). The American Library Association acknowledges that ethical dilemmas occur when values are in conflict.

Being aware of the ethics our profession embodies is very important in today’s ever-changing information environment where it is not unusual to find oneself in an ethical dilemma. That is why students of library and information science are encouraged early on to learn about professional associations and their codes. The reference and user services course reinforces these values because it is during encounters with library users that these values are tested and applied. Reference interviews should and always be conducted with ethics and values in mind.

Intellectual Freedom

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides a clear rationale for libraries and the practice of modern and progressive librarianship, which is to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas in any media and regardless of frontiers.” This means that as librarians, it is our mission to provide equitable access to information that supports every aspect of human endeavor. It is not enough to manage a library’s holdings. Librarians have a duty to make users aware of their collections’ existence and their availability.

At the same time, this stewardship must also ensure the ethical use of information and it may be necessary to enforce copyright restrictions to protect intellectual freedom. The ALA is a stalwart supporter of intellectual freedom, even for incarcerated individuals and also people with disabilities. In the Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom is defined as the “essence of equitable library services” and its importance lies in the free exploration of ideas, incubation of new concepts and development of innovations. Similarly, the Association of Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T, 1992) states that the “obligation to use judgment and discretion in making choices, providing equitable service and in defending rights of open inquiry” as one of its professional guidelines. This organization is the first professional association I chose because it bridges the gap between the principles of librarianship and the other information professions.


  1. Reference Principles and Ethics (LIBR 210- Reference and Information Services)

Librarianship is a service profession that is committed to the sharing of information, which has become quite complicated in recent times. Part of this commitment is the ability to prevent personal beliefs from interfering with dispensing one’s professional duties. Librarians should maintain neutrality when serving the public. This is especially significant during reference interviews. Sometimes, it is not the matter of the librarian’s principles but the worry of what the information seeker will do with the information, which may be used for undesirable activities.

However, D.J. Foskett, British librarian and information scientist (1962) said that a librarian’s creed should be “no politics, no religion, no morals.”  William A. Katz, reference services expert (1992) used stronger language: “Find all requested material. The librarian is not in the position of being a judge.”  This ability to compartmentalize one’s beliefs when answering reference questions is the reason why I selected this particular discussion from my reference and user services class. In my original post, titled “Religion at the Reference Desk.”  I chose to respond to an article by Mike Wessells (2003), “Faith at the Front Desk: Spirituality and Patron Service.” He made some good points regarding the discussion of faith at the reference desk which inevitably comes up. In an exchange with a patron, I managed to impart accurate information and still maintain neutrality by not judging the authority of the person who gave him erroneous statement to begin with.  In my post I also discussed my own admission of being uncomfortable with sensitive queries, especially those that could be potentially harmful. A classmate agreed and also pointed out that R.C. Dowd (1990), author of “I Want to Find Out How to Freebase Cocaine or Yet Another Unobtrusive Test of Reference Performance” wrote that when he tried to retrieve information for his research, most librarians he approached appeared distant and seemed to wishing to be spared the moral dilemma of assisting a possible coke addict.

During this discussion, I also responded to a post by a classmate who discussed Foskett’s ideology and she stated that of the three components mentioned, she had the most problem with is “no morals.” This is something I also struggle with but in my response, I related an instance where a group of students were discussing whether prostitution is a victimless crime. Although I disagree with some who supported that point of view and I could easily find information to counter them, it is also my duty to allow them to establish their own world view.

  1. Difficult Customers (LIBR 204 – Information Organization and Management)

My second artifact is from couple of reflective journal entries from my information management class. The entries are based on my personal experiences at work. In the various professional codes and guidelines, the emphasis is how librarians conduct themselves. The IFLA (2012) states that “librarians strive to earn a reputation and status based on their professionalism and ethical behavior.” Also, Article V of the ALA Code of Ethics (2008)  advocates respect for co-workers and decent working conditions. Although I am all for superior customer service, there are some instances that the customer is in the wrong. That is why I felt compelled to stand up to a student who treated my assistant with disrespect.

  1. Grant Writing Ethics (INFO 282 – Seminar on Library Management: Grant Writing

Because of the world’s unsettled economic state, it is not unusual for libraries to supplement dwindling budgets with grant proposals. Grant writing has become a highly desired skill for librarians. Nevertheless, grant writing has its share of ethical mine fields. An interesting question was posed by our instructor regarding reasons for turning down a grant or donation. In my post, I discussed the reasons why I would or would not accept a grant or donation and for the most part, decisions like these are still based on the code of ethics laid down by our profession. I have given an example of how my former workplace dealt with a donation of religious books, basing our decision of compromise on one of the statements in the Library Bill of Rights: materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation.

In the study of library of information science, the creation of these pieces of evidence have been opportunities to build a strong backbone of ethics, values, and principles which will support me in the practice of my chosen profession. This is especially important because I was hired to work with a government agency and it is of utmost importance that I can be held up to the highest standard of integrity, protecting the security and privacy of information I am entrusted with.


American Library Association. (2008). Code of ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2004). Core values of librarianship. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (n.d.) Interpretations of the library bill of rights. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (1996). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from

Association of Information Science and Technology. (1992). ASIS&T professional guidelines. Retrieved from

Cassell, K.A. & Hiremath, U. (2013). Reference and information services. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Dowd, R. C. (1990). I want to find out how to freebase cocaine or yet another unobtrusive test of reference performance. The Reference Librarian11(25-26), 483-493.

Foskett, D.J. (1962). The creed of the librarian: No politics, no religion, no morals. Library Association Occasional Papers No. 3. London, UK: Library Association.

Foster, C. & McMenemy, D. (2012). Do librarians have a shared set of values? A comparative study of 36 codes of ethics based on Gorman’s Enduring Values. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 44(4): 249-262.

Gorman, Michael. (2000). Our enduring values: librarianship in the 21st century. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Hauptman, R. (1988). Ethical challenges in librarianship. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

International Federation of Library Associations. (2012). IFLA code of ethics for librarians and other information workers. Retrieved from

Katz, W. (1992). Introduction to reference work. 6th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Merriam-Webster. (2015). Ethics. Retrieved from

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science. 3rd edition. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Wessells, M. (2003). Faith at the front desk: Spirituality and patron service. American Libraries, 34(5), 42-43.