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The ALA Guides My Ethical Decision Making

Last weekend I was looking back through the comments on some of the posts and noticed a mini-discussion that emerged around the ALA Code of Ethics. That discussion seemed to get buried in the barrage of comments about how awful the Annoyed Librarian is for not kow-towing to radicals and how evil and stupid you all are for reading this blog, so I thought I’d bring it up to the top level.

There are several propositions in the ALA Code of Ethics, and we get to find out how we should think about "intellectual" freedom and "censorship" and all that kind of stuff. However, the discussion came up in the context of how we treat other librarians. For example, the way a hypothetical political thug who hates another librarian because that librarian’s politics differ from his might harass the offending librarian and try to get her fired. Or, the way librarians might manipulate each other in general and make each other’s lives miserable. Completely hypothetical situations and hardly the sorts of thing likely to happen in real life, but still worth discussing. The most interesting clause was this one:

"V. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions."

As I recall, one of the comments was, "Do we really?" Do we really treat our co-workers and other colleagues with respect? When we gossip about them in the halls? When we complain about them in meetings? How about when those supervisors exercise their petty power over their underlings and make their lives miserable? Does any of this stuff go on in libraries? It doesn’t in my library, of course, because my library is something of a fantasyland of library perfection, but out there in the real world? The Code’s preface says it is setting out the values that guide the profession. Hmmm.

The good thing for all the gossipers and abusers of petty power is that we’re not really bound by this code of ethics, and for that I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief. You see, "The principles of this Code are expressed in broad statements to guide ethical decision making." Because when I think "guide to ethical decision making," I think ALA! That’s a relief to many of you, I’m sure. You probably thought to yourself, "Oh no! If I’m mean to one of my coworkers or abuse one of my underlings, the ALA might get mad!" You’re completely safe, though, as long as you’re not some powerless rube questioning the inclusion of Heather’s Two Daddies are Angry Rentboys on the school reading list or tsk-tsking about Internet porn in public libraries.

So enjoy yourselves. Abuse your colleagues. It’s a library. As long as the patrons are happy, no one really cares what we do to each other.



  1. Well, that’s just professional conduct. Duh.

    Of course, we wouldn’t want to let professionalism get to our heads. ;)

  2. That kind of sounds like any customer service job – screw happiness for employees, it’s all about the customer!!!

  3. Dan Kleinman of says:

    I’ll have to agree with you, AL. Consider, for example, the librarians who were forced by their own management to sue for safe work conditions. See Adamson v. Minneapolis Public Library at

    Or consider the librarians forced to go public with unsafe conditions in Hartford, CT.

    Both cases were a direct result of ALA policies. And, I realize now, thanks to this blog post, a possible result of ethical violations by library management as well.

  4. Dan…

    The Minneapolis Public Library issue is 8 years old. Evidently whatever happened there is not a commonplace event. Unless you know of some more recent, and similar, EEOC filings from public libraries. Maybe time to give that one a rest – it’s getting pretty stale.

    The events at the Hartford CT library are not new nor will they ever entirely go away. Most public libraries, to one extent or another, have those issues. Sounds like they got hit all at once, which is too bad.

    By the way, it’s not just public libraries either. Most anything open to the general public will face those sorts of issues.

    I’m not sure what either one of your examples has to do with AL’s post, since she is talking about interpersonal relationships between library employees. I suspect you just wanted to hijack the discussion.

    AL – I don’t know of any workplace that officially condones back-stabbing, intimidation, etc… I also don’t know of any workplace where that doesn’t happen. To one extent or the other. However, I’m also not sure what the ALA has to do with those issues in particular libraries. It’s up to the various HR departments to monitor workplace culture. The ALA simply published a guide to ethics – which many,if not most, professional organizations do as well. And, they are just as frequently ignored.

    It must be a slow day.. or you’re feeling lazy. The ALA is sort of your fall-back when you have nothing much to say.

    Gonna have to give this posting 4 zzzz’s

  5. If you don’t follow the ethical guidelines in other professions, you lose your license. You are essentially barred from practicing the profession – and if someone employs you, they incur further penalties.

    Let this be yet again another reminder how “librarianship” are not a true “professional institution.”

    The ALA wants to act like a professional institution because that naturally gives the field legitimacy. Regardless, you cannot establish professional legitamacy by merely standing up and forming a professional society – and yet that is what ALA has done.

    We just need libraries to wake up and realize what the “ALA accrediation” really amounts to…

  6. Well, then it’s a shame that doctors and lawyers don’t have professional ethics that stop them from treating people they work with badly.

    Their ethics really only pertain to business and professional relationships. For the most part with clients and patients. Not how they get along with fellow employees. Especially people “below” them. Trust me on that one.

    Get a grip people. The ALA does provide some very useful information and programs. If you look for the bad or ridiculous in any organization, professional or otherwise, you’ll find it. Just take what is useful and ignore the rest. That doesn’t mean the flaws need to be ignored – just that there needs to be some perspective.

  7. Of course, the AMA doesn’t have any actual authority either. If you violate the ethics of the AMA you are, here it comes, kicked out of the AMA:

    “At the conclusion of its proceedings, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has the authority to acquit, admonish, censure, or place on probation the accused physician or suspend or expel him or her from AMA membership (CEJA Rules pertaining to Disciplinary Action). However, the AMA is not in a position to take action against a physician’s license to practice medicine.

    The AMA encourages all practicing physicians in the US to consider our ethics policy as a useful source for guidance. If the practitioner is a health professional other than a physician (e.g. dentist, psychologist, optometrist, podiatrist, nurse) you should consider looking for policy from a professional association specific to that profession.”

