In this, our penultimate blog post about the results of our recent Ethics Survey, we present an analysis of your views on what can be deleted from our current Ethical Principles. We also consider whether you think that, overall, our Ethical Principles provide an appropriate basis on which to build a new Ethical Framework?
Should we delete anything from the Ethical Principles?
In your view should anything be deleted from the Ethical Principles?
In addition to asking how you rate the current Ethical Principles, and whether you think there is anything missing from them (see our previous blog post for these results), we asked for your views on whether anything can be deleted. The majority of respondents, 67.81% (773 respondents), thought not, 23.25% (265 respondents) did not know, and 8.95% (102 respondents) believe that there are.
Your views were amplified in the 206 free text comments, with respondents not only suggesting deletions, but also arguing for some amalgamation, re-wording and clarification of the current Principles. Below is a summary of points made under each of the 12 Ethical Principles.
Principle 1: Concern for the public good in all professional matters, including respect for diversity within society, and the promoting of equal opportunities and human rights.
This Principle was mentioned in 22 of the comments, mainly in relation to the term “public good”, with several people unsure of what it means and how it translates into the work of all information professionals, especially those who are not working in the public sector. Others asked the question “who decides what the public good is?”.
Principle 2: Concern for the good reputation of the information profession.
Words and phrases such as “inward looking”, “self-serving” and “self-centred” came up in the 19 comments about this Principle, with one respondents questioning whether protecting the reputation of the profession should be an ethical consideration at all?
Principle 3: Commitment to the defence, and the advancement, of access to information, ideas and works of the imagination
“3 confuses several thing together”
Six responses made reference to this Principle, which is causing confusion for some:
“I am unclear on how one can ensure ethical principle 3 (defence of information) and remain impartial (ethical principle 7)”.
One respondent suggested that Principles 3 and 9 could be combined as “both concern access and preservation”.
Principle 4: Provision of the best possible service within available resources.
This Principle received the most comments, 31. Some people felt “uncomfortable” with what they regarded as “the blind acceptance suggested” by it, and that the “within available resources” clause “doesn't do enough to stand up to chronic under resourcing in parts of the profession”:
“Principle 4 seems like a weak justification for accepting the continued under funding and dismantling of library services (the "within available resources" bit). I think this should be removed”.
For others, the provision of services within available resources is not something that should be covered by an Ethical Principle.
Principle 5: Concern for balancing the needs of actual and potential users and the reasonable demands of employers.
As with Principle 4, respondents queried whether this is an Ethical Principle? Of the other responses referring to Principle 5, 17 in total, several were uncomfortable with professional ethics being framed in terms of employer-employee relationships, regarding the emphasis on demands of the employers as “unnecessary”:
“Ethics shouldn't be affected by management structure; it should be the other way around”.
Principle 6: Equitable treatment of all information users
This principle received just 2 comments, one being that:
“A survey like this has allowed me to reflect on [the Ethical Principles] again... I realised that I see EP1 and EP6 as the two main points, with the remaining principles supporting them”.
Principle 7: Impartiality, and avoidance of inappropriate bias, in acquiring and evaluating information and in mediating it to other information users.
“Unrealistic” came up in several of the 13 comments about this Ethical Principle, with one respondent suggesting that the commitment to “impartiality” “needs to be revisited to take into account that no information service, as a mediator, can be 'impartial'”. Another person argued that the profession “shouldn't be neutral or impartial in situations of oppression”.
Principle 8: Respect for confidentiality and privacy in dealing with information users.
Just three comments about this Principle, one being that privacy is a legal rather than an ethical issue.
Principle 9: Concern for the conservation and preservation of our information heritage in all formats.
Once again people questioned whether this belongs in the Ethical Principles:
“I think concern for the conservation and preservation of resources is an important issue, but I'm not sure that it is an ethical one?”
And two of the 17 comments referring to this Principle regarded it as “far more relevant to archivists than librarians”. Others suggested it could be combined with Principle 3, or with Principle 10:
“I think 9 & 10 are complementary and different sides of the same issue”
Principle 10: Respect for, and understanding of, the integrity of information items and for the intellectual effort of those who created them.
