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CILIP's new ethics review

CILIP’s Ethical framework

Dawn Finch talks about CILIP’s new ethics framework, explaining the background work and consultation that went into producing the refreshed ethical principles, equipping information professionals with a “sword and shield” to meet ethical challenges at work.

In October 2018 we are proud to launch the reworked and refreshed ethical principles. The new framework is the product of a huge project examining the existing principles, and reformulating them to be fit for purpose for the 21st century library and information professional.

CILIP’s Royal Charter mandates us to ­“represent and act as the professional body for persons working in, or interested in, library and information services”. As you can imagine, this commitment extends well beyond our walls and includes the maintenance of the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) on behalf of the sector. At the heart of all aspects of our work are the Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice.

Adapting to change

We all know that the library and ­information profession is changing ­rapidly and significantly. Changes in the last decade include the speed of new technological developments ­(notably the rise of ­social media) and the growth of big data. ­Technological advances in data science management have proved a challenge to our workforce. The rise of the “digital citizen”, and a greater awareness of the literacies ­required for survival in the “information age” put ever-greater pressure on the library and information worker.

We’ve also been forced to adapt to the ­pressures placed on us by the financial crisis, and other changes in funding and regulations. Our communities are increasingly complex, and this has an impact on our ability to provide a comprehensive, ­efficient and equitable service to our end users. CILIP needs to embrace and champion the whole information profession from librarian, to knowledge and information manager, to data manager.

These changes indicated a need to undertake a review of our ethical principles, and this allowed us the opportunity to examine a number of these key issues. These included how our professional ethics are operating within the library and information profession, as well as the level of awareness of these principles. We were able to take into account the extent to which CILIP’s ethical principles reflect the wider range of professional contexts, and whether they played a positive role in the development of the library and information world. It was also important to us to gain a greater ­understanding of the interaction between the professional ethics of individuals and of institutional ethics.

Conducting an ethics review

These questions were the starting point for the Ethics Review. The review, which kicked off in May 2017, was overseen by CILIP’s Ethics Committee and chaired by myself. This began with a Big Conversation on social media about CILIP’s ethical ­principles, and continued throughout 2017 with a survey document open to all members.

This was enthusiastically received, and generated far more responses than we initially anticipated. The survey ­received 1,556 responses, giving the team thousands of pieces of data to ­examine. As well as the survey, the team carried out 12 workshops around the country with the support of the member networks, the devolved nations, and other linked organisations such as universities.

We rounded this up with an event in May 2017 where we aimed to test initial recommendations of the Ethics Committee. A lively event, it reinforced the fact that members were interested and committed to the principles and welcomed a review of them. We added this data to what we had already gathered, and this all helped us to shape the final version of a revised Ethics Framework.

Marshalling the evidence

The next stage was to look at all the evidence we had gathered to produce a landscape of the major workplace and professional issues expressed in the surveys, workshops and social media. We needed to ensure that the Ethical Framework was grounded in working practice as well as academic theory. We used this landscape document to create a checklist on which we could assess relevancy.

After this document was created, the team produced a digest of comments on the Ethical Principles. Survey findings showed us that the current Ethical Principles should form the basis of a new ­Ethical Framework, but in a greatly amended form. We gathered all of the comments relating to each Principle, and this formed a compendium. The survey results were broken down, and this segmented data allowed us to understand exactly what library and information workers were looking for in their ethical principles.

Key findings from the survey and workshops

Most survey respondents (89 per cent) stated they have values and ethical principles they wish to see upheld within the information profession. Most have built up these values through a personal code or from the CILIP’s Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice. Most respondents also felt that the Ethical Principles were important to their working lives. One of the workshop attendees commented that when she first joined the profession and looked at the ethical principles, she said,

“This is me! This is who I am.” We felt that this was a very important point, and that should be a key factor – that these principles needed refreshing so that everyone can feel this way.

The survey and workshops surfaced a number of professional issues that are ­being faced in the workplace or by the profession as a whole. Privacy, censorship, funding, copyright and volunteers were the most cited, but there were important groupings of problems around barriers to accessing information, standards and skills and ­employment.

A majority of survey respondents (76.79 per cent) thought that a professional ethical framework should ideally also help in addressing work-based issues, and we wanted to create a document that people felt could support them in these situations.

A full analysis of the recommendations allowed us to the shape the components of the top level of an Ethical Framework for the information profession. We came to the conclusion that the principles should be streamlined and set out in more direct language. It was also apparent that people wanted a reordering of the points so that priorities could become clearer. Members also drew attention to the fact that greater clarification was needed of a number of key elements of the principles, and they recommended that there be further explanatory materials and supporting documents.

Intended outcomes of the project

Our intended outcomes were primarily an increased awareness of, and engagement with the Ethical Principles by ­library and information professionals, but we knew it had to go further than that. We were also looking to examine the principles closely to increase relevance and applicability of the principles across a wide range of sectors. To achieve all of this we knew we would also need to clarify our role as steward of the principles on behalf of the profession. We formulated a set of deliverables for the project, and these included a revised set of Ethical Principles and a refreshed Code of Professional Practice, as well as practical tools to promote and apply these principles in a real-life working environment.

We are delighted to say that a majority of outcomes and deliverables have been achieved. Member engagement has been positive with high numbers responding to the survey and lively participation in the workshops and Ethics Summit, as well as on Twitter. The Big Conversation continued way beyond the end of the survey, and continues today. Although the majority of par­ticipants were from the public sector, the viewpoints of those working across all sectors have been heard and the new Framework has been looked at through a K&IM lens.

The revised Ethical Framework

We are now delighted to be able to launch the new Ethical Framework. Design principles for this new Framework are: 

  • fewer but clearer Ethical Principles
  • more direct and memorable language
  • continuity by building on existing Ethical Principles
  • inclusion of important and enduring values
  • framework to support professional judgment when tackling difficult issues
  • inclusion of a new section expressing CILIP commitments
  • a commitment from CILIP to act as steward of the Ethical Framework. As part of this the committee will also be considering issues such as sanction for violations of the principles. 
  • It has been enormously rewarding to oversee this important project with the dedicated work of the committee and the CILIP team. The level of interest from members has been uplifting, and it is clear that library and information workers value these principles greatly. It has been a huge amount of work for the CILIP team to keep this project on track and to ­analyse and examine the data, but it has all been worth it. Now we are able to launch the new framework and deliver a set of principles that members will not only find useful, but will hopefully represent who they are and the extraordinary breadth of work that they do. We hope that these principles will be seen as both sword and shield by library and information workers.

    Both protecting and arming them throughout their working lives.

    Yvonne Morris, CILIP’s Research and Foresight Manager said: “I am delighted that so many people responded to our survey and participated in our workshops. Your comments gave us a rich data set to analyse, and from this detailed analysis we developed our professional issues landscape and compendium. Together these served as an important reality test, ensuring that any ethical provision addresses the needs as experienced by information profes­sionals in the field.”

    CILIP CEO Nick Poole added: “In the era of fake news and misinformation, it is more important than ever to be clear about the ethics and values which define our profession. The Ethics Review has been an extraordinarily valuable process, driven by a dialogue with thousands of information professionals about the real ethical challenges they face in their work. Above all, we wanted a ‘living ethics’ – a practical tool to support real-world decision-making. I am delighted that the resulting Ethical Framework has not only achieved this, but has enabled us as the professional association to set out exactly what we stand for and how we will support our members.”

    Contributor: Dawn Finch (@dawnafinch) Chair of CILIP’s Ethics Committee, is an author and former school and public librarian. She is also a CILIP Trustee and past president of CILIP.

    Published: 25 October 2018

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