Everyday Library Ethics

The roots of library ethical standards come from the same sources as do the foundations of local government: The Bill of Rights, the Rule of Law, the Magna Carta, and English common law. The right to privacy, transparent governance, access to information, and equal treatment are what all employees, volunteers, visitors, and users of academic libraries should expect. Many ethical issues have nothing to do with plagiarism, cheating on tests, and copyright violations, three favorite academic library concerns, or material challenges in public libraries. Topics include ethics at the library’s front line and back room, civility and the ethics of supervision and management, how ethics impact other professions, when ethical systems and cultures collide, and due process in making decisions.


Introduction: Ethics and Libraries: A Short History

  • What are ethics
  • Is being fair the same as being nice?
  • The Key Idea: Ethics Applies To Everyone In All Situations
  • What Do Your State Library Laws Say and how do they apply to academic libraries

The Four Main Principles

  • Privacy Regarding What You Read: Protecting Students and Faculty
  • Transparency: Decision-Making Guided By Open Meeting Law
  • Access To Information: Open Stacks And Circulating Collections
  • Equal And Fair Treatment: Do The Elite Get The Best Books First?

Practical Considerations

  • Leaders and managers: Walk the talk.
  • Ethical policies
  • When ethical systems collide
  • What it takes to do make ethical decisions and actions?


  • Recognize and fix ethical violations in your library.
  • Develop an ethics program for all employees and volunteers.
  • Institute a transparent process for addressing ethical concerns.

Pat Wagner is a library trainer and consultant, who has been working for academic, public, and special libraries since 1978. For several years, she was a presenter with the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute and is a frequent visitor to Florida libraries. Pat has presented on topics related to ethics, governance, and leadership at ALA, SLA, PLA, and other state and national library conferences. She is known for her practical and good-humored presentations.

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