The Changing Role of Libraries & How To Consider the ALA Code of Ethics

Since we didn’t have official readings for this next session of class, I figured that it might be helpful to do a little setting the stage for my group’s upcoming workshop.

Last week was chock-full of thinking about ethical considerations in libraries and as librarians.  There’s no question that the role of libraries within their respective communities are shifting. While a library certainly can’t (and probably shouldn’t try to) be everything to everyone, libraries do have a long history of providing the public (or a particular population) access to resources that would be unavailable to most people on an individual basis.

A public library may be able to provide access to a database of articles and stats that wouldn’t be affordable to most people. Their offerings of books, movies, games and other media will vastly outnumber the personal collections more folks will have. Libraries can provide access to technical equipment and specialized skills and training. Another specific example — this last week in Austin, I noticed a library had a specific free workshop to help family members learn how to navigate systems for elder-care and other resources to help care for relatives who needed an extra hand. On a physical level, libraries can provide meeting space for community groups. Though there are many definition of infrastructure, in some ways it could be said that libraries provide resources and infrastructure that can be used/shared my many folks.

So, if we extend the idea of resources, support and shared infrastructure, who’s to say that providing digital recording and editing suites, a 3D printer/maker-bot, collaborative spaces, and platforms for community publishing wouldn’t fall within those general ideas of what a library “should/could” provide too?

There’s some great conversation going on around this topic — so much that I will probably be linking to/talking about these ideas in future posts.  However, for now, I want to bring things back to the idea of library ethics.

Last week, we read the ALA Code of Ethics. Although many of the ideas and themes in the code remain the same, how might the code shift as what libraries do and are shift? As libraries move beyond points of access to resources, and become a part of the creation of resources & media, what additional questions or conflicts might arise? There’s a lot of room for thought here, and our team’s in-class workshop intended to delve a bit into this territory and begin sussing out just how and why (or why not) the ALA Code of Ethics (and/or our own interpretation of it) might need to change.

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4 thoughts on “The Changing Role of Libraries & How To Consider the ALA Code of Ethics

  1. I have the same question — has the resource/information landscape changed so dramatically since the last update in 2008 that it is time to reconsider it?

    1. Kristin —
      Glad that I’m not the only one wondering about that. We did an exercise in our workshop that presented a specific scenario (what if in the future libraries were *only* makerspaces/places for content creation), and then had small groups re-write and edit a Google Doc version of the current code of ethics.

      Of course, we were’t positing that in the future, libraries will *only* be such spaces, but setting up that story was, I think, helpful for participants. I was really impressed with the ideas that came from the groups subsequently reporting back.

      A few of those:
      a) Not denying private/corporate support, but stipulating that it can not come with restrictions or exclusivity
      b) The idea of “levels” of membership (free vs. various paid levels)
      c) The uneasy balance of trying to tell people not to create dangerous of “offensive” material (does this veer into censorship? Who is the last word on taste?)
      d) The idea that *users* enter into a certain contract of respect with each other (as well as the librarians/staff)

  2. I really enjoyed our discussion of makerspaces and the changing role of the library in society — and the attendant need to (perhaps!) place content creation more toward the center of that mission. I like to think, too, that libraries may find more common ground with publishing (if not with publishing companies) going forward …

    1. Kelly, I think that you are on to something in terms of libraries starting to find a little more common ground with publishing, though not necessarily with publishing companies. The mode of large publishing powerhouses is obviously showing some strain (I’d argue there are some parallels between them and Warner, Atlantic, other big record labels, though the shakeup in publishing is happening at a little slower pace).

      Still, people are hungry for content that’s relevant. I think that libraries would be smart to understand what projects they can host or support that might benefit their communities/public and therefore raise the overall profile/value of the library in the public view.

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