    So riddle me this: How is the AMA so different from the ALA?

  8. If you worked with the people at my library you would have a nice collection of knives in your back. I actually had to take my director and assistant director to the city human resources. Oddly I got a better evaluation this year then I did in the last three years. I guess these people only respond to force.

    If I was going to pick one ethic we should follow I would say transparency/ sharing information. The number of times people get in trouble because someone dosnt share information is astonishing. It is like libraries are a KBG nightmare.

  9. It is odd how often librarians, who presumably like to provide access to information, really like to hide information.

  10. Detached Amuesment says:

    I think everyone is worn out from the apparently ongoing thread on dissent and anonymity. The ALA Code of Ethics has been commented on in passing going back to your old blog. To paraphrase some earlier posts, it’s voluntary. Just look at the old thread on dissenters, where some folks tried to “out” another librarian they disagreed with. That’ll be generating comments into the future. I know of cases where librarians were given shabby treatment by employing libraries. The cases I know of are PUBLIC LIBRARY. There may be factors in Academic libraries that hold this back, such as faculty status and the possibility of an AAUP investigation. When it comes to public libraries it’s strictly at will, and if nobody cares, ALA be d@mned. See the thread about the librarian fired in a secret meeting in Wisconsin. Has that even gotten any ink in the library media? Probably not. Has ALA told the board that this doesn’t go? Not Likely. Yes, as for hiding information, look at the various tales of the “Librarian Shortage”. One thing that started turning me off about this business was a knife-wielding clique in library school. It was as bad as high school, if not in some ways worse, because folks were trying to play faculty against students at a point.

  11. And let us not forget the other Class Plant asking us to so nobley uphold these ethics by shedding our anonymity…as if there is nothing to harm us for simply voicing our observations and our oponiions…

  12. Dan Kleinman of says:

    So RL’s argument boils down to:

    1) the past is no longer relevant (so ignore it),
    2) it doesn’t happen much anyway (so allow it the few times it occurs),
    3) I should shut up (so much for free speech),
    4) there will always be problems (so why waste effort trying to stop them),
    5) bad luck,
    6) libraries are not the only victims (so why focus on them),
    7) I’m irrelevant (so my observations regarding a lack of ethics should be discounted out of hand), and
    8) I’m abusive for “hijacking” the blog post (so everyone should ignore what I said and just move along, and my comments regarding library management following ALA policy in a way that violates ethics and the rights of library personnel supposedly has nothing to do with the AL talking about, as RL says, “interpersonal relationships between library employees”).

    Those of us in the know know who RL is. I’ll not disclose the identity to respect his/her privacy, but one wonders why use only initials.

    This is typical argument for RL, namely, attack the messenger so the underlying issues will not be noticed. Notice, no talk of the substantive issues. Notice, attack the messenger is the RL’s overarching activity–the AL herself is the next target of RL’s ad hominem argument. Hey, AL, don’t be so “lazy” when you “have nothing much to say”! Otherwise RL will award you with “4 zzzz’s.”

    RL, thank you for the complement of lumping me together with the AL in the same comment, telling everyone to move along, nothing to see here from either me or the AL. Obviously we are on to something that you are attempting to cover up.

  13. Vegans For Meat says:

    Dan, RL is right. You ONLY leave comments when you have an in to bash the ALA. You don’t participate in any other topics the AL brings up not directly related to your obsessive, anti-ALA cause. Most of us on this blog agree that the ALA has shortcomings and is in bad need of improving, but somehow I suspect that you go FAR BEYOND anyone on this blog in your hatred for the ALA and field of librarianship.

  14. Dan Kleinman of says:

    “Vegans For Meat” (thanks funny, by the way), you are incorrect. I also praise the ALA when appropriate. See “ALA Uses Common Sense on CPSIA Child Safety Issue; Congratulations to Emily Sheketoff and the ALA Washington Office” at

    If the ALA’s OIF consistently opposes local control over public libraries and I point out where that is occurring, etc., does that mean I’m “bashing the ALA”?

  15. I never told you to shut up Dan. At any point. Get over yourself. Feel free, although I doubt you need my permission, to babble on.

    Are there any new EEOC filings that are similar to the Minneapolis case? If not, what is the continuing significance of that issue 8 years after the fact. That is what I was trying to get at. Why is it still relevant? Believe it or not, events can lose relevance with time. Shocking, I know.

    What on earth does AL’s posting about workplace relationships, the ALA, and the Hartford library have to do with each other? Is the ALA responsible for the conditions that existed at Hartford? Were council members firing up crack pipes in the bathroom?

    Thanks for “protecting” my identity. I feel sufficiently chastised and threatened.

  16. RL is right about the hijacking issue. Dan, hijacking a thread with an unrelated comment or very loosely related comment is bad form. Maybe ALA should add that to the ethical standards.

  17. More power to you, Dan!

  18. Dan Kleinman of says:

    AL, is this similar matter, from Canada? “Library Workplace Speech, a Modern Irony!” at

  19. I’d say Dan is doing a heck of a lot more towards generating a dialog then the rest of ya…so he’s hijacking a blog for the discussion of library issues…by bringing up legitimate library issues???

  20. I wasn’t even aware that you put much importance in generating a dialog. Live and learn.

  21. Vegans For Meat says:

    Dan, what else are you interested in? You are not even a librarian. Yet, you haunt each and every library related blog to lobby your sole obsessive issue. I’m simply curious, why? What is it about libraries, the purportedly terminally critical problem of p0rn in public libraries, and the ALA’s near Satanic presence in American society? Do you have any hobbies, besides?

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