Friday, November 09, 2007

CILIP Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice

When I started to complete my Personal Professional Development Plan, I was a little concerned that I had nothing to offer under the Ethics heading (!) What did this say about me? After discussing it with my mentor we agreed that there were a few things that I could do to look into ethics in the information profession. One of them was to make an effort to attend the presentations that fell under the Law/Ethics category of the Umbrella 2007 conference (which I did...check it out). Another was to have a read and think about the CILIP Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice...

Ethical Principles
The introduction acknowledges that not every statement in the Code will apply to everyone and that is certainly true but it also contains a softer version of the ‘one size won’t fit all’ statement about the Principles. In general, we are to see these as applicable to our work, some to a greater and some to a lesser extent. On the whole, I guess I would agree. Most of these are just good, common sense (which my mother reassured me wasn’t as common as the name would imply) and are ones to which any conscientious employee would adhere regardless of their choice of profession. Having said that, though, the principle that encourages equitable treatment of all users just isn’t realistic in a commercial setting – some people’s requests get priority because of the office they hold...

Code of Professional Practice
There was more in the Code that made me go ‘hmmm’ than I there were in the Principles (but I guess the specific nature of the Code would make that inevitable). Some were on specific points and others were on the overall tone but I think most people would pick up on things like the access to information flavour and be able to see the limitations in different settings. No doubt this is what the authors of the introduction had in mind when they stated that "[g]iven the diversity of the information profession, it is inevitable that not every statement in the Code of Professional Practice will be equally applicable to every member of CILIP."

However, some of the ethical points are basic job requirements that could lead to incompetence dismissals rather than ethical disputes in some settings. Point eight under Responsibilities to Information and its Users is a good example of states that members should "ensure that the materials to which they provide access are those which are most appropriate to the needs of legitimate users of the service". I can see how this would be a bad thing to miss if you were working at a school or public library but think of the possible consequences of getting it wrong in a legal or commercial setting.

Now, I know that we don’t have anything in the UK like the US’s Patriot Act, but if we did, the fourth bullet under Responsibilities to Information and its Users would create an ethical dilemma of its own were an information professional obliged to divulge some information on a user of his or her services. While the introduction states that "[t]he Principles and Code assume that respect for duly enacted law is a fundamental responsibility for everybody", the Code states that members should "protect the confidentiality of all matters relating to information users, including their enquiries, any services to be provided, and any aspects of the users’ personal circumstances of business". Although this dilemma would exist for the UK information professional were anything like the Patriot Act to become law here, in my opinion, this dilemma raises more questions about the ethical nature of laws such as the Patriot Act than the correctness of the Code (but maybe that’s the granola-munching, sandal-wearing, tree-hugging, left-wing, liberal hippy in me talking.)

Peace, man.

(CILIP's position on ethics and the documents referred to above can be found on their website at

1 comment:

barb michelen said...
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