Everyday Ethics with Pat Wagner

Everyday Ethics for Libraries

This series of programs will explore how library professional ethics, as presented in the Library Bill of Rights, along with intellectual freedom concerns and privacy, impact library operations, collection development, policies, planning and customer service.

[Above from WebJunction Kansas]
Pat Wagner is appearing on ELMeR across the state this morning to talk with us about Everyday Ethics in libraries (Podcasts will be posted soon with the content from Pat’s ELMeR session).
Handouts – Ethics Cheat Sheet | Four Library Ethical Standards | Exercise Summary

Intro remarks:

  • A credible process will win more support – earn more trust and respect if you make thoughtful decisions.
  • “When you do Ethics right, God gives you a good night’s sleep.”

Polling groups, so we cover all subjects of interest:

  • While humans want concrete, absolute answers that is not the norm.  Process helps when dealing with concrete thinkers
  • Giving equal access in small communities – fighting prejudice and small-town bias.  Regardless of gossip and public discussion, emotional maturity requires that we be good stewards of public funds and provide equal access to library materials, meeting rooms, etc.
  • Strong conflicting opinions.  Having civil conversations – dialogues are conversations, not battles to win or lose (says Pat)
  • Focus on the bigger picture – “I support a marketplace of ideas.” – “regardless of how I feel personally, we have to live together tomorrow.” – “humans make mistakes. humans disagree. humans misunderstand.” Strong people with their own lives (full vessels) are bullet proof.  If we’re strong, happy and healthy – it means we can be unaffected by other people’s mistakes.  Minimize the impact of conflict and negative interactions.
  • Someone comes in who is ‘different’ – comes back later appearing different (from dirty to clean) – How we respond to people.  Local governments are a sacred trust. “Safety for the stranger.”  Travel, safety, immigration – Sheriff and coroners office were first 2 offices in early England to ensure safety of strangers.  Business people – England had courts that treated them fairly (in theory).  Wealth flowed in with these people, these strangers.  Racism v. xenophobia in rural America.
  • Fiscal ethics and business practices – Best thing the Board can do, is find a public-sector accounting firm in a different town to set up standards for how to do accounting at the library.  (I second this. Lowenthal is good.)
  • Difference between professional v. ethical – “both made up words.”  Look up general semantic theory and specificity.  What does professionalism look and sound like and how does it describe the behavior of people? What does ethical look, sound and behave like?  Stay home if you can’t put in a competent day’s work…and the person working next to you for 7 years doesn’t know you didn’t like them, and neither does your best friend.  “Take the drama out.”
  • Input from ‘strangers’ – Manners – if they’re the same towards everyone, you have fewer problems.  Governance – what is it?  It’s not combative or full of ’emotional blackmail’ or ‘bullying’ – it’s education.  Boards and community leaders and staff work together to tolerate and welcomes diversity (Birmingham, AL) – community pledge about how citizens treat people.
  • Pat started with us – example of the process of letting everyone speak, gather information, have a dialogue.


  1. What is Ethics?
    Study of right and wrong, the study of moral standards.”  More than faith, emotion, common sense – it’s law, accounting, language, facts, the brain – study: Not Reactive.  We take questions and complaints seriously – do research first because we are innocent until proven guilty.
    How often is the statute or law the end of the argument?
  2. What is hard about ethics?
    Ethics is more than how I feel about something – goes against ‘human nature’ (our inner 2 year old) – We have to be the Adult!  Ethical systems conflict with each other (standard of privacy v. transparency)
  3. What is hard about library ethics?
    At the time of the writing of the Bill of Rights, there were not public schools or libraries.  Tax supported libraries means pooling the money, so someones value system will be violated. Founders didn’t anticipate that development.  WWFT (What would Founders think?)

Ethic Basics

  • Rule of Law:
    We will be a nation governed by contracts, not personalities.
    Don’t enforce rules that aren’t written down.  No invisible rules or ‘village rules.’  Inventing rules is a violation of civil rights.  What does the contract say?  No special privilege for the king, religion, or a superior caste. Fair Treatment.  Law is Accessible and Ordinary – an 11 year old can understand it!  Law is rational and reasonable – the common sense test (from Ethics Cheat Sheet linked above).  Run your rules by a 3rd party because we can all be blind sided.

Ethical Standards

  • Transparencywritten rules for users, staff, Director and Board.  Train ALL on the rules and Duties | Open meeting laws followed in spirit (don’t hide or make it difficult for people to attend ‘can’t we get away with…’) | Timely communication – if a group of people have an ‘impactful’ meeting, then everyone should get the same info from that meeting within 24 hours | Everyone has access to the same services (no secret services, like secret Holds for more holds for old timers)  Services for people we know and like v. services for people we don’t know and don’t like.
  • Equal Treatment – Everyone has access to same services | No special class of library users | No insiders regarding contracts | No special privileges for staff or board – My question, so are FOL/Special patrons unethical?  Donated services can be unethical because it leads to insiders.
  • Privacy – NO discussion of individual library users’ reading – it’s none of your business what they read, how they live (think of how you would feel if lawyers were talking about your case in the lobby, or the banker talking about your finances, or doctor’s talking about your health?)  Circ desk IS NOT your living room (where you shouldn’t be talking either).  Working at a library is not just another job. | No sharing of records without court orders | Refrain from comments on usage | No discussions of personnel issues (because you probably don’t know the whole story)
  • Access of Information for all – Library is safe for people with disabilities (even invisible ones) | well-lit and clean | Outreach initiatives to EVERYBODY (immigrants, literacy, ESL) | computer classes – 21st century and computers are how people reach the world

Difficult people v. ethical issues:  Pat says, “You’re being paid to put up with annoying people by working in the library.” 😉  Complainers shouldn’t be demonized…and we need to remember that we are always being judged by others.  Do we remain courteous in difficult situations or do we ‘poison the well’ by ridiculing others or demonizing people?

The Traits of “Extremists”
Taken from Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America by John George and Laird Wilcox (978-0879756802) I can send this if anyone wants it.  We have permission from Mr. Wilcox to distribute these traits.

And, we ran out of time…

Visit WebJunction for the Schedule of Events for follow-up desktop sessions organized by the other Systems…and a wrap-up session in June with Pat again.  I hope the Discussion Tab at WJ is used to answer these questions:

  • What are examples of transparency issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of fair treatment issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of privacy issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of access to information issues in libraries?
  • How do ethical concerns collide and contradict each other?
  • What is an Ethics Audit?
  • What is an Extremist?
  • What extremist traits do we need to watch for in ourselves?
  • What is a practical action you could take from today?

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