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statement of professional values

Statement of Professional Values

Libraries come in many shapes and sizes. There are large public library systems with many branches and services, small college libraries with services for students and faculty, information centers within larger institutions such as hospitals and corporations which serve the staff and clientele, archives which serve the collection as well as the patrons, and school media centers that serve growing minds and enrich classroom education. Furthermore, there are virtual libraries and independent libraries that exist outside of our traditional ideas of libraries.  There is, of course, overlap between all of these varying types of libraries as well. Public libraries often house local collections of archived materials and many academic libraries open their doors to the surrounding communities, for instance. Libraries are not just libraries any more. As diverse as libraries are, so are the users and their needs.[1]

               At the heart of every library or information center, however, is the same goal: to meet the needs of the users. Libraries accomplish this goal through the collection, the staff, and facilities and technology.  These three things are the necessary components.  If we are to envision a hierarchy, at the top would be the patrons at the root would be the collection or information. The staff, whether they be certified reference librarians or night volunteers are the frontline to dissemination of the information contained within the collection. The facilities and technology provide and shape access to the information.[2]

Libraries and information centers must consider the ethical, legal, and social implications of these needs, and the processes by which these needs are met. Professional organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA), offer standards and guidelines and Codes of Ethics that speak to such considerations; including intellectual freedom, or limitations on access through censorship or filtering[3], access to technology, diversity of the profession[4], legislation on information, protection of patrons’ privacy, and protection of the institution itself.   Sometimes we must navigate the interest of various stakeholders—such as users as a whole, a governing body or larger institution, the community, or partnering organizations, as well as the interests of the individual users and the institution[5]. The ALA literature provides professional support under such pressure.

               In order to further meet the needs of the users, it is helpful to consider Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science:  Books are for Use, Every Reader His Book, Every Book His Reader, Save the Time of the Reader, and The Library is a Growing Organism.  While these are not engraved upon the Library of Congress or even part of the professional Code of Ethics, the ideas represented therein echo many of the ideas put forth by the ALA. By respecting these ideals, librarians and information providers can best respect users and their needs. 

It is important to remember that the power of knowledge and information lies in it being passed on; rather than being mere guardians of information, librarians and information professionals are agents to information. Additionally, it is crucial to respect all of the needs of all users and all of the ways in which those needs can be met.   It is also important to provide efficient access to materials and information.  Slow or inefficient service is not only frustrating for the users, but it also creates a barrier to information.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is essential to recognize that as time marches on so must libraries and librarianship. We must be willing to embrace new technologies and types of services. New ‘books’ cannot be used, readers cannot have their books, books cannot have their readers, and librarians cannot save the time of the reader without remaining current on the means in which information is produced and retrieved.

These are the foundations of the profession. Now let us turn to the fundamental practices which drive daily operations: management, reference and information services, collection development, and technology.  Management is the means of development of staff and resources. Reference and information services are the direct transmission of answers to specific needs of the users. Collection development is the means by which materials are selected, arranged, and discarded as determined by user need and community support. Finally, technology increases effectiveness of services and the transmission of information.

Management is no longer simply about pushing paper around and hiring and firing. We must abandon such old models in favor of new models and ways of thinking that emphasize collaboration, knowledge management, work culture, individuals, and quality of service[6].  While the needs are defined by the community and leaders within the organization, managers implement policy and procedure, develop staff, and allocate resources (including staff itself) in order to provide the best possible service to users. Modern management also looks beyond individuals’ basic skills to develop unique skills and talents that more efficiently serve and provide for the informational needs of patrons as well as shape the work culture. Higher productivity and satisfied personnel, in turn, lead to satisfied patrons and support for the library. Additionally, individuals should have invested ownership of the institution, such that they feel empowered to lead one another and make choices beneficial to the organization.

               Reference and information services consist of developing answers to requests for information.  This can take a variety of forms, be it a specific answer to a specific query, a list and/or stack of resources and materials, referral to other organizations or professionals, or sometimes a combination of these[7].  Finding and providing access is at the heart of reference and information services. Providing accurate, timely, and succinct yet sufficient information is key to a successful transaction. This requires knowledge of a variety of resources, both electronic and ‘hard copy’ as well as knowledge of resources offered by other organizations. Often this requires a certain amount of negotiation of the initial query completed through the reference interview.

