Professional Ethics, Librarianship, and the Workplace

[n.b. this post was originally written for Re:Generations, the blog for new academic librarians that is organized by CACUL at the CLA. Be sure to surf over there to join in the fun! -ms]

How often do you think about ethics in the workplace? I’ve been reading some Robert Hauptman this week, and information ethics is a small hobby of mine, so lately I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. As important as ethics are to our field, Hauptman routinely suggests (and I’d agree with him) that we don’t usually consider why a proper action is proper and a wrong decision is bad. Rather, since we’re mostly all good people working on our best behaviour, rarely do problems occur.

Generally, we tend to get by on our best behaviour within librarianship, especially since so many of us believe in things like open access, open source and the stewardship of knowledge. But still I wonder, how often should we think about ethics in the workplace? If we work to serve the public interest in one form or another (as most of us do), should we not think every now and again about the implications of our actions and our opinions on the profession and on society?

We don’t have to be expert ethicists to consider how ethics affects librarianship and the workplace. It would be useful to remind ourselves from time to time, though, that the ethics of the workplace and the ethics of the profession won’t always agree with our own. Every so often we must take an action at work that might require a negotiation of our personal values with the values of our employer as well as the values of librarianship. Conflicts might arise between ourselves and a colleague or between ourselves and the organization because of these negotiations, which will themselves have to be mediated. What counts is how we mediate these conflicts and how we arrive at outcomes amenable to ourselves and to the organization.

Hauptman often argues that ultimately our personal values must override the values of the employer and of the profession. This, of course, is easier said than done, especially for so many of us who are situated in our first contracts or have moved so far away for employment and no longer have a strong network of friends and family to help us get by. Have you had a values-based dilemma at work? If so, how did you resolve it, and how did it affect you?