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Why a Code of Ethics Is Necessary in a Professional Environment
Posted On November 15, 2022
Law librarians, public librarians, other information professionals, and attorneys all have one element in common: the need for a code of ethics. For librarians, a code of ethics is a document that translates the values of intellectual freedom that define the profession of librarianship (see ALA’s Code of Ethics) into principles that can be utilized by people of that career as a framework for managing conditions concerning moral conflicts.

A code of ethics is essential because it carries out rules and regulations for worker conduct and offers a basis for pre-emptive warning. A code of ethics commonly outlines the missions and values of a business or organization and specifies how employees should approach problems. In addition, it identifies the ethical principles primarily based on the organization’s core values and standards, according to Adam Hayes in an article in Investopedia.

In librarianship, there are numerous variations of a code of ethics. IFLA, AALL, and other organizations, in addition to ALA, have codes of ethics for library personnel to adopt and adhere to. A code of ethics may assist your audience(s) in getting to know what is and what is not always suitable conduct in your organization. Public Libraries Online notes that in 1939, ALA adopted its code to “maintain ethical standards of behavior about the governing authority under which they [the librarians] work” and for other members of the library profession and society in general.

Legal Code of Ethics

In the legal profession in my state, attorneys frequently turn to the Oregon State Bar, the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in Oregon, the American Bar Association’s Lawyer Ethics and Regulations, and the like. For lawyers, a code of ethics defines how they should conduct themselves while working with clients, including advocacy, maintaining the integrity of the profession, and other model rules.

As previously noted, a code of ethics sets forth how personnel ought to behave in a professional environment. For example, attorneys are expected to:

  • Preserve the confidence of a client
  • Exercise impartial judgment on behalf of a client
  • Represent a customer proficiently

A Code’s Functions

It is essential for libraries to develop a code of ethics. It should encompass guidelines that define the behavior of employees and their values, in addition to the way they deal with customers in a library setting. It applies to members of the library profession and society in general. The basic functions of a code of ethics for librarians include:

  • Encouraging shared concepts that librarians and other information professionals can use to create employee guidelines and better address issues in the workplace
  • Improving expert self-awareness
  • Providing transparency to customers and society in general

Codes of ethics commonly call for info pros to:

  • Uphold the integrity of the career
  • Help or interact with customers inside the authorized exercise of librarianship
  • Treat every customer with admiration, courtesy, and candor
  • Adhere to the principles of due process and equality of opportunity in their relationship with co-workers and colleagues
  • Be vigilant in the protection of all library resources placed under their care

Whether you are a lawyer or a librarian or work in another profession offering public services, some things remain similar in codes of ethics. Providing great customer service, exercising independent judgment when necessary, responding to customers with courtesy and respect, staying neutral in the professional environment (i.e., not asserting your own opinion), and earning the respect of those you help serve tend to be included in many organizations’ codes of ethics, according to an article from Indeed.

Developing Your Own Code

Things to consider while developing a code of ethics include compliance with national and federal regulations, respect for others, processes for reporting conflicts of interest, and policies for reporting harassment in the workplace. In many cases, a code of ethics guarantees the safety of enterprise property and workplace materials, sets out environmental guidelines and the necessities of suppliers, and outlines the expectations of professionalism, in addition to offering guidelines concerning worker attendance and processes and results for violations of the code. For more details, see Forbes’ “Politics in Your Office and Why You Need a Code of Conduct.”

The Indeed article mentioned previously notes that any agencies with a code of ethics should have it on hand in a worker manual or online. If faced with a scenario wherein you are unsure what to do ethically, you may consult with your manager or simply review the company’s code of ethics for guidance.

In this NewsBreak, I have identified what a code of ethics is and how it establishes a set of expectations for professional conduct, behavior, and actions. Putting a code of ethics into practice calls for numerous steps, including setting up values for the organization, leading by example, defining and correcting ethical dilemmas in the organization, and, finally, being bold in making decisions. Each library ought to have a code of ethics in place, thus eliminating confusion and establishing guidelines for the behavior and expectations of library staff. Regardless of your profession, a code of ethics will always help set forth the rules of conduct and behavior that you will be expected to follow.

A code of ethics not only helps define the values of organizations, but also assists in helping them express these values and their missions and goals to their customers and other organizations. To build trust with their customers, libraries must develop a strong reputation for integrity and accomplish that through clearly established internal ethical principles. To maintain a reputation of trust, libraries must take a principled stand against customers who behave in a less than ethical manner.

It makes good business sense as well. Venio Systems’ CEO Ethan Eisner writes, “Ethical behavior is becoming more and more important in business, and more customers than ever are demanding it. … Studies have shown that customer support driven by ethical practices results in increased revenue.”

Now is time for you to establish a code of ethics if you do not already have one in place. So go ahead—explore options, borrow a code of ethics from another library and customize it to your own needs, or develop one from scratch. There are a few resources you may want to refer to as you design or define your organization’s code of ethics, including:

Amber Boedigheimer is the librarian for the Linn County Law Library in Albany, Oregon. It is a very small law library, serving about 600 patrons a year, and it is open to the public 4 days a week to provide legal information to patrons, including lawyers. The missions and goals of the library are to promote accessibility, ensure fairness within the justice system, and improve patron access to legal information. The library has a plethora of legal resources and offers patrons access to subscription databases, bar books, and other legal materials. Boedigheimer is a member of OCCLL (Oregon County Council of Law Libraries) and WestPac (Western Pacific Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries).

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