Our focus on ethics in class this week demonstrated to me how much I’ve benefited from being a part of the SI community as it hashes out current events and ethical dilemmas in the field of information work. I was also reflecting on the ways in which listservs and other online communication have opened up avenues for discussion.

I’m a longtime listserv and message board lurker, but I have been making an effort to become more involved in online discussion, which is getting easier as I gain more comfortability and expertise with information and library science-related topics. I joined Twitter earlier this year, and I’ve been pleasantly challenged by its format to produce thoughtful, concise commentary and discussion with peers and info professionals. Besides, it’s a fun exercise in brevity for me, a (somewhat rusty!) former headline writer.

Two SI listserv threads in particular came to mind this week as we discussed ethical standards in librarianship: one on the recent “homeless hotspot” controversy at SXSW, and one from a few weeks ago about a GPS mobile app that directs users to avoid specific walking routes based on crime statistics. The latter thread inspired a panel discussion this week at SI that I heard great things about! Unfortunately, I had to miss it due to work, but I participated in discussion via Twitter.


The two recent SI listserv examples are an interesting complement and contrast to two case studies we discussed in class: one about whether the Toronto public library should allow advertising to be printed on the back of its checkout receipts, and other about how libraries should respond to the threefold increase in prices charged by Random House for eBooks.

I see these four examples as falling along a spectrum from personal to institutional. The two listserv case studies challenge me as a user to think about how I would respond to these scenarios, as well as how I would respond as a potential designer of systems and services for public use. Bound up in these two examples are also questions of race and class relationships and power dynamics. Our in-class examples seem to me to be institutional questions, in that they challenge me to think about how professional values are playing out in response to larger economic and social trends facing libraries.

But I also feel a personal stake in these institutional examples. I see an undeniable tension in the library world between economic pressure and public service. Again, I may be muddling ethics and politics here, but librarianship appeals to me in part because it presents a strong professional identity that fits with my personal identity of being drawn to advocacy and service.

But while I may wish that advocacy was “pure” and above the fray of economic considerations, it also appears that libraries — like so many of our social institutions — must confront any squeamishness related to money and politics, while at the same time remembering their core missions.

Reading Lenker’s article on “virtue ethics” helped me see how my idealism tends toward reductionism when faced with ethical dilemmas (see also: squeamishness).

While I still want to protect libraries from over-commercialization — especially in the advertising scenario — I wonder if I am rejecting opportunities to re-think how our communities could come together as better partners, economically and socially. I should remember not to reject the phrase “business model” when it gives me the chance to be a part of creating a new, better and more equitable one.

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