Teaching library and information ethics

Publication Date01 Mar 1996
AuthorStuart Hannabuss
SubjectLibrary & information science
Considerable interest currently is being
shown by library and information professions
in the subject of ethics. This is part of a
growth in ethics courses, or courses which
include ethics, throughout British higher
education. It usually takes the form of exam-
ining the scope and role of ethical issues as
they apply to particular work situations, such
as what the professional manager should do
when faced by certain dilemmas. The process
of change is throwing up numerous dilemmas
in the library and information profession,
such as those associated with paying for infor-
mation and maintaining universal access, and
with the notion of liability if paid-for informa-
tion turns out to be incorrect.
At the same time, professionals in any field
are reflecting continually on the nature of
their work, on its quality and utility for users
and customers, and on the ways in which
high-performance, cost-effective information
services and products can be delivered.
Increasingly, too, the provision of information
is opening up to competitive market forces in
which others exist to offer rival or substitute
services and products. All in all, then, it is a
very exciting time for any student of ethics.
This discussion aims to identify some of the
major issues in library and information ethics,
and analyse and evaluate the challenges of
offering a relevant and useful course on ethics
to people in the profession and those hoping
to enter it.
Teaching ethics
In the early 1990s the Institute of Manage-
ment commissioned Professor Jack Mahoney,
Director of the Business Ethics Research
Centre at King’s College in London, to write
a discussion paper about teaching business
ethics[1]. After describing how ethics were
playing an increasingly important part in
business management courses in the UK,
Mahoney asked why we should teach ethics.
Was it in order to teach people to be ethical in
their professional lives? He concluded that
teaching business ethics was not intended to
provide answers but “to help students find
their own answers in an informed and skilful
way”. Simply giving answers had too many
overtones of indoctrination or the peddling of
pet ideologies and doctrines. Students would
not need to be ethical in order to get a lot out
of a course on ethics, although any successful
course would probably awaken a latent moral
Library Management
Volume 17 · Number 2 · 1996 · pp. 24–35
© MCB University Press · ISSN 0143-5124
Teaching library and
information ethics
Stuart Hannabuss
The author
Stuart Hannabuss is Lecturer in Management at the
School of Information and Media, The Robert Gordon
University, Aberdeen, UK.
Professionalism in library and information work assumes
the awareness and application of ethical standards.
Dealing with information products and services implicates
practitioners in ethical as well as legal issues, although
detailed instances of ethical dilemmas are all too few in
the literature. Identifies some key challenges in defining
ethical issues for library and information work, advocates
and exemplifies the use of case studies for enabling
students to evaluate the principles and practical implica-
tions of ethical issues at work, and invites trainers to
reflect on the assumptions on which any training pro-
gramme on professional ethics is likely to be based.
Provides an indicative reading list.

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