I enjoyed the reading this week from the Journal of Information Ethics; I would like to read more from that journal. When I first began the article I couldn’t imagine how one would begin to decide on a plan of action to have in place for those reference situations–how would you balance the issues with censorship and freedom to read vs. preventing potential harm to patrons? Thus I found the conversation on theoretical ethics to be useful, if a bit convoluted. Lenker argues that virtue ethics is the best ethics theory to apply in the case of dangerous questions at the reference desk: if a patron asks about growing marijuana, or directions for making explosives, etc. Employing virtue ethics means thinking about what character traits are present in any given decision. If a librarian decides not to comply with a patron’s request, they might be judgmental, paternalistic, and/or oppressive. On the other hand, assisting readily with dangerous questions might display recklessness.
After Lenker’s discussion of ethics and the various case studies, I felt kind of overwhelmed and in the process of concluding that I would make “game-time” decisions in these types of situations and essentially go with my gut feelings. Then came his warning on reductivism! Lenker basically cautioned against this and urges librarians to recognize this types of questions as quite complicated, and not to disregard all other issues as less important in favor of the one “real” issue. This was probably the most valueable take-away for me. It also made me realize that I’m human, and am subject to biases and that my choices are limited by my perspectives and life experiences–my gut feeling might overlook some aspects of these future hypothetical situations.
While I’m not, at the moment, terribly concerned with these issues as I don’t work at a reference desk (it will be interesting to hear my peers’ stories in class tomorrow who I know work at our schools’ reference desk), I felt a bit frustrated with all the details Lenker gave, only to say that these are issues that should be brought up in library school and only as a means to make LIS students aware that “the librarian’s path must be traveled with care.” However, Lenker also noted that LIS students such as myself will come away from the discussion with “sophisticated confusion,” which is an apt description for my experience while reading.
It seems that there are too many ambiguous factors to be able to have much of a framework in place between the rules of your particular institution, your own personal values, and the ALA code of conduct. The latter even says “these statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.”