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Reconsidering Our Core Values

by on March 8, 2013

Do librarians need to reconsider our professional values? Ryan Anderson’s Library Journal article examines the ALA’s “Core Values” statement.  Anderson does not say any of the items in the statement are inherently negative. He concludes that although worthy, “taken as a whole” the statement contains “internal contradictions” that “need…to be addressed.”[1]  Anderson divides the values into groups when addressing the statement’s problems; the “fundamental principles” include access, intellectual freedom, and service.[2] The “subordinate principles” are confidentiality/privacy, diversity, professionalism, and preservation.[3] While the previous values are not problematic, Anderson feels others are more ambiguous.

Education and lifelong learning, democracy, social responsibility, and the public good are considered “troublesome” because “their real-world application…seems unclear” and they could “conflict with other values.”[4] It is true these values appear vague and difficult to implement, but they are designed to create a “big picture” of librarianship’s goals.  Education and lifelong learning implies the act of searching for and finding information. Librarians help patrons find information (knowledge) and then, teach them to discover it on their own. Education occurs whether or not patrons read fiction or scholarly texts. The point is for patrons to learn how to find information, enjoy the process, and seek to know more. Libraries can also be the ultimate educators for underserved populations.  If this is so, then education and lifelong learning is central to librarianship.

Democracy, social responsibility, and the public good are serious responsibilities. Again, these are over-arching aims that probably cannot be solved by libraries. However, it’s important that libraries attempt to contribute to society and the communities they serve. Libraries should be “democratic” spaces where differing views on various subjects can be explored. Indeed, social responsibility will mean different things to different people (including librarians) due to our population’s diversity on social issues.[5] But libraries are meant to educate citizens on these issues and be a repository for alternate viewpoints.[6] Because librarians have specific opinions does not mean impartiality is not possible, or that ideas like social responsibility should be abandoned. I suggest the current core values statement is appropriate, and reflects the overall spirit of librarianship. What do you think?

[1] Ryan Anderson, “Interrogating the American Library Association’s ‘Core Values’ Statement: Peer to Peer Review,” Library Journal, January 31, 2013, accessed January 31, 2013, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/01/opinion/peer-to-peer-review/interrogating-the-american-library-associations-core-values-statement-peer-to-peer-review/ .

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Core Values of Librarianship,” American Library Association, adopted June 29, 2004, accessed January 31, 2013, http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues#publicgood .


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