Episode 302: Ethics

Business ethics

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Welcome back to Season Three of Linking Our Libraries! We are Central Minnesota Libraries Exchange, and we are here to share information with all types of libraries, archives, and other nonprofits working to build their skills. This season we are working through the tools you can use to be a better manager and leader.

This week we discuss Ethics.


The Basics

It is surprising how many people do not think about ethical issues being a problem in LIS. This may go back to the mistaken ideas some people have about what librarians do all day – that is, that we sit around all day waiting for people to come ask us lovely and fun questions that we can answer with smiles on our faces. Of course this does happen, and most of us enjoy it when things go so well. But other things happen too, and can pose challenges to our ethics, our practices, and even the laws governing our library and society. When you add in the idea of being a manager, responsible for the actions and behaviors of not only yourself but also yours staff, and things can get much more complicated when trying to behave ethically.

In the library field, we are a profession, and as such we are governed by an ethical code. To be more accurate: we are a multi-faceted profession with a lot of different people in different professional areas doing all kinds of different things. So we actually have several different ethical codes relevant to the work we do.

  • There are the biggies that cover us in the United States: the American Library Association (ALA) and the Society for American Archivists (SAA) both have ethics codes governing most of us across the profession.
  • Subsections of these groups may also have specific ethical codes to follow that are relevant to their work.
  • Other ethics codes may also be relevant to you if you are an LIS person working in some of the less traditional jobs for our profession. So you may be governed by codes for computer science, or engineering, or museums, or performers, or wherever else you find yourself working.

No matter what you do in libraries, you are covered by ethical codes. Be proactive about looking for codes that will govern your work, to be sure you do not get caught without your ethics firmly in place!

Too often, ethics are things that get mentioned quickly in orientation, everyone looks solemn, and we all reassure ourselves that we, of course, would always be nice people who will do nice things. Yay for us. But that is just the barest beginning of ethics and ethics training. We can all start from the stand that we are nice people (most librarians are, after all); but we need to have a specific, written-down, set of ethical principles that we all know, we all understand, and we all agree to follow. And then problems will happen and disasters will come to your door. Ethical codes give you either a nice ladder to climb up out of the problems, or can be used as a handy weapon with which to clobber if you ignore the rules and cause problems that make it into the news.


As a leader, it is particularly import for you to know and to display ethical behavior. Managers who lie, cheat, and steal show staff members that teamwork and ethical behavior are pointless; no one will get ahead in this kind of organization by following the rules and doing the right thing.

Thankfully, the opposite is also true. Managers who create an ethics-friendly organization, and who demonstrate ethical behavior even when it is the harder choice, are showing their staff how things should be done. All of this will add up to an ethics-friendly organization. And you will have yet another powerful skill for your own Manager Skill Set!

Thanks for joining us this week! And check back in with us next week to discuss Hiring and Staffing.

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