The Atlas of New Librarianship: Communities

What should you do if a patron comes in looking for information on building a bomb?  Or books about suicide?  Or asks for information about battered women’s shelters?

These are three examples of ethical dilemmas that come up often in discussions that go on in library school.  We have no Hippocratic Oath as librarians, and we are not mandated to report possible abuse in the communities that we serve.  So what are our responsibilities in the sticky situations that will inevitably come up during the years we spend serving the public?

According to the ALA Bill of Rights,

“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”

And

” Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”

This is how librarians establish their credibility.  Protecting the citizens’ rights to a diverse collection, resisting censorship, and assisting individuals in locating any information or material that they request without judgement or violations of privacy.

However, there is a third part to this equation; building contextual knowledge of your community and working within that context.  “The contextual approach of knowledge and conversation is where reliably giving good information makes authorities.  We gain trust by consistently giving members a variety of sources and perspectives(92).”

This contextual knowledge provides the answers to the questions above, or helps us diffuse them peacefully.  We must respect the privacy of the members of the community, and our knowledge of the community should guide our decisions when faced with any question, big or small.

For my gateway class at Syracuse University I was assigned to read and blog about my professor David Lankes’ most recent book, The Atlas of New Librarianship.

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