How important are CILIP's Ethical Principles to good professional practice?
Is anything missing?
In this, the fourth in our series of blog posts setting out the results of our Ethics Survey, we focus on how you rate the existing Ethical Principals and what you think is missing from them.
CILIP’s 12 Ethical Principles
There are twelve Ethical Principles in CILIP’s existing Ethical Framework. We asked you to indicate how important you think each of these is to good professional practice, using a sliding scale ranging from 0% (not important) to 100% (very important).
CILIP currently has a set of 12 Ethical Principles for considering professional conduct. Please indicate how important you think each of the Ethical Principles is to good professional practice.
Only one Ethical Principle, Principle 5 (“Concern for balancing the needs of actual and potential users and the reasonable demands of employers”), scored less than 80% (it scored 74%). The highest scoring Principle was 8 (“Respect for confidentiality and privacy in dealing with information users”), scoring 93%, followed by Principle 6 (93%) and Principle 7 (91%).
So overall respondents felt that the Ethical Principles are useful, but is there anything missing? 43.80% of you don’t think there is,16.53% disagree.
In your view is there anything missing from the Ethical Principles?
The 268 comments made in response to this question are all extremely useful. They fall into 35 categories which have been arranged into 6 groups.
Barriers to accessing information and censorship
Already partially covered by Ethical Principle 3 and 7, eight respondents want to see the principle of no censorship strengthened and made more explicit. In addition to this, 27 respondents made comments relating to aspects of information access, with one person calling for “a broad statement about the importance of free and open access to information where ever possible.”
Equality/human rights/social inclusion/social justice/widening participation
The promotion of equality and human rights is there already (Ethical Principle 1), but 16 people want to see it strengthened. Two respondents suggested “some mention of the human rights aspects of freedom of information and freedom of speech”.
Fifteen respondents made comments relating to this issue, suggesting the revised Ethical Principles commit information professionals to “prioritis[ing] the needs of disadvantaged information users”, “respect[ing] the particular needs of disadvantaged individuals and groups” and “furthering social justice”. Practice should be “inclusive” and go “beyond merely 'equitable treatment'”
Information skills, misinformation and fake news
Three respondents suggested a more active development of, and commitment to, developing the skills and competences of users and customers, as well as staff and colleagues:
“Concern for the skills and ability of everyone/society/an organisation in using, assessing, producing and maintaining information to a high standard”
Twenty comments made reference to challenging misinformation and “fake news”:
“There should be something about commitment to accuracy and information literacy and provision of the best possible information - in an age of fake news and misinformation”.
“Principle 7, specifying impartiality and avoidance of bias, is inadequate in my opinion: there should be an obligation on information professionals to offer independent expertise, which can be seen to be disinterested”.
As recognised by this respondent, impartiality is covered in Principle 7, but fifteen respondents want to see this commitment strengthened:
“It should be stressed that an Information Professional should be non-judgmental and impartial in providing services and information”
But in contrast to this:
“An admission that library workers & libraries as institutions aren't & should never be neutral”.
Employment related issues
Six respondents asked for the Ethical Principles to cover personnel related issues such as “respect for individual work life balance”, “the right to receive a fair wage for the work that we do” and “concern for the welfare and well being of information professionals”.
“Greater emphasis on data protection and digital footprint”
While respect for confidentiality and privacy in dealing with information users is currently covered by Principle 8, the wording doesn’t explicitly refer to the digital sphere. Fourteen comments raised the importance of protecting privacy in today’s online environment:
“Wording needs both to be brought up to date to encompass data privacy in the internet age”
Other comments suggested either the addition of, or strengthening of, Principles relating to evidence based practice (1 comment), freedom of speech (3 comments), intellectual freedom (3), legal compliance (4 comments), transparency (4 comments), safeguarding (1 comment), data curation/Big Data (6 comments), net neutrality (4) and the environment (1 comment).
There were also calls for a commitment to defending libraries and LIS services (10 respondents), defending the profession and professional skills (11 respondents) and defending the Ethical Principles themselves (2 respondents). Four people want to see greater cooperation and collaboration between information professionals and/or other professionals. Two respondents suggested that the international dimension could be more specific “given the wide range of ethical approaches across the world”.
It’s encouraging that you rate the existing 12 Ethical Principles so highly, and that the majority of you think their coverage is comprehensive. However, much has changed in the 13 years since they were first published and we are very grateful to all respondents who suggested gaps and areas that need strengthening and/or revising.
The survey may have closed but there is still plenty of 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're holding one in Belfast in December, 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. And look out for further blog posts over the coming weeks setting out segmented responses to the survey (i.e. by sector, level of responsibility, ethnicity, gender, age etc), and an analysis of your free text comments about what, if anything, you think should be deleted from the current twelve Ethical Principles.
We also acknowledge and thank our Ethics Committee, Chaired by Dawn Finch, for acting as the Project Management Board for this Ethics Review.