               If we consider that, “An effective library is one that is used, facilitates communication, is viable to the community it serves, and looks out to the community, but also looks inward upon itself,”[8] collection development then is determining need from the community or users, determining scope—or the range of materials the institution will use, and periodic evaluation of the collection. An institution uses a variety of tools to develop a collection that is effective; such as needs assessment, community surveys, collection management plans and/or policies, circulation/usage statistics, and user surveys. Development of the collection is an ongoing process which strongly emphasizes that libraries and information centers must be willing to evolve as the community’s needs do.[9]

Technology should be used as a means of increasing the effectiveness of the services. Effective use of technology facilitates internal communication as well as communication with users. Technology assists in dissemination of information[10], promotion and marketing of materials and services, instruction[11], and increased efficiency within an organization. Additionally, new forms of technology can also assist in achieving greater success and/or efficiency in the areas of management, reference and information services, and collection development.  While the inherent uncertainty of new technology often leads to controversy and debate over such issues as privacy and access, the benefits should be considered[12]. 

As a librarian one is bombarded with scenarios —the answers to which lie within these ideals and practices.  There are obvious, deliberate decisions, such as when choosing materials for de-selection, or deciding on a budget for a program or branch. More often, however, there are times when a decision must be acted upon quickly, as with disruptive patrons.  In each of these cases, competing demands and stakeholders must be weighed and balanced. In every situation it is important to have a strong understanding of the principles and practices on which to act in order to best meet the needs of all of the users within the bounds of a larger institution. Old models of librarianship and ways of thinking can always use a little revisiting, revisal, and reinventing. While this may not be true for every situation—some users are perfectly happy to stick with paper books and a circulation or reference desk manned by studious librarians, new approaches, such as roving customer service, floating collections, and new formats for materials can reach a wider audience in many settings.

Charity Neave Johnson

March 2010


[1] The Glenwood Branch of the Greensboro Public Library provides an example of ways in which public libraries have been changing their services to meet the needs of changing communities, through their services to non-native patrons. See my presentation, “Persistence” of the ESOL Program at the Glenwood Library, for LIS 655: Public Libraries, Fall 2006.

[2] See also for goals, organization, and stakeholders in a hypothetical public library setting a collaborative project, Brochure for CCC Public Library, Fall 2006, for LIS 600: Foundations in Library and Information Studies.

[3] As I stated in Personal Philosophy Regarding Library and Information Science, “We should resist censorship in all of its forms through unbiased selection, unfiltered and unrestricted access, and free access to materials and the internet.  By presenting all views in context, we can allow patrons to make the most informed decisions.  Additionally, service should never be predicated by age, gender, race, class, etc.”  Paper was written for LIS 600: Foundations in Library and Information Studies, Spring 2006. See also a short paper entitled Importance of Professional Ethical Codes, also for LIS 600, Spring 2006.

[4] For more information on diversity in librarianship, see my paper entitled Current Issues in Library Science:  Recruitment for Diversity in Public Libraries, Spring 2006.

[5] For a look at how librarians navigate the interests of various stakeholders in a situation of conflict, see Social Networking and Internet Policies in the Public Library, for LIS 666: Information Ethics, Spring 2007.

[6] My Management Treatise completed for LIS 650: Library Administration and Management, Spring 2007 discusses in further detail how management ideals of collaboration, lateral leadership, and networking can encourage staff and create a better working environment.

[7] A bibliography is one of the ways in which reference and information professionals can provide resources in response to a specific information query. See Knitting: A Global History, completed Fall 2006 for LIS 620: Info Services and Sources as an example.

[8] From a paper written for LIS 615: Collection Development, The Collection Development Policy as a Means of Constructing an Effective Library, Spring 2006.

[9] My paper for LIS Collection Development, Are We Meeting the Needs of Our Users?  An Examination of the Collection Management Policy adopted by the Greensboro Public Library, Spring 2006, provides an example of collection evaluation in practice.  See also, De-selection in a Community College Library: Hands on application after a literature review, LIS 690: Independent Study: Collection Development in a Community College Library, Spring 2008 for a look at one of the ways libraries adapt the collection.

[10] For an example of how technology can assist in reference and information services, as well as , see the magazine of my bibliography, Knitting: A Global History, for LIS 688: Information Graphics, Fall 2007.

[11] See, The Belkin Tunecast User’s Guide, also from LIS 688: Information Graphics, Fall 2007, as an example of how technology can be used for instruction.

[12] An example of such controversy concerns Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which is being used by some libraries for inventory control, as well as in some library cards. For a discussion of RFID and privacy issues, see my wiki article, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Spring 2007.