Sixteen respondents referred to this Principle and, in addition to the suggestion above (see 9), several once again remarked that it raises “aspirations related to professionalism”, and is therefore not an ethical concern.
Principle 11: Commitment to maintaining and improving personal professional knowledge, skills and competences.
“I'd question whether 5,9,11 should sit somewhere else in terms of expected professional behaviour or competency, but they are not necessarily directly ethical principles”
As we’ve already seen, clearly a theme of many comments is the belief that some of the current Ethical Principles are not in fact “ethical principles”. This is especially true of Principle 11, with many of the 23 comments that refer to it raising this point:
“While important... is not specific to the LIS professions, but is an integral part of any field of work”.
“CPD activity, whilst an important part of good practice, is not (in my mind) an 'ethical principle'”
Principle 12: Respect for the skills and competences of all others, whether information professionals or information users, employers or colleagues.
Eighteen comments were made about this Principle, with some people not regarding it as “something specific or unique to do with the information profession”. For others it’s “blindingly obvious” and not a “specific ethical skill”.
So do the Ethical Principles provide an appropriate basis on which to build a new Ethical Framework?
Overall do you think the Ethical Principles provide an appropriate basis on which to build a new Ethical Framework for the Information Profession?
After asking you what workplace issues concern you, whether an Ethical Framework can help in addressing these, what you think of the existing Principles, what’s missing and what could be deleted, we asked whether, overall, you think the Ethical Principles provide an appropriate basis on which to build a new Ethical Framework for the Information Profession? 86.23% (1002 respondents) believe that it does, while 3.10% (36 respondents) do not and 10.67% (124 respondents) were unsure. Views were amplified in the 161 free text comments and reveal the following:
No, the Ethical Principles do not provide an appropriate basis
Four comments stated this, for reasons given including the following:
"Do colleagues really need a document listing ethical principles in order to be professional in the workplace? I don't think so. Ethical issues are complex and, by their nature, multi-faceted. Each professional must do what they believe is 'right'”.
The Ethical Principles are dated
An issue raised by two respondents:
“There are some really good core components but it is very old fashioned and not reflective of the digital age at all.
“They are of their time. We need to develop principles which work in the present and future landscape and addresses the dilemmas we face and will continue to face every day”.
The current Ethical Principles are fine
One person asked “What was wrong with the old ones?”
Scepticism about the Ethical Principles
Eleven respondents were sceptical about using the current Ethical Principles as a basis:
“It's a start but would worry what clout they would have particularly if breached”.
Yes, the Ethical Principles do provide an appropriate basis
Ninety eight of the comments reaffirmed the quantitative data, 66 without question, 30 while asking for some refinement (“A good basis, but recognise more needs to be done”), and two with an accompanying call for them to be strengthened:
“Need to strengthen the Principles further and actively promote this; develop into an accompanying 'code of conduct'. Information professionals should be accountable in the same way e.g. medical prodessionals are to their own codes of conduct. Not only do we need to adhere to this but we need to actively promote it in society”
Conclusion and next steps
While we have gleaned a great deal from the quantitative data extracted from the survey results, the rich data gathered from the thousands of comments you left has been especially useful. Once again we thank everyone for their contribution to this survey. We also acknowledge and thank our Ethics Committee, Chaired by Dawn Finch, for acting as the Project Management Board for this Ethics Review.
In our final blog about the survey results, due to be published in early December, we will set out segmented responses (i.e. by sector, level of responsibility, ethnicity, gender, age etc).
The survey may have closed but there is still opportunity to make your voice heard during our Big Conversation on Ethics. Why not sign up for one of our UK-wide Ethics Workshops? We have already visited Wales and Scotland, but we will be holding one in Northern Ireland, with others being arranged by CILIP Member Networks. If you are a member of a network that would like to hold an ethics workshop, please see our supporting resources.