Librarian Bill of Rights

Librarian Bill of Rights and Ethical Librarians


There have been many excellent and intriguing responses so far regarding instances of unethical librarianship and untrustworthy trustees. Those responses will be aggregated  here on Best of Publib.
One of the interesting comments received was from Diedre Conkling formerly with the ALA Committee on Professional Ethics:
On Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 3:58 PM, Diedre Conkling  wrote:

 There are many reason’s why the ALA Code of Ethics can’t be enforced on librarians, ALA members or the local level.  We, the Committee on Professional Ethics, recently studied this issue for about 3 years.  The study included open forums for input on the code, how to change it and how to enforce it.  We also looked at what is done in other organizations.  The only organizations that can enforce a code of ethics are licensing agencies.  ALA is not one of these.

So, even though ALA has eloquently and elegantly described how to be ethical, all of that work on behalf of the profession by professional librarians only has the authority of suggestion and consensus. On the other hand, unethical librarianship and untrustworthy trustees are the product of the powerful slippery slope.  In some environments the slope is much slippier and the pitch is much greater.

Maybe it just begins with a small compromise of ethics:

  • Did the trustee lose a book? Don’t charge them for it. They are more important than the other patrons.
  • Do you want a good evaluation?  Then hire the trustee’s cousin over a more qualified applicant. 
  • Trustee wants you to give no-bid work to one of their friends or relatives –  go along with it.  
  • Trustee doesn’t want you to provide access to public records about the no-bid work? Lose the info.
  • Meeting minutes?  What meeting minutes? 
No real harm done and you generated some good will with your trustee.  Maybe the trustee likes what you did for them, gives you a raise and authorizes a trip from library funds for you to Key West.   Hey, it is just tax dollars, no one will miss it. Come on.  Everyone does it. Don’t rock the boat. Wink, wink – nudge, nudge.
On the other hand, hire the more qualified applicant, treat the trustee equally, make sure funds are allocated properly, support the First Amendment, equal protection under the law and provide lawful access to public records and as an at-will public servant you could lose your job.  There is no effective protection for your profession by your profession.


In Rhode Island – along with many other locations, the slope is just about as slick as it can get.  The political pressure to do the wrong thing can be enormous.  The way that another important group of professionals charged with providing equal protection under the law dealt with the ethical dilemma was the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. The Fraternal Order of Police helped to promote the Bill of Rights to protect their members from political reprisal for doing their jobs.  Many other states have adopted similar laws.

I believe that a *Librarian* Bill of Rights (not to be confused with Library Bill of Rights) should be promoted and adopted by the States  as a method to protect the public interest by protecting public librarians in the commission of their lawful duties as administrators, information professionals, and managers of the public trust.
Librarians should  have the duty,  right, and protection under the law to act in their professional capacities to:
  • Uphold U.S. Constitution/Federal/State laws
  • Support the First Amendment
  • Support FOIA and Open Meetings/Access to Public Records statutes
  • Conduct library activities using standard principles of accounting
  • Report to appropriate entity – elected officials – without fear of reprisal  – except for malicious intent – any misfeasance/violation of law –  by Board of Trustees or individual trustee
  • Unless declined – right to have evaluations discussed in public
  • Right to review credentials of Board of Trustee applicants – if  Trustees are required to *have*  credentials – prior to appointment


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4 Responses

  1. Since Robert quoted me here I thought I should say more. In the “Intellectual Freedom Manual” there is a section on the ALA Code of Ethics (Part IV, pages 301 – 334 in the hard copy version) and part of that is specifically on the enforcement of the Code of Ethics: I hope people will read the information in the Manual.

    I would like to add that I was on the Committee on Professional Ethics when work was being done on this issue but I am no longer on the committee.

    I do think that Robert missed my real point. I think that there are many state laws in most of our states that apply. He seemed to be only looking at library related laws but that is too limited a scope.

    Most of our states have very strong laws related to conflict of interest (including the hiring of relatives), public meetings, open access to information, public contracting, and the involvement, or non-involvement of public employees in political campaigns.

    We have the laws that do not allow the kinds of actions that are mentioned by Robert but the enforcement of them can be a very long process if someone does disobey them. This is unfortunate.

    I also think that the majority of us work with boards that have a strong commitment to libraries and serving their communities. They feel very strongly that it is important to follow the laws and to be very careful with the monies entrusted to them by the public.

  2. Oh, I should also add that the ALA Code of Ethics is enforceable on the local level if it is adopted as library policy.

  3. No, Diedre.

    I don’t think you understood what I was saying.

    Another professional organization that members pay dues to *advocates* for its *members*. The FOP got legislation passed that helps protect the ethics of Law Enforcement Officers. And, of course, there are many laws that also prohibit the same sorts of shennanigans mentioned here. But, the political reality and uneveness of the enforcement and prosecution of laws requires another layer to protect personnel and allow them to conduct there duties properly.

    Your ALA Committee studied the same problem that faces librarians for three years and came up with the idea that nothing could be done so nothing will be done. You present the notion that because their *might* be laws and those *might* be enforced and most of the time trustees are good means that Librarians that do run into problems are unfortunate, but irrelevant.

  4. Well, we are obviously not going to see things the same way. That is ok. If you can find a way to do what you want that is legally enforceable then I hope you share it